Got a great idea for a new themed deck? Go! This is very satisfying creative work as far as I’m concerned. The only reason it’s taken me five years to create one is my own penchant for procrastination. But there are a few steps in the process, so it’s not a casual weekend project.
Here are the pieces to a deck from my perspective as a creator:
Create the images
Write the book (Little White Book or full-sized companion book)
Start an email sign-up list to gather fans (or crowdfund)
Decide on deck and book printers and distribution
Create or contract for accessories (bags, boxes, etc.)
Calculate shipping and decide how people will order
Decide on price
Put the deck up for sale and continue marketing
Create the Images
If you are an artist (digital or analog/in the physical world), enjoy the creative process. Have fun picking a theme and color patterns for your suits (if you choose), for example. Make beautiful drawings or paintings, or take photos that match traditional depictions in the cards, or go totally intuitive to make something abstract. All options are open!
If you are like me and have little-to-no talent for free drawing, painting, or digital art but have a great theme idea and like to write, look for options to build digital or physical collages. Or use other artists’ work (with permission or in partnership).
I had a cool idea for a deck based on public domain astronomy images from NASA. It’s been lots of fun (and work, too) to choose images with shapes that evoke the Tarot symbolism and minimize the use of collage to get the effect I wanted. All of the images are chosen to support my theme of combining physics with metaphysics (myth and archetypal symbolism) to create an abstract but readable deck.
You’ll want to add in just enough to the final price on your deck to give you some compensation for time and talent here (not all at once, but over multiple customer purchases). This aspect is easy to forget, especially with a first deck. Making something that you sell over and over without putting more creative work into it (except marketing) is a different animal. So, don’t expect to get compensated for all your time and talent at once.
Prepare Images for Print
After your deck is finished from your standpoint (like a writer’s third draft stage, maybe), you need to prepare your images for your initial printed prototype.
If you used physical art materials to make your deck images, you’ll need to turn them into digital images (by photographing them or scanning them). I used the Adobe Photoshop application to edit my already-digital NASA images, but you can also use a free image editing program like Gimp or a more basic Adobe product called Photoshop Express.
Make sure you finish with highest-quality ready-for-print digital images. That means getting or creating big original image files (like the ones that a camera creates), and making sure they can be set to 300 dots per inch (dpi), rather than the standard Web resolution of 72 dpi, without getting blurry. If this sounds too intimidating, you can also consult a Photoshop expert friend to get your dpi right or make your colors pop a bit more with image adjustments and filters. Once you have high-resolution JPG or TIFF images, you are ready to print.
Assuming you want a 78-card Tarot deck in the standard size (3×5 inches/7.6×12.7 cm), Make Playing Cards (MPC) has a nice template for that, with instructions on keeping your image inside the guaranteed-to-print space. In your image editor, you’ll need to use the template image with its guidelines to resize and crop your images to fit, as well as adding labels or borders.
Print a Prototype
There are lots of card printers out there. I use Make Playing Cards on recommendation from a good friend of mine who has published several decks. They are in China, but they are not a knock-off or counterfeit operation; they have a good reputation for excellent card stock and above-average rendering of images.
Make Playing Cards has a screen where you can upload all your images so they’ll be laid out like they would be on a printed sheet prior to cutting. They make it easy. Then you can save your cards and order one deck or many to be printed (costs less per card for many, of course).
Write the Book
You can write a Little White Book (LWB) with no pictures and just your interpretations of the cards in a size close to the size of the cards, or you can write a full-sized companion book with pictures of the cards, descriptions and interpretations, along with your favorite spreads and general instructions on reading Tarot. It’s all up to you. I don’t favor taking the time to write a big fancy book if that’s not your talent area; if your cards are the main focus (compelling beauty, mythological theme, whatever), then you may not need a companion book, or even an LWB.
What, now? I just have a draft of my book and a prototype of my deck (which I might want to tweak a bit)! Right. But you need to start building audience and interest early.
You can go fancy and start a Kickstarter or IndieGogo project. You’ll need to set up levels of support with gifts for each level and spend time on social media pointing people to the project to gather fans. My research indicates that this approach works best for deck creators who already have a following due to workshops they’ve taught or the success of their Tarot reading business, or other books they’ve written.
I favor starting with a simple email signup on your website plus promoting that signup on social media and wherever else you go (Tarot meetups, etc.). Set up a newsletter for your fans and update them on your progress and whatever extra goodies you’ll offer them for pre-ordering. You can update them once a month or once a week if you feel social and ambitious.
You’ve seen a prototype of your deck at this point, so it’s time to decide if you want to use that printer or try a different one. After you decide on a final deck printer, decide on how much control you want to have. Printers often have print-on-demand (POD) options so you can send your customer to them to order the deck. Like sending someone to Amazon to buy your book. The printer prints and ships the deck, and you get a royalty for each one. This way, the customer also gets the deck more quickly unless you have stock on hand.
The downside is that you don’t get to inspect the quality of the print job before it goes to the customer, and you have to settle for the royalty from the printer. Make your decision based on how much control you want over your deck sales.
Printing the Book
Same goes for printing your book (or not). In this case, you have an “or not” option. Selling printed versions of your book can either be expensive up front (if you go to a printer that’s not Amazon and don’t need hundreds of books), or you have to give up a significant amount of profit to a POD like Amazon to print and ship for you.
An LWB may also be a lot cheaper to print and ship with a deck than a full-sized companion book, so look at the options and see what might be best. I’m tempted so far to offer a PDF (electronic) version of my companion book directly to customers and offer a printed option through Amazon if they really want it.
Bags and boxes, maybe even signed prints. Up to you what you want to offer and how (only to your pre-order email list fans or crowdfunding supporters or to everyone?). Remember that people who commit to you by pre-ordering should have some goodies all to themselves as a thank you. I am a Tarot bag person, so I’m going to keep my shipped deck simple and include a bag with my branding on it. I’m contracting the bag with a good Tarot buddy of mine, Ania Marczyk, who makes great stuff. I’m thinking about having two versions of the bag as well: one for my pre-order fans and one for subsequent customers. Your fans are special and deserve recognition beyond a simple discount on the deck.
Ordering and Shipping
You can have people order decks and companion books directly from your website (you DO have a website, right?) and use a payment gateway like Paypal, Square, or Stripe to manage credit card payments for you (they do charge a fee of about 3% per transaction for this service).
You can have your printer ship your decks directly to your customers if the printer is willing to act as a POD (Make Playing Cards does). You can even have Amazon’s Fulfilled by Amazon service process purchases of your deck as well as your book, but the deck would still be a separate item, and you’d have to ship a large number of them to Amazon to sell for you, and then just get a small royalty.
Or you can pay to have decks shipped to you, inspect the deck, add a book and whatever accessories were ordered and ship the entire package to the customer. You will pay for shipping from the deck printer regardless of your method of choice, of course, so it’s up to you how you want to take care of this.
And as I mentioned before, if you include a book in your package to the customer, shipping will cost more.
Shipping is a major cost point and also includes the materials along with the mailing cost itself, so don’t ignore this issue or you will lose money on every sale. You can save some money over time if you order a number of decks (or books) at once. But you’ll still have to account for the shipping cost to the customer, which, inside the USA for me will run $3 to $5US, but to Europe will be more like $12 to $15 from what I can tell.
And this is why I’m inclined to sell my companion book as a PDF. No shipping cost involved and no sharing with a POD publisher either.
Decide on the Price
First thing I tried to do was to start with all the individual costs and come up with a price, but so much depends on how many decks you can order at once and what shipping costs are to different destinations. I’m seeing that a single deck order can start at about $32US + shipping and go up to $57 US + shipping with a bag and printed book.
The thing about a creation like this (one that can be sold without further creative work from you to a large audience) is that lots of people need to know about it in order to compensate you for all that time and talent. Which means, permanent passive visibility on your website and social media, and regular reminders to potential customers that your lovely deck is ready to buy.
Not that you want to be reminding us of your lovely deck every day, but once a month reminders on social media or ads in Tarot magazines might very well be worth your while.
And that covers my lessons learned so far with deck creation. 🙂
Joanne Sprott has been reading the Tarot since 2012 and using the Lenormand system since 2013. She has also served as co-chair (2015–2017) and then webmaster (2017–2019) for TABI. Joanne’s own Tarot musings can be found at Cosmic Whispers Tarot; for more information on her Divine Physics deck and to sign up for production updates and pre-order goodies, head over to the deck’s page on Joanne’s site.