My experience in the arena of deck creation...
Having successfully created 4 decks, I often get asked:
“I want to create a Tarot, Oracle, Lenormand... Card deck— but I don’t know where to start—how do I do it?”
The short answer is to begin where you are. However there are a lot of factors to consider, many which I learned as I went. The purpose of this note is to share some of the key steps I have learned, the ones I wish I had known BEFORE setting out to create my first deck.
First thing is first— listen to your Muses, they truly know the way, don’t self-sabotage bc you believe you aren’t an artist or a creator. If you have an idea for a deck and it keeps tugging at your soul, there’s a reason the Muses chose You to be the conduit. Your voice and vision were chosen as who they want to create this. We all bring something to the table, we all have different creative “accents” that tell a familiar story. You get to put your spin on it and dance with the Muses, so when they ask to take your hand, graciously accept and let them sort out the details.
Now that we have that out of the way there are a few key components to the creation process. I’m going to break them down in the following order:
- Deck Specs
- LWB / BWB
- Marketing / Getting Seen
- Funding & Fulfillment
You may be thinking at this point “Wow that seems like a lot to consider, what if I (insert doubt here) and the deck doesn’t come to life...
Sawyer’s Path Tarot, my first deck, took me 2 years to create. It may not seem like that long of a time, but in my world —it’s long. Be easy with yourself and allow the process to unfold.
What is the story of your deck, what world will it inhabit?
If it’s a Tarot* deck, will it follow a traditional system such as RWS, Marseille, Visconti, Thoth, or perhaps you are basing it off Tarot with your own unique interpretation. Keep in mind though, if you change the core structure too much it may be received by the community as “not really a tarot deck”. Tarot has 78 cards and the collective will definitely have something to say about it— however if there are more than 78, those are bonus cards and generally well received!
If it’s an Lenormand* deck, like Tarot, it’s based on tradition and has 36 cards and nowadays most creators will throw in extra significators. This is something I was unaware of in the first run of my Sawyer’s Lenormand deck, so earlier versions only have 1 each of cards 28 & 29... now my decks have 2 of each. Inclusivity and representation matter in the divination community, when we are made aware of it, we must make sure to address it in our creations.
If it’s an Oracle deck, what is your subject? Will it be whimsy, gothic, ethereal, mystical, mediaeval, nature based, plant based.... Oracle Decks really give you the most creative freedom. They hold no structure to tradition because they are trailblazers to fill a void that classic systems may not cover.
*Keep that in mind as you change the theme to suit your vision. Any deck that’s based off of, or will be a clone of some sort to a traditional system has certain expectations as to how many cards and what content should be in there. Don’t be afraid to make changes, just be mindful that not everyone enjoys change to an established system. With that being said, there are definitely decks that dare to step outside of the box (pun intended) and create a new system based off tradition and they do it with grace.
I’m not mentioning this to scare you from creating, I’m just sharing what I have observed in the community.
Once you have your theme, (chances are this was the whisper from the Muses so it came to the forefront of your mind like a lightbulb illuminating a dark room...) it brings us to the next step.
Will this deck be created solely by you or will you need someone to create the art or perhaps, write the book? This is a very common relationship with decks. Personally, I had my mother write the book for Sawyer’s Path Tarot because as the Artist I didn’t want to have to focus on that at the time... I was also swimming in a sea of self-doubt as to how my own voice would show up in written word. I believed for a long time that “I wasn’t a writer” — yet here we are.
So decide if you will be collaborating with another on this project, it’s ok if you are doing it all yourself. Remember, there’s no wrong way to create— making something tangible from a thought is exciting and should be fun!
If you do need an artist, seek out someone who has a style that matches your theme. Also be prepared for them to decline. Not all artists are for hire, being one of those types I can tell you I would love to say yes to your project, but I know my schedule and creative world will not allow it. It does NOT mean we think you’re idea is bad, it’s normally bc we don’t have the allocation of time and don’t want to be the reason your project stalls. Just know that the right artist will align with your project and you will be guided to them. (Have faith that the Muses are at the wheel!)
If you are the Artist, then hooray and bravo, that box is checked! If you need a writer for your thematic story, approach writers the same way, but make sure it’s someone you connect with, as you’ll be spending a lot of time communicating as you bring this project to life.
3. Deck Specs:
SIZE, DPI, COLOR PROFILE
This is a HUGE step and it probably should be number 1, but I placed it here because without an idea for a deck, there’s no reason to consider the size or parameters of your cards. I wish I had considered this step BEFORE drawing for Sawyer’s Path Tarot. The Muses struck me and I was off to the races. Sketching 4 cards each on my 9x12 sketchbook page... the problem with that ratio is it is NOT tarot card sized. I made a lot of extra work for myself. Something I learned from for future projects.
So what SIZE will your cards be? Not sure? Find a deck you like and measure them. I also love to go to print on demand sites like makeplayingcards.com or printerstudio.com and download one of their card templates. Even if I don’t plan to print the cards there, the templates are very close to what you’d get from a designer from the printing company you choose to work with.
The reason for this is it gives you a nearly perfect layout of the card margins— safe zone, bleed, and cut lines. If your deck will be full bleed (no border) then make sure the artwork extends out to the edges, but keep every detail that is important within the safe zone.
For instance: If a card is traditional tarot sized 2.75” x 4.75” the template will be around 2.51” x 4.51” before cutting.
Once you have your size down, you can begin designing. If you are creating digitally then make sure the files are big enough and the color profile will match what your printer requires... The printing standard is CMYK but some places will allow RGB... Make sure you know this before you commit to all your cards.
DPI - dots per inch - this is also very important. Since most cards are uploaded digitally make sure your files are at least 300dpi or more. This will look better print wise in the long run. I personally do 300dpi for all of my projects, even the ones that were created by hand, when scanned in, I set the scanner to import at 300dpi.
Color profiles: CMYK is the print standard, If you saw my files you’d laugh at the redundancy of all the copies I have. I created Pocket of Peers digitally, it was my first deck made solely using digital art. I drew everything in a RGB color profile, and didn’t consider that when converting it to CMYK that it would darken the tones.... So I had to go in and do a bunch of color corrections. Had I originally been working in a CMYK profile I would have saved myself a lot of work.... *sigh, are you seeing how I love to make extra work for myself?!
However, when creating my other 3 decks I colored them all using Copic markers and scanned them in... When converting the files to CMYK they only deepened the hues and actually made the cards a bit richer in tone, which I loved.
Confused yet? Don’t be, I just want you to be aware of these technical terms so that when your printer asks for them down the road they aren’t foreign. The programs I use for creation and design layout are any combo of the following: Photoshop (on my desktop) but I mostly use an iPad these days so I create in “Procreate” and do my card layouts in “Affinity Designer” I could probably do all in 1 but again I like variety and each program offers up different uses for my personal methods. You may find another program that’ll work best for your needs. Go with it and know that as long as you are creating, You’re well on your way!
Who are you creating this deck for? Is it going to be a private “just for me” one off deck or will you be inviting the world to partake in your story? This is an important question to consider before you get too deep into the artwork. For instance at the time of me writing this, I am creating an oracle for self-healing work that is based off of different photos of my life and ancestors... this is a private deck that will be just for me. Yet, when I created Sawyer’s Path Tarot— which was my indoctrination into the deck community, I had also created it from my personal lens and perspective. It is not inclusive in the sense that it is still very much from a white woman’s lens, ultimately a RWS clone that follows the European tradition. Don’t get me wrong, I love the deck and the world it has opened for me; I also have learned so much since then— Sawyer’s Path’s limited scope has helped me to broaden my horizons of the world. Our community is vast and diverse, and so should our decks be, especially when we are inviting the community into the world we’ve created.
So I ask you again who is your projected audience, also what characters will be in your deck?
Do the research needed if you plan to put people in your deck that are of cultures that are not your own, make sure symbols, timelines are correct. Study and learn also don’t expect to get this information for free, pay your teachers that are helping you bring the information for this deck to life. Lead with love but still do the research.
*The tarot community has seen it’s share of appropriation through the decades in the decks that decorate hundreds of shelves. Due to our connectivity with social media and dare I say massive shift as we awaken to a new world— we have learned the harm this causes. We are creators of healing tools we have learned to do better, so we must take action for future creations.
5. LWB / BWB:
This is just a point to ponder about what sort of booklet you will be adding with your deck. Will it be a LWB (little white book ) or a BWB (big white book). Perhaps you’ve decided to just allow the deck to stand alone and no book will accompany it... Be prepared, people will always want to know some more information behind the deck.
I personally prefer a larger book. I also LOVE creating digital guides to go with the decks as well. Not everyone will want the book and the digital guide will suffice. It helps keeps printing costs down as well.
LWB- If you are including a deck sized book ask your printing company if they have a template for this. I have never actually created one, so sadly I’m not going to be much help on this topic.
BWB- Creating a larger book is a bit easier for me. I also keep in mind my audience, like someone of my Mother’s age group who prefers larger text and books that they can write in... which is why all books with my decks are at least 6x9. I create them according to the specs from lulu.com or blurb.com both sites have great tutorials about how to size them correctly as well as the text margins to avoid cropping.
I really prefer the print on demand sites for my guidebooks as it gives the Seeker the option if they want a physical book or not. I offer the digital guides for free with each deck but also the links to the books if they want something more tangible. It cuts down on costs as well as frees up me having to warehouse the books in our small home.
Digital Guides- We live in a very eco-conscious world and I enjoy digital guides for this reason! Less paper waste. I do love a hardback book, don’t get me wrong... But I know myself and that I rarely crack open a LWB after initially skimming through it, so when a creator provides a digital .pdf I can import it to my GoodNotes program and have it with me at all times. Digital guides can be a simple ebook, or a lavishly linked .pdf... I tend on the side of extravagance so my more recent journals are highly interactive and have tons of links.
Throw out the timeline! Plan, plans, not results.
(Unless you’re working with a larger publishing house, then definitely heed their due dates... )
If you are self publishing, work at your own pace. The deck will be born when it’s ready. I found when I tried to put too many time parameters on my projects I’d fall short and then wallow a bit in shame of having failed... It does no one any good. Make a pact with yourself and your team (if using one) that the Deck will be born when it’s meant to be... and not a minute before.
I mentioned before Sawyer’s Path took me 2 years to finish. I actually created the whole deck within 2 weeks... all the sketches were done, all the line drawings- finished, and I even colored more than a few cards.... Then life happened. I’m talking creatively derailed. I fell head over heels in-love with the art of Henna, jumping feet first into that world. As a gemini I needed to know everything about this magical mud that I could find. It brought me some of my best friends and also opened up a larger world. My tarot deck wasn’t forgotten, but it did leer at me from my creative space... Occasionally, asking me why I hadn’t picked the project back up. I made peace with the deck, knowing that it would come to life when it needed to. It happened; 2 years later the Muse took my hand and brought it back to the deck. “Put down the phone they said take a social media hiatus” I finished coloring the last 30 cards within 2 weeks. You see, had I finished it 2 years earlier, my mother wouldn’t have written the guide. She wasn’t ready yet. But when I was coloring cards toward the end of our journey... She was in the headspace to write for them, it was healing and helpful for her in a time of need.
So again I reiterate— Throw out the timeline, the deck knows when it’ll arrive.
7. Marketing / Getting Seen:
Use the tools at your fingertips.
Engagement, get involved with other members of your community.
If you intend to reach the masses with your deck, you need to get them just as excited as you are, I believe that process begins in the beginning. Why would you expect anyone else to support the deck if you never share or talk about your inspirations or art? I am a huge advocate of social media for this purpose. It’s FREE, well sort of, it can take a lot of your time and mental energy, but at the end of the day no money has to be exchanged. Sure, you can choose to do paid advertising when the timing is right, but it’s not necessary to create a buzz. Start building your base and bring them along for the ride! The whole point of social media, when used correctly, is a tool for connectivity. Engage with the people who engage with you, show them what you’re doing. Give behind the scenes photo ops of what’s going on with your creation, be real... In other words Be Yourself. It goes a long way.
Paid advertising and PR Campaigns are also an option, but I truly feel if you get enough people excited in the creative process, by the time your deck is ready to be launched into the world, the buzz will already be happening and you may not have to do too much promotion of the paid variety.
By now you may be facing down the finish line of your deck, the cards are well on their way to becoming a reality. The art, writing, all the components. I’m not going to discuss prices in this article, just give you a few different avenues to consider when wanting the hard copy in your hands.
We live in a time of amazing technology and to be honest you could print and laminate your deck at home with a few inexpensive gadgets: A color printer, a laminator and perhaps a corner trimmer for the cards if you prefer rounded edges. This is a very quick way and also satisfies that instant gratification itch.
However if you’re wanting a more professional deck; then I highly recommend looking into companies that have the infrastructure to create them. There are hundreds if not thousands of companies that print playing cards and decks in today’s world, do a quick search.
For the small runs, say you just want a few decks for friends and family, then print on demand is the way to go. I personally use printerstudio.com for my decks that are out of stock in our home inventory. I also use makeplayingcards.com for when I only want 1 deck and have no intention of selling them. (I suspect they are part of the same company but have no way to really prove it, just a hunch.) Both do a greal job, I especially like their 330gsm cardstock.
If you want to print to sell you can still go that route and have them ship you decks in bulk to sell on your own platform, with any company the more you buy the lower the deck costs will be.
I have used a USA based company for Sawyer’s Path Tarot as well as Sawyer’s Lenormand— see www.shuffledink.com they are out of Florida, I do know for specialty products they will outsource to their overseas contacts... I found this out when I asked for a quote for Sawyer’s Nature Portals, being that it was a round deck- they told me they would not be able to create in house.
If you are looking to use a printer out of country, get price quotes from multiple companies, be sure to get shipping estimates and also times, also ask for samples. Most companies will happily send you samples if you cover the shipping costs. This allows you to see first hand the card finishes, gsm and box types. It takes extra time, but it’s worth it. Each company will also have their own deck specs so going back to point #3 ask them if they can send you their templates... that way there is little to no guess-work.
If you are unsure about something be sure to ask them questions, and trust your instincts... If a company feels like they are giving you the runaround, it’s time ask to another on your list.
9. Funding / Fulfillment
I placed this before the Funding part because it’s a key factor that many creators forget about when pricing their decks. This is when the decks arrive to you and you need to ship them to their new homes. Depending on the method you choose to get them produced, hopefully you factored in the extra unseen costs of shipping... boxes, tape, packing materials, shipping costs. Will you be adding promo materials or other goodies? It all adds up. This one is a tough one, and really depends on what the end goal for your deck is... Do your planning and due diligence, you’ll be thankful you did in the long run.
If it’s a one off or just a couple decks then I am going to assume you already have a grip on your finances and have allocated the funds to get it printed. The advice of this point is if you want to do a quantity of 100 to 1000 or more.
I’ve self-funded 3 out of my 4 decks, and at the time of writing this am 10 days away from the end of my (fully funded) Kickstarter campaign. What I learned from this is invaluable.
Self-funding is where you put up the funds and pay to get the decks made and hope that you will sell them. This is a good option if you have some extra money in savings or a credit card you don’t mind putting some inventory on. The thing you should consider is trying to predict how fast you’ll be able to recoup that initial cost. For my first 3 decks I did both. Once tapped savings and another put on a credit card (that still hasn’t been fully paid off... but that’s my own budgeting.)
Self-funding guarantees the decks will get made. I still do this for my Tarot and Lenormand decks, as I buy in 250qty and just allow them to run out til I feel there’s enough interest to print them again. When they do sell out I publish them on Printer Studio as a print on demand option. Is it the best strategy? Probably not but it’s what I’ve done so far.
A good friend recently told me; “It’s ok to be in demand, allow your decks to be sold out for a while, bask in that— before you jump to spend a few Gs to sell 3 decks”. Weigh the demand.
Crowd-Funding is where you run a campaign like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, pitching your deck and idea to the community and hope that they will back it. I planned my KS Campaign for months and even when I was hitting the launch button I was nervous with a contingency in place in case we didn’t reach the funding goal. Luckily it was met, but this isn’t always the way campaigns turn out. I’ve backed many decks on crowd-funding sites. A few I’ve seen come up short and it wasn’t because their deck wasn’t fantastic, it was just it wasn’t being seen enough. The marketing fell short, when I’d check their social-media pages there were barely any photos of the deck... On the other hand, I’ve seen decks go viral, and the creators may become a bit overwhelmed. Getting so wrapped up in the hyped energy that they promise more than they can deliver. Deadlines are missed and deck arrive late if even at all. (Only promise what you can deliver).
If you choose this route, do your research, read the website’s creator handbooks, talk to other success stories and listen to the warnings. Personally, I have kept my rewards and stretch goals to reasonable options which were factored into the plan BEFORE the launch, this way there is no surprises down the road when I reach the shipping/fulfillment phase.
All of it has been an amazing learning experience.
I feel in the future, though, I may do pre-orders instead. Which brings me to my next funding point:
Preorders- This is when you have all the information in place and know what you’ll need for a specific number of decks. You can offer them on a pre-sale basis, laying out all the terms and conditions as you would with a crowd-funding campaign... Be clear as to what you are offering. If you don’t reach your target goal you will need to still get the decks made and will need to have a contingency in place.
Mass Market: a topic I haven’t covered because it’s not one I am familiar with; printing through a traditional mass market publisher. I’m somewhat particular with my art and creations so it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around working with a larger company and working with art direction... I’m not going to say never, it’s just not an arena I am familiar with. I have many friends who publish with large printing houses and they have all said it’s a much different experience. Read through the companies’ submissions pages and see if that is along the lines of what you may want to try, I’m not here to tell you any route is better than another. Go with what you feel!
This is a big one, enjoy the process, remember the Muses chose you to be the conduit for this project! So when you feel a bit underwater, and it may happen... Do your best to embrace the feeling of WHY you began in the first place. This is meant to be fun, meant to be a place to help yourself and others on a healing path. This is Love in motion, resulting in creation. Go forth with Gratitude and Create, you Beautiful Soul, You!