Making Your Own Tarot Deck: 10 Questions to Ask Yourself

Making a Tarot deck has been one of my most ambitious goals to date. It is a very rewarding process, especially when you finish a card and get the final cut digitized. But it is a HUGE commitment, and very daunting. Trust me, there is going to be countless “WTF am I doing?” moments.

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Only 78 more to go!

Before you invest a large chunk of your time, energy, and sanity, there are some serious questions you should ask yourself. After hours of research and deliberation, here are a list of useful questions to get you started.

1.What is the goal of your deck?

Make a purpose for the deck. Are you using it for your own personal use? Do you want to sell it on a smaller scale, at local markets or to friends and clients? Or do you eventually want to market to a wider audience? Rough deadlines are also helpful to keep you productive. Is a card a week feasible?IMG_6806

2. Do you have a theme?

Start thinking of a theme for a deck. There are thousands of Tarot decks out there, and there is usually an overarching theme. Whether historical, comical, or geared towards popular culture, limiting your ideas for your deck makes you more productive.  Keeping a Tarot deck journal where you can roughly outline your Major and Minor Arcana will help you keep this consistency.

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Dame Darcy’s popular Tarot deck uses a nautical mermaid theme. Image by Dame Darcy via Etsy

3. Take notes!

And again with the journal. Keep track of what’s going on in your head while you are doing your artwork. If you plan on selling this deck at all, you will have to write a booklet of meanings (as if the task of creating 78 pieces of original artworks wasn’t enough, right?) So if that flowing stream at the feet of the High Priestess has some significance, write it down before you forget.

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Here is an example of the Wheel of Fortune from my Tarot Art Journal, where I work out concepts for my deck. I throw everything on the wall until it sticks.

4. Collaboration or solo project?

What are your assets, skill sets and limitations? Do you need someone else to pick up for your weaknesses?

The main discrepancy I can see here is between the artist and the Tarotist. If it is the Tarotist that is intiating the deck, then they often have to seek out an illustrator. For the artist, who may not be an expert in Tarot, it may be necessary to seek someone out to help write an accompanying book.IMG_2427

Teaming up with someone more established, either as an artist or Tarot reader, may help gain a stronger following and obtain an overall higher quality for your deck.

5. Digital art or analog?

Going with what you enjoy the most is ultimately what is important if you expect to motivate yourself enough to finish 78 cards. However, if you see both as equally enjoyable, there are definite pros and cons to each.

Digital: Faster (especially when you get into the suit cards, the 10 of Pentacles leaves a lot of freakin’ pentacles to hand draw), risk of losing the file / degrading image quality with improperly saving your work, may need to ask copyright permission for use of photographs.

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Analog: Longer and more tedious, but no matter what happens on your computer, you always have that hardcopy to fall back on. If you do choose this route and need to digitize your art, check out these articles here and here.

6. What printer company will you use?

For mass printing, the consensus seems to be to research a local printing company. There are two reasons for this: they will pay more attention to specific details and customizing your deck, and will give you a better price for wider distribution.

For personal use, I highly recommend an On Demand printer company. If you just want a few personal copies for yourself, friends and family, then this is a good option to get the feeling of your deck before considering how far you want to go with publishing. Such companies are easy to use and allow you to simply drag and drop your files to a library. You have the option to add your own text, and bam! You got yourself a standard-sized Tarot deck.

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Me uploading some cards onto Printer Studio. Notice I have the dimensions of the card on a sticky note below!

Some popular On Demand printers include Printer Studio,The Game CrafterSuperior Pod and Make Playing Cards.com. It is important to consider whether you want your printer company to market your deck for you (such as The Game Crafter) and which companies have the best reviews for cardstock quality. I have personally chosen Printer Studio, as they have received the best reviews so far for quality.

7. Are your digital ducks in a row?

You want to make sure the dimensions, image quality and file formats of your Tarot art meet the requirements of the printing company you choose. Make sure your art and text are within the specified borders of the company you choose.

For example, the size of a standard tarot deck is 2.75″ X 4.75″ but your artwork and title will have to be sized within those margins (in other words, the art shouldn’t be the same size as the card itself). Too small, and white areas may show between the printer border and your work. Too big, and parts of your Tarot art may be chopped off. But never fear, most printing companies have downloadable templates.

Also note that the quality of the artwork will be higher if you make your piece bigger and scale it down. Make sure to keep your dimensions in proportion though (for example, double the size would be 5.5″X 9.5″).

8. What is your platform and persona?

How are you regarded as an artist and/or tarot reader?

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Times are a changin’ – the days of back room Tarot are turning into e-mail and Skype readings. Share both your services and your custom-made Tarot deck online.

If you don’t already have an internet following to your blog, website, or YouTube channel, it may be a lot harder to publicize your deck in the future. If you are serious about getting your deck out there, it’s a good idea to think about establishing an online presence.

9. Is it usable?

This is probably another one directed towards the artists and illustrators out there. I can certainly relate to this, as my experience in visual art long outweighs that in Tarot. A deck with beautiful art will merely be a decorative piece if it can’t be practically applied. And if it can’t be used, chances are people aren’t going to want to invest in it.

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10. Does it speak to you?

I know I went into a lot of detail about creating a deck for commercial purposes. But taking on such a huge venture as making your own tarot deck should come from a place of passion and enjoyment for its own sake.

The purpose of the Tarot is to give you an outlet for personal expression and reflection. Making a Tarot deck gives you a much deeper connection to the cards as the archetypes have been reinterpreted and expressed through your own experience. Missing out on such a wonderful journey for the sole purpose of increasing the number of sales on your deck would be a sad thing indeed.

I couldn’t have done this without the help of the online Tarot community, so I’ve linked some of these lovely folks below:

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