Part IX – Mind your P’s…penultimate post on printing, publishing and production.
This post might be the penultimate one in this series, depending on certain factors. I will finally begin to cover the stuff that will be most helpful to other aspiring tarot creators. The stuff like printing methods, printers (both mechanical as in DIY and professional printers), DIY methods, digital vs offset printing, cardstock, copyrighting, bar coding, ISBN numbering or not, “little white book”, full size companion book, box design, delivery, websites, storefronts, tax issues, shipping and postage and packing considerations, and more stuff.
This post will be about the “do-it-yourself” manufacturing options that I researched, tried, and bought the equipment for. The next one will be about professional printing and all or most of the other stuff in the list above.
I’ll warn you ahead of time that this post is long and probably only of interest to you if you want to either self publish or self manufacture a tarot deck. I ultimately hired a professional printer, but I learned a lot and accumulated the tools needed to manufacture a *small* run myself, should I choose to do so someday.
I’m afraid I don’t have an organized way to go about this, so I’ll just start talking and hope the material all comes out eventually. I’ll try to bold different elements so you can find your way around for future reference.
So, if you are creating a tarot deck, eventually you (hopefully) get to the point where the artwork for all 78 cards is complete. Then you still need to do one more thing – design the card backs. There are some considerations to think about here, like do you want the backs to be reversible? I personally don’t read reversed cards. Sometimes I will see them as something to take note of, most a lot of the time I just turn them right side up. There are so many layers of meanings to each card that they read fine for me without have 78 more meanings. So the Rosetta Tarot, like the Thoth deck, was not designed with reversals in mind. The Thoth deck has non-reversible backs (meaning when the cards are face down you can tell if they are reversed). But since I respect that many readers do like to consider the significance of reversals, I made the Rosetta Tarot’s card backs reversible. That way when choosing cards one can’t know which way they will land and influence the outcome.
I also chose to do full color backs, because the Rosetta Tarot is all about color. Keep in mind though that you could save considerable money on the printing with black and white, or one or two color designs. Here is a picture of the Rosetta Tarot card backs:
You can see they are a stylized design loosely based on the Hermetic Rose Cross backs of the Thoth deck. It has a rose of Earth surrounded by suggestions of the three primary elements (Fire, Water, Air). The central rose design is based on a sacred geometry construction of rotated concentric 2-to-1 aspect ratio ellipses. It represents the unfolding of consciousness and the process of transmutation from base to pure, with the Rose (earth) representing the body and the cross the blossoming consciousness.
Once you have your card back design, you also have to decide on your borders and titles and add them to the cards if they were not part of the artwork to begin with. But I get ahead of myself. First, you have to make scans of the artwork, and crop and size the pictures. You want scans of at least 300 dpi for good results printing. I was able to do 600 dpi but keep in mind the files become HUGE. I think I was only able to do that as the artwork was card sized to begin with. Large pictures might have been an unmanageable size, even though my scanner will scan higher I tried and even with these small pictures it took forever and the files were just monstrous. So, I’d say 300 dpi is fine for large pictures and the printers say that too, 600 dpi is probably overkill but you can do it if your art is smaller.
So once the art is scanned, cropped to a uniform size and shrunk down if necessary, then you can add your borders. For the Rosetta Tarot I wanted very plain borders that would not detract from the highly colored artwork, so I chose a rich solid black with a plain white small cap font. The idea was that if the cards are placed on a black cloth, the borders will disappear into the background and the artwork will seem to float. I don’t own a copy of Photoshop, so I had to enlist the aid of a friend who has it for this step. (Thanks Marc – I couldn’t have done this without you!) He first made a plain black frame to the size and shape I specified. Then as he is smart, and to save time, he wrote a macro that dropped the artwork into the frames. I then gave him all of the card numbers and titles and described how they should be placed, and he added them in. I then had to proofread them very carefully, several times. I found little errors, like things not capitalized that should be, as with a small cap font it is hard to notice the difference between caps and lower case unless you look closely. For sure, you don’t want to go to print and find out you misspelled Hierophant or made a numbering error or something! I have heard lots of stories of people self publishing who did stuff like that. Embarrassing, and costly! So I checked, and rechecked and checked again until I felt confident nothing was missed or messed.
Another tip that should be obvious is to make sure to back up your work. I kept a copy on my computer, he had one too while he was working on it, and I backed up to a thumb drive. All this is a lot of work, so you don’t want to lose it to a hard drive failure.
Now you have to decide how to print them. This was the part that was really tricky for me, and ended up taking a lot of time. I knew that finding a professional printer would be difficult, risky and very expensive, so at first I tried to find ways around it by going DIY, and ended up spending money and time in the process. I did get a few useful things in the process though. I had emailed a fellow tarot deck designer named Beth Seilonen, a very talented and extremely prolific artist, and a nice person from what I can tell. She makes limited small editions of decks, many of which she prints herself with archival ink. I contacted her to ask what type of photo printer she used (a Canon Pixma Pro 9000). I found one of these on E-Bay and it was very affordable, especially with the coupon I had. It is a great printer, with absolutely beautiful colors and the Chromalife 100 inks are supposed to be archival for 100 years. It also prints on art paper, and in sizes up to 13×19, and borderless. While I didn’t end up manufacturing my decks with it, I have made prints that I am very satisfied with, the colors are just amazing. I also use it to print the free bonus personalized significator cards that I give away with orders of the Rosetta Tarot (see shop.rosettatarot.com/ to read about them).
So why didn’t I use it to print my decks? Well, several reasons. First, my deck is SATURATED with color. It has bold color, rich color, dark, bright colors on both sides, and the fronts have a deep black border. The ink is expensive! The printer has eight ink cartridges and to replace them all is around $90. I think I could only print two decks if that before replacing cartridges. There are non OEM inks available much cheaper, but the main reason I got this printer is because the ink was so vibrant and archival, so it sort of defeats the purpose.( It voids the warranty on the printer too, but I wasn’t worried about that so much as the printers are not that expensive to replace, and what you would save on ink would buy several of them.) So that is reason number one. The second reason is, I never did come up with a lamination or coating method I was satisfied with, and with an inkjet printer you really need to protect the prints from moisture as the inks will run if any liquid gets near them. I am very sensitive to chemical smells, so spraying the cards would be difficult. I purchased a few different Krylon sprays, and found that the cards just stunk to high heaven of chemicals long after they were dry. Plus I was afraid they would stick together. I researched and found several products made for coating photo prints, including some aqueous coatings with no odor, but didn’t end up trying them as due to other concerns, it just wasn’t worth it. Now, if I was only planning on doing say 100 decks, it *might* have been ok to go that way, especially if I could do them in a spray booth, but I wanted to do several hundred. Some of the photo coatings were self leveling and could be rolled on with the cards flat without streaking supposedly, but I realized I didn’t have the space to lay out that many sheets to dry, even to do 100 decks would have required too much room. I wasted so much time researching the coating issue! If anyone knows of a solution, I would LOVE to hear about it, in case I ever want to do some fun little decks with say only 50-100 copies.
So next I tried laminating the cards. I purchased a Xyron cold laminator that would do 11 or 12 inch wide sheets. The plus with cold lamination is that you don’t need to leave that little plastic seal around it like with hot laminators, you can just slice right through it to cut up the cards and not laminate them individually. I found a great deal on the lamination cartridges on Blick’s website; with their special discount coupon codes I got the cartridges down to I think around $15.99 each for a 50ft roll. I figured out that I could laminate 30 8×11 sheets with 50ft, and a deck was 13 sheets. Probable lamination cost at that rate is between 3 and 4 dollars per deck. The great thing about these machines is that they take the thinnest laminate available, 1.5ml. I think unfortunately I bought a half dozen of the cartridges, thinking that if only I could get the printing costs down, this would be the solution. I say unfortunately because I only made 3 prototype decks (13 8×11 pages each) with the thing before it would hopelessly jam every few pages. You never heard me swear so much, as those printed pages it ruined cost me a fortune in the above mentioned archival inks, paper, and laminate. Maybe I just got a bad machine, but I don’t know, it was brand new and shouldn’t have been like that. *grumbles*
Before it sh*t the bed, I got 3 decks done. One of those I printed myself, and two that I brought to a local small printer. Having color copies to do two decks made at the local printer was a cost of about $35, uncut sheets, and not laminated. This method would be too costly clearly. I also discovered that while the laminate stuck beautifully and crystal clear to the ones I printed with my Canon, it didn’t as well with theirs. It stayed on, but had a cloudier look to it. I think it was because their cardstock was slightly coated so the laminate didn’t adhere as well, and the card stock I used was matte photo paper and it adhered perfectly. Either that or it was their inks.
So, let us assume that I found a good price on cardstock, and a good price on either color copies or archival ink, and the lamination machine worked. What would the problem be then? Well, first of all, even with a relatively thin cardstock (11ml double sided matte photo paper) and the thinnest laminate available (1.5 ml) a finished deck of cards ended up nearly 1 3/8 inches thick, much thicker than a “regular” deck and thus had to hold and shuffle. So then, let us now assume that I found a cardstock that took ink well and laminate well but was thinner, thin enough so the finished tarot deck was the appropriate thickness. I didn’t find such a product, but even if I had, there would still be the issue of cutting the sheets into cards.
I tried a paper guillotine, with horrible results. I read lots of reviews and found instead a really good photo cutter (Carl Heavy Duty Rotary Paper Trimmer). I’d highly recommend this just to have around the studio, as it works perfectly. I used this to cut out the three decks I hand cut. Now it worked great, and I am very glad I spent the money on it, but the amount of labor it took to cut 78 cards was just too much for my liking. It took I think over three hours to cut out one deck, and by the time I was done my wrist hurt so bad I thought I might have given myself a repetitive stress injury. Luckily that went away! So, I would use this for Majors only decks, but for a 78 card deck it is just too much work.
If one was going to make cards either poker sized or business card sized, there are hand crank business card cutters out there. I didn’t end up buying one to try it, as they don’t make them tarot sized. But they looked like a lot less work to use and a great option if they work well.
If you have gotten to the point where you have cut all your cards uniformly, then you need to round the corners. They sell cheap little corner rounders at craft stores, but for the volume you will need they are impractical, as I read they stop working pretty quickly. I got a professional grade corner rounder made by Lassco. They come in 1/8 inch and ¼ inch. Either would work, but I got the 1/8 inch model which makes rounded corners about like you would see on a credit card. It works pretty good, but though it says you can round a stack of cards at once, it was a bit of an exaggeration. You can, but some of them get cut not smoothly curved. Three or four is the most you can do at once with no errors, and doing them individually is the best as far as how they come out. More time-consuming labor, as each card has four corners to do!
Another solution that works better with less labor but is a bit pricier is to purchase an Ellison machine, and get a die custom made to cut out your cards. Yup, I did this too. Luckily they were having a 30% off sale when I bought the machine. I had them make me a custom die that would cut out six cards at a time, printed on an 8×11 sheet, as while my printer would print on bigger paper the 8×11 cardstock was cheapest. I would not be able to fit six cards on an 8×11 sheet due to the bleed necessary if it were not for the fact that I have a borderless printer. You have to leave at least a 1/8 inch “bleed” or excess printed matter, around each card, so that when you cut them if there is a little slippage no white space shows. This machine works pretty good. I can cut six cards at once with just one pass through, and they have the corners rounded already. It isn’t perfect every time, but close to it. The downside is that the machine is huge and heavy, and you have to get the die exactly lined up to how your printer prints, and you have to make a pdf with the cards lined up exactly with no deviation, and your printer has to be consistent. I think if I had to get a different printer I might have to get a new die. I hear the die though will make thousands or tens of thousands of cuts, though you have to clean the paper trimmings out of it with a little metal toothpick or something once in a while, or so they say. I haven’t used it enough to have to clean it yet. It is what I use to cut the free personalized significator cards I give to Rosetta purchasers though, and I am very happy with it. It is another thing I’m happy to have even though I ended up going with a professional printer, as I see myself using it someday to make a very limited edition or a Majors only deck. If that is I figure out the lamination, ink and coating issues! They make all sorts of dies for paper crafters, not custom made, just available to purchase, so if you like that sort of thing you would get lots of use out of it. I had them make me a tarot box die too, though I didn’t end up using that either! (Hello, my name is M.M. Meleen, and I have an art supply addiction.)
Eventually, after spending weeks and months obsessing, researching, trying stuff and buying hundreds of dollars of equipment, I realized that for me it would be better to hire a professional printer, even if it meant my debt-aversive self taking out a loan to pay them, which is what I did. I don’t regret buying this stuff though, as I shelled out the money a little at a time along the way, and now I have a very nicely equipped studio with the ability to produce decks myself, at least in theory and in small quantities.
This post is already too long! Is anyone still here? I was hoping before I started today to get into the stuff I actually DID do, but guess that will be up next. So, next time, I’ll post all about my experiences with professional printers, digital versus offset printing, cardstock, copyrighting, bar coding, ISBN numbering, “little white book”, full size companion book, box design, delivery, websites, storefronts, tax issues, shipping and postage and packing considerations, and more stuff. If you have any questions you want me to address, post here at http://www.tarotforum.net/showthread.php?t=158712&page=8 and I’ll try to include them in the next installment.
By the way, a shameless plug here to check out the post beneath this one on my blog, and click the link to vote for the Rosetta tarot in the Aeclectic Tarot’s annual contest for Top Ten Decks of 2011. It would be a great honor for a self-published artist to get into the top ten!