Category Archives: Tarot Deck publishing

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part XI – Odds and Ends, Bits and Bobs, Flotsam and Jetsam


This is the final post in this series. Number eleven is sometimes called Babalon, and sometimes the macro & microcosm united, and sometimes the phantom sephira Daath. But I digress…


This post is just to wrap up all the odds and ends and bits and bobs that are related to a publishing project when making your own tarot deck, or book, or both.


Copyrighting: Before you start showing your work, you definitely want to register it with the copyright office to protect your rights. In the US, the website is There are separate forms for the artwork (Form VA for the deck) and the text (Form TX for the little white book and/or full size companion book). Each must be filed separately. The easiest way to do this is with their online eCo system, filling out the pretty basic forms and uploading the text or images. At the current time, each filing is a $35 fee. Now, not to panic, you do not have to separately register each card image separately (that would get expensive!) A group of related images can be copyrighted as a body of work for one $35 fee. So to copyright a set of deck images, the text for a little white book, and the text for a full-size book, would cost $105.


Once you pay and upload your data, you get a date-stamped email back as proof of when you submitted your registration. However, it will take several months before your official copyright is received. At that time you will get a certificate in the mail.


For unpublished works, you do not need to send in a hard copy, but you do for published works. So since you are probably unpublished when you first start the process, you won’t need to send the hard copies in. But once you officially offer them for sale, I think you have two months to submit two copies of the “best editions” to the Library of Congress by law. You can choose to re-register the copyright or not, but you must send in the hard copies. All of this is on the copyright office website.


ISBN numbers and Bar Coding: If you plan on selling your product in bookstores or on Amazon, it will need an ISBN number and a bar code, but if you only plan on selling them yourself on your own website, or at fairs or something, you don’t need to bother with this step. I did take the time and extra expense to do this, as I was not sure if I’d be able to sell them all just on my website. So far, I have only needed to sell them on my website. But I am glad that I have the option of selling them at some point on Amazon, so I feel ok with the fact that I went ahead and did this even if so far it has proved unnecessary.


Both the ISBN numbers and the Bar Codes can be obtained at Bowkers and their related site, MyIdentifiers. Note though that Tarot decks are not eligible for ISBN numbers – it is the little white book which you are getting the ISBN number for; the deck is just sold with it! In order to qualify your LWB has to have a minimum of pages; I think the number is 48.


The ISBN number must be obtained first. They are very expensive to buy singly ($150-175), but they are also sold in blocks of ten which at around $250 actually are a good deal if you plan on making more than one book. If there is even a remote possibility, get a block of ten.


Once you have the ISBN number, you can purchase a bar code associated with that ISBN. But you have to know the price at which you are going to sell your book as it is attached to the bar code, so be sure. If you change the price, you have to get a new bar code. And since you probably are going to have it printed right on your book, to make a change you would have to do it with a new bar code sticker which would not be good. So think carefully on your price before purchasing your bar code. Once you pay the $25 fee and set the price, you will be emailed the bar code file. It will be a .ps file, which you can embed into the artwork for your box or book. On a book the traditional place is the lower right hand corner, and there are size specifications that you have to follow for it to work, so you must leave a white box of the correct size on the artwork for your book cover (the bar code site has directions). The printing company you choose can then “install” the bar code there for you. I recommend letting them do this rather than doing it yourself, as if you get the resolution wrong, the bar code won’t scan.


After you actually have your printed products, you log back in to the MyIdentifiers site and fill out the details such as number of pages, cover picture, author, publisher, editor, etc…and this actually gets picked up by stores like Barnes and Noble somehow.


Little white book: Not much to say here, except that if you are going to ISBN your LWB, make sure you have the minimum required pages (48? I forget now exactly). These books are usually saddle-stitched (which is the printer term for “center stapled”). I did the layout for mine in Word since it was just a small booklet, making sure to have the text spaced and justified properly for that size was a struggle but eventually I got it. (For the full size book though, I highly recommend hiring a professional designer to lay out your text.)


Also for the little white book, if you are having it professionally printed, you just need to set the page size and send them a pdf of the pages in order. But if you are going to make it yourself, note that with saddle stitching, the first and last pages are one piece of paper, the second and next to last are on one piece of paper, etc. (Take one apart and see!) So if you are printing and stapling your own, you really need to think about the order of your pages and how they will print. I figured all this out and boy was it ever a pain in the rear! Since I had them professionally printed I didn’t need to do this either, and actually had to redo it with the pages just in numerical order, as the printers after I submitted it first that way let me know that they have software that does all that and to resubmit it the regular way! Doh!!


Full size book: I already posted a little in an earlier post about actually writing one, but here I just want to reiterate that it really is in your best interest to hire a book designer to do the book layout of the text and images for you, in a program like InDesign. Unless you have software like this and know how to use it that is. If you try to do this yourself in Word, the end result will very likely look unprofessional. There was an absolute world of difference in how my manuscript looked after the book designer laid the text out. I just had to make a few decisions about placement and spacing and images, and she made it look so good! Your copyright and ISBN info goes on the page after your title page.


You will probably get advice not to design your own book cover, for the same reason. But I did, and I am pleased with how it turned out. I don’t have Photoshop or InDesign, and no experience with graphics software either. So how did I manage to design a book cover that does not scream “self made”? I used the freeware Gimp in place of Photoshop. Then I took a book whose cover design I admired and studied it to see what it was about it I liked, what worked and what didn’t. I based my book design on what I learned just by visually examining text and picture size and spacing, and made color choices based on my own built in sense of such things as an artist. You do want it to be easy to read and eye-catching. The text should be clean and not too fancy, and in a color that stands out against your background.


In order to know what size to do your cover art in, you will first have to have decided what size your finished book will be. There are standard sizes for book styles that you must use if using a print-on-demand site. In my case, I chose 5 x 8, and the only reason in my head at the time was that I wanted the book to be small enough to be easily portable, but a little larger and wider than a paperback. This actually turned out to be a very fortuitous decision, as this size fit EXACTLY into a Priority Mail small flat rate box. So if shipping books yourself, think about size and weight issues. I just got lucky here!


So if your book is 5×8, you need the size of your cover to be twice that plus spine width plus a bleed for the printers. How will you know spine width? Once your book designer (or you) has done your text layout in that size, you will know how many pages the book is. You will need to ask your printer what the spine width will be for that many pages based on the paper you intend to have your book printed on.


To go back to the cover design, if your book is 5×8” and your spine width is half an inch, and your printer requires a quarter inch bleed all around, then your artwork should be 11×8.5” (5+5+.5+.25+.25 for the length and 8+.25+.25 for the height). Note that the “bleed” will be trimmed off, so make sure your text and images are well away from it.


The front cover design will be on the right half of this rectangle, the back cover blurb on the left half, and the spine exactly centered. The spine text should be oriented on the vertical as compared to the covers, and usually has the title, author, and publisher on it. It should be bold and easy to read from across the room while sitting in the bookshelf. The back design will have your summary and don’t forget to add a white box of the correct size in the lower right corner for your bar code.


Your artwork for the book cover should be no less than 300 dpi, an uncompressed tiff, them made into a pdf for the printer.


Tarot Card Box Design: Same info goes for the artwork for your tarot card box. It should be 300 dpi, easy to read, and with the appropriate bleed. Your printer if they have done card decks before may have a box template they can send you to fill in with the artwork and text. In my case, all they had done were tuck boxes, and I wanted a box that opened on the horizontal. So I had to “design” the box; but really all I did is find one similar to what I wanted and copy ALL of the dimensions and take it apart and scan it and fill in all the dimensions I wanted and sent it to them. They actually took that design I sent and made it much better and simplified it greatly, and then sent me a pdf of the template to fill in. For your design, look at a few other boxes and decide what works for spacing and color and text. I did mine with Gimp, which worked fine. You will need to save your file as an uncompressed tiff, and probably make it into a pdf to send to the printers.


Miscellany regarding actually selling your deck and book: You need a website but I probably am not the best person to give advice about that. I made my own, using software from my domain and hosting provider, but it involved a lot of swearing! There is a lot to figure out, from page design to keywords to setting up the storefront and your shipping options. I’ll leave you to do that!


You probably want to check in about tax stuff. Even if selling on the internet, you might be liable for collecting sales tax on stuff sold in your home state. If so, you will need to register as a sales tax vendor. Not going to give you tax advice, just saying, look into the laws that apply to you.


Once you sell something, you have to pack it and ship it. For packing supplies I just have clear packing tape and bubble wrap. I have also taken the precaution of shrink wrapping all of my books and deck boxes, for two reasons. First is that you spend all of that money on printing, you don’t want the box and book cover to arrive scuffed or scratched. Second is to protect from moisture – deathly for books and decks, and these boxes will be traveling all over the globe. You should invest in shrink wrap bags, a combination cutter/sealer and a heat gun. I also put the custom cards in baggies and tape them down so they can’t get wet or wrinkled.


To ship I chose to use USPS Priority Mail flat rate. They provide the boxes free of charge, and whatever fits in the box ships for one flat rate. You can buy the postage and print the labels online. It really is the easiest option and they get it to your customer in 2-3 days in the US. I was extremely lucky in that the combo of a deck and book just barely fits into a small flat rate box. That was luck, not planning, but I will definitely know to consider that in the future. And it fits so snugly that very little packing is needed, just a layer of bubble wrap around the deck box, and the shipping box itself is the protection. It actually needs a little encouragement and tape to fit, but those boxes are great, they flex just enough. I recommend not relying on the sticky stuff they use to seal the box but reinforcing it with packing tape.


Priority flat rate applies to international too, though it takes longer (they say 10 business days but if it ends up in customs and some do, it takes longer) and costs more. Still a good option though, and has proved very reliable. The small flat rate boxes have the customs info built right into the label, but any larger sizes need a separate customs form.


Deals and giveaways and review copies: Be prepared to have a few extra copies printed. You will need two for the Library of Congress for copyrighting, plus any copies you intend to send to reviewers.


It is also nice to have some incentive for people to purchase directly from you rather than somewhere else if you are selling them in places other than just on your website. I am only selling them on my website at this point, but I still decided to offer a break on the combination purchase of a deck and a book for a limited time. I also offer the customized significator cards for now, with the customer’s name or name of their choice in hieroglyphs. It does make for a bit of extra work and expense making them, so not sure how long I will continue that, but I actually really enjoy it so I don’t want to stop yet! I have learned how to write the glyphs pretty good now from all the practice, and I like the feeling of connection it gives me.


Good luck with your mission to create your own deck or book, should you choose to accept it!


The transmission of the journey of the creation of a tarot deck is at an end.

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part X – Malkuth, manifestation of the Tarot deck on the earthly plane



Finally, as promised, here is what was supposed to be the last post in this series on creating your own tarot deck. What I realized while writing this though is that it won’t be the last post, there is just too much info to share, so this post will cover the major issues of printing, and the next one(s) will cover the other stuff like the copyrighting, bar coding, ISBN numbering, little white book, full size book, box design, delivery packing and postage, web stores, and tax and customs issues.


While the biggest step post artwork completion is hiring a printer, there is a lot more to it than that. But we have to start somewhere, so let us start and go from there.


Choosing a professional printer


This was probably the most difficult part of the process for me, being a complete and utter n00b in the world of printing and publishing, and having heard so many horror stories out there in the tarot world about people like me getting burned. So I was nervous; after all, I was well aware that this step was going to cost me a significant amount of money, more money than I have ever spent on a thing I can’t live in. It was either going to completely drain my savings, or be too much for that to even cover and require getting a loan to do it right (it did). I started, as most people do, with two avenues to begin the research: word of mouth, and searching the internet. For the word of mouth option, I had a few friends and acquaintances who either had hired a printer before for some part of their job, or who used to work in the industry, etc. So I started there, getting names of printing companies they were familiar with in the local area. I also searched online, but that proved extremely tricky as it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. But, I did find a couple of printers that way who were definitely capable of doing the job, gave good samples and quotes, and had a good reputation when I asked around, so it is difficult but possible. I also asked a few others who have self-published decks for recommendations, for who they used for theirs, and got a couple leads this way (one of which turned out to be The One).


So, you want to have more than one company to start with, so that you can compare their pricing, service, and product. The ideal scenario would be for them to be within driving distance of your home, as then you could rent or borrow a truck and pick up your product rather than paying for shipping. But, it may not be possible to find one in your area, or, it may be that even with the shipping, you get a better price from a company that is not local to you, so don’t limit yourself to one area only.


For my deck, I stayed with printers within the US only. While I was aware that I could probably get the decks printed for less overseas, there were enough reasons to not do that too. First, I am a big believer of buying local, so I wanted to be able to say that they were printed at least as local as the US. Second reason is that I was not sure that I could reasonably afford to print, and manage to sell, the quantities that would have made that a feasible choice. It would have been likely to require a run of 3000+ decks, and I could neither afford the costs nor be confident that I could sell that many by myself.  Lastly, I just didn’t think I could deal with the language barrier and the anxiety of sending that much money to another country, with no recourse if things didn’t turn out well.


At some point, I had a list of seven or eight printers that seemed able to do the job. Of course, do not be surprised if some printers actually don’t respond to you. I was surprised! I just didn’t get how a reasonable business person could ignore potential business. Then I began to feel badly and second guess myself. Was it me? Was I so obviously an annoying n00b that I wasn’t worth a reply? Nah, don’t take it to heart. I found out at some point in the process that many print shops are just not equipped to deal with what it takes to make a tarot deck. There are many steps, and if they do not own the equipment in house, they would have to farm out that part of the job, which raises the cost, and at some point they realize it prices them out of the market. So if they think you are doing your homework, they won’t bother to do the work of pricing out a quote for you. Personally, I think it is only polite and good business to respond to an email inquiry, even if the answer is not in the affirmative, but that is just me. Some of them were too rude or too busy to do even that, so don’t take it personally.


Of this initial list of printers, five made it to the next stage, and these were the ones I got formal quotes from. To get a quote, you can call and speak to a sales person, or do it via email. I hate talking on the phone as a rule, so for all but one of those I opted for the email route. Some companies have very good online quote forms that you can fill out with all the necessary info, and when you fill out one of these, in most cases anyway, you receive a quote within a day or two. The pluses of getting the quotes via email (besides not having to talk to anyone!) are that you can get very clear about what you need and not stutter and stumble through it. (If you learn the terminology, in the initial email or online form at least, you might even sound like you know what you are doing!)


Now obviously I didn’t know what I was doing, never having done it before, but I obsessively researched, thanks to the overwhelming waterfall of data that is the internet. So I knew what to ask for, sort of. Though I am acutely aware that I probably drove my printers crazy with my endless neurotic questions! I share everything I learned to spare both future deck creators AND future printers the agony of all that!


What to ask for during the quote process


Let’s just start with the decks only, and leave the card boxes and little white books out of it, as those will be separate quotes.


Color options – My deck is full color both sides. In the printing world, they call this “4/4” (four-four). This is because most printing processes use four basic colors to combine to make the spectrum. (So if you have a deck that has a range of colors on one side, but only two colors on the other, say a deck that has color illustrations but a back design that is a yellow and black pattern, then that would probably be called “4/2”)


Finished size – You also need to let them know the finished size of the cards, for example 70mm x 117mm, which was the size of the Rosetta Tarot. Some may convert that to inches, it doesn’t matter though what system you use as long as you are clear about the finished size.


Corner rounding – Next, if you want the corners of the cards to be rounded, they need to know that, too. It will cost more, but most customers of tarot decks want and expect rounded corners, though I am sure there are deck exceptions.


Collation and shrink-wrapping, or bulk packing – The cards can either be collated and shrink wrapped, or bulk packed. Bulk packing will cost less, but will mean that it is up to you to collate (sort, count and put all 78 cards in order) and shrink wrap or otherwise package each and every deck. I recommend springing for the service if you can, as I know that doing hundreds or thousands of anything is a LOT of work to take on, not to mention prone to human error, while they have machines. Unless you don’t have a full time job already, and want to have one that doesn’t pay for awhile, let the printers do that if you can afford to!


Cardstock – You can either go in knowing what you want, or ask them for samples and prices, or ask them to quote what they think is appropriate (what I did) but make sure to get a sample. Keep in mind that true playing card stock is the Holy Grail – highly desirable, but very costly. I personally upon reflection (and seeing the heart-stopping cost of it) decided against it. The reason I decided it was not necessary was that the thing that makes it a true playing card stock is that there is a thin carbon layer sandwiched in the middle of the paper layers of the card. While this probably gives the cards strength and snap to some degree, its true purpose is so that when gamers are playing card games like poker, it creates an opaque layer that you can’t see through even with light behind it, preventing someone from seeing what card is in your hand. Not needed for tarot cards, as they are laid face down, and have complex imagery rather than flat solid pips on a white background that might show through, and no real gambling use for the most part! So if money was no object, I would have got it for my baby as I wanted it to be the best it could be, but I couldn’t and didn’t and it turned out great anyway.


For the record, a card stock can be expressed in different weights. The Rosetta’s card stock is 120# gloss cover, which has been received very well to date. I also got quotes for something called 11.5 Pt Stop-Lite C2S cover (expensive playing card carbon layer stock), 12.0 Pt Carolina Cover, 300gsm casino quality paper (another pricey carbon layer stock), 12 Pt Tango C2S Cover, and Superluxe 320 2 ply playing card stock (another ritzy one), among others. I think the key is that it is coated on 2 sides (that’s what the C2S means) and the right weight. By right weight, I mean heavy enough to not be flimsy feeling and easily bent, but light enough to be flexible for shuffling and to not have the final deck size be too thick. The thicknesses as you can see from the examples are expressed differently so it gets confusing, but the 120# was certainly sufficient as was the 12 Pt. and the 300 gsm, if that gives you some idea of where to begin. You could go a little heavier, but not much and not more than 14pt, and I would not go lighter unless it was the playing card stock with the carbon layer, one of which was 11.5 pt.


Aqueous coating – IF (and this is a big if which we will talk about) I say IF you are going with offset press printing, than an aqueous coating is a must and you need to specify that you want that. If you go with digital printing, don’t ask for that. It isn’t necessary and it could confuse the issue as they might add it to the price of your quote accidentally (happened to me) and then later realize that for the digital option you don’t need it/can’t do it and have to remove it.


Offset vs Digital Printing – I struggled SO much with this issue that I almost hate to even mention it. I mean I agonized over it. Who doesn’t want their creation to be the best it can be? But there was so much conflicting information on the internet about what the best is, and what the differences are. So while I am by no means an expert, I will share my experiences here with you. Like I said, I agonized over this choice. I googled it obsessively and was just spinning my wheels going nowhere. The problem is that most of the information out there, and most people in the printing industry, will ever so slightly (or not so slightly) favor offset printing. Why is this a problem? You would think then if you want the best, you should go with offset, right? Well, digital printing equipment has made such huge strides the last couple of years (and I mean literally the last two or three) that it is no longer actually true, though the info on the internet and in peoples’ minds has not yet caught up. Originally, I had my heart set on offset, as print quality was the one area I would not compromise on. But this is what I came to understand, that offset did not equal better anymore, and that in some cases, digital is better. I talked to my printers about this, and they hemmed and hawed and beat around the bush like crazy. What they said was that because they were in the printing business so long, that their minds were prone to favor offset, the old school way. But that they had to admit that the quality of the digital machine they had was so good, that not only could some people not tell the difference, but that some of their customers who could tell actually preferred the digital prints. I still was not convinced at first. But I ended up going digital (for the decks, but not the boxes which I will explain), and here are the reasons why:


The number one reason why is that after a long drawn out process I finally eeked out of my printer a reason why someone might like digital printing better. (This was the tipping point at which I became a digital convert for my deck.) They just happened to mention along the way that with digital printing, the colors sit on top of the paper, and are sort of baked on, to my mind almost like enamel, and not coated. To contrast, offset inks soak into the paper, and then need to be aqueous coated. The result is that the digital inks, sitting on top of the paper rather than sinking in, are more vibrant in color than the offset. SOLD! Anyone that knows my artwork knows I am all about vibrant color, I think it is obvious when you look at the Rosetta Tarot.


So that was reason #1, but there were other factors. Probably the most important factor to most people is that while offset IS very much cheaper for large print runs (3000-5000 decks) but digital is cheaper for print runs under 3000, especially runs under 1000, which my deck was.


More important to me was that with digital, your printer will not have a problem with sending you an actual deck of your design as a proof – but with offset, if you are an unknown self-publisher, they are not likely to set up the press to print you one deck, you are going to get an electronic proof via pdf – I just fail to see how that is useful, with monitor differences and all that. With an actual proof then you can see, hold and feel it, and see the quality of the product. No way, man, no can do, I am not shelling out thousands of dollars and taking it on faith just looking at the cards on a monitor – I can do that at home!


The other thing that went in favor of digital printing for me was that the colors are just so much more consistent. With offset, everyone says “Try to be present, on press, when it is printing, so you can approve of the colors and make sure they are right, yadda yadda…” But how is one supposed to do that when the printer is far away from you (and may not welcome that)? This is not an issue with digital, the colors sit on top and go on the way they go on, but with offset, they sink in and blend and morph. I realized this after the fact, because I could compare. I had my decks done digitally, but the boxes for the decks done offset. Why? There is a good reason for that! For tarot card boxes, offset printing is superior to digital because of the fact that the ink soaks into the paper. This is because the tarot card boxes get scored and folded. Digital inks, which sit on top, would crack slightly on the folds. Offset inks, which sink in, don’t do that. So opt for offset printing for your boxes, even if it costs more; I did.


And because I went digital with the decks and offset with the boxes, this is what I found. The color of the decks was super consistent, they were identical in hue and tone and vibrancy when comparing them all side by side. But I noticed with the boxes, some of them were just slightly different in color in a very subtle way. Half of them, the gray of the box background was what I’d describe as a warm, yellow toned grey, and the other half, the gray was more coolly blue toned. A very subtle difference to be sure, and it didn’t bother me at all, they all looked good, but honestly, I would hate to have that same situation on the artwork for the decks – now that would make me crazy!


Shipping – Just feel I should mention this, as the quotes you will get will probably not mention the cost of shipping, even if they mention the method. If the decks are getting shipped to you, don’t forget to leave something in your budget to cover the cost of shipping. I had 777 decks plus boxes plus little white books made, and 500 full size companion books, and the shipping cost me around $600 – but it should have been a couple hundred more, the printers kindly gave me a break as they had told me verbally it would be much cheaper in error and I think felt bad for misleading me. Plus postage rates have recently gone up since then, even though this was only in October/November 2011.


Quantity – Obviously you need to let them know how many you want. For a digital print run, you might ask them to quote you for 100 decks vs 250 decks vs 500 decks vs 1000 decks…(you get the picture; for an offset run you might want to get higher numbers quoted, say 500/1000/3000/5000, but it likely won’t be cost effective for anything under 3000). That way you can see for yourself how as the quantity goes up, the cost per deck goes down, and try to find a happy medium between cost and what you might reasonably charge. Don’t be seduced into having too many printed at first to keep the cost per deck down, as what happens if you print 1000 but only sell 250 decks in the first year, but meanwhile have a printing loan to pay off? No profit, and potentially a loss. Try to be reasonable. I have no idea how many is the right number, but for a self publisher without the marketing resources of the big guys, I think that the safe number is in the hundreds, not the thousands.


Little white books – I’ll talk more about those later, but you should know that the stapled booklets that one usually sees are called “saddle stitched”. Helps to use the lingo!


Box stuffing – If you order shrink wrapped decks, little white books, and boxes, you will either have to have the printers fold and assemble the boxes and insert the decks and little white books, or you will have to do it yourself. Because of the cost versus the value, I recommend doing it yourself. It’s not hard to do, it just takes time, so have a deck box assembly and stuffing party if you can. I luckily had two people volunteer to help with that, so we got them all assembled, folded, stuffed and then the boxes shrink wrapped on the outside over a period of a few days. (We were interrupted in the middle of the process by a freak end-of October blizzard that dumped two feet of snow and deprived my house of power for four days, leaving the kitchen and living area looking like a bomb went off in a tarot factory in a limbo period in the middle.) If you do this yourself, and opt to shrink wrap the outer boxes (which I recommend to keep them from being damaged in transit to your customers by scratches or moisture) then you will need to purchase shrink wrap bags, a sealer/cutter and a heat gun. None of these are very expensive.


Important Notes – If you do not have white borders on the cards, and the color extends to the edge of the card, be aware that you will have to have what is called a “bleed” built into the design. A standard bleed is around 3mm all around all edges of the cards. Which means that the artwork you submit for a card 70mmx117mm will have to be 76mmx123mm, knowing that 3mm will be chopped off all the way around.


Your files will have to be no less than 300dpi in order for the print quality to be good, so when you scan your initial artwork to use in the cards, make sure the scanner is set to at least 300dpi. (While more is certainly ok, the files will be very large if you go more than that. I used 600 dpi, but the original artwork was card sized, so I could reasonably do that.)


You want to save your files as uncompressed tiff files (.tif). While jpeg and gif files are fine for the web, they are prone to loss of data and image degradation and don’t print as well.


Every printer will be different as to how they want you to submit the files. Some may provide die lines for you to insert the artwork into. Others may want all of the cards in one large pdf, one card to a page, in the order in which you want them collated; with either the first or last card in the pdf to be the card backs. They will probably have a file upload site you can use as the file will be too large to email. And of course, they won’t tell you any of this stuff about file types, dpi, uploading or bleeds until you ask repeatedly, as they will assume that like most of the commercial people they deal with, you already know what to expect when dealing with a printer.


What to consider once you get your quotes


Well, price is the obvious thing, but it is not the only thing. Quality and responsiveness are high on the list of things to consider. When you ask for a sample or samples, are they willing to send various samples for you to consider? Will they respond to your emails in a timely fashion and answer your questions? Do they treat you with respect?


Don’t be surprised if they all take more time than you would like to answer your emails. In this day and age, and having a desk job myself, I have grown to expect that when I send an email, I get a response right away, like within 24 hours. But I found not everyone is like that (especially printers). It was very frustrating, as I am one to answer emails right away out of consideration, and found that some of the printers I was dealing with were much less responsive than others. I might send an email, and wait days or a week for a response in some cases! (Grrrr…how do people stay in business like that?!) Even the printers I went with, while very considerate, often took longer than I anticipated getting back to me for simple things. So keep in mind, this process will take longer than you think. From the time I finished the paintings, until the time the deck was available for sale, spanned almost six months! (an eternity as far as I was concerned, though in reality, that was way faster than if a major publisher took it on, which could take YEARS) I would not be surprised if there were more than one hundred emails in my inbox and sent box, just dealing with various printers, most especially the one I settled on.


And I found sometimes, that after waiting far too long for a response, that these busy people just dashed off a cryptic reply that could be read two different ways and was totally unclear, resulting in the need to send another clarifying email, and waiting days more. (This was a very evident problem with a “big” card-printing company, who shall remain unnamed.)


Remember too when you are frustrated, that what to you is a big deal, may just be a drop in the bucket for them. Even if you print enough to make it a big job money-wise for them, it is one big job out of an endless stream of jobs for them, and while it is a huge chunk of change for you, and the culmination of months or more likely years of work and effort, for them it is just another day making the donuts. No one cares as much as you do; even if they want to do a good job, so don’t expect them to treat it like a priority even if you are anxiously climbing the walls waiting to hear from them, with your own deadlines to meet.


Decide how many to print, again, don’t bite off more than you can chew! Can’t stress this one enough, as I know I had grandiose ideas when I started that I am glad I toned down a bit. Also, if you are doing companion books to be sold separately, you are going to have to guess how many of those to print versus how many decks, knowing that some people will purchase just the deck and not the book. I did 777 decks and 500 books, and it seems to be working out well at that ratio so far, though I suspect I may run out of books at some point, but YMMV.


Once you know how many you are going to print, you have an idea of your cost (not including your little white book or box or bag if you have them) and you need to start thinking about what is an appropriate markup. What price will the market bear? How many do you need to sell at that price to break even? How long do you think it will take to sell them?  If the price is too much, you lose customers. Too little, and you may have a loss when it is all said and done, and nothing to show for your effort. Ideally, you make a profit to finance a future project or printing.


Get a printed proof whenever possible. The decks should look exactly like they will when you get the finished product. For the boxes, don’t be surprised if the proof you get looks way crappier than the finished product will be though. This is because the box proof might have the printers die lines on it, which won’t be on the final boxes. Also, the box proof in my case was digitally done rather than offset, as they didn’t want to set up the press for a proof. (Remember that for box printing, offset is better as the score lines may crack with digital.) And last, they will be scoring and folding the single box by hand, which looks way crappier than the machine will do. When I got my first complete proof, the decks and little white books and full size books looked amazing, but I had an unpleasant scare over the box, until I talked to them and they explained the die line thing and the scoring issues. (This is a good example of how communication could be lacking, it seems printers are used to dealing with professionals who already realize these things and they don’t think to let you know what to expect ahead of time. So, now you know, so you don’t look as dumb as I did!)


Last thing I will say for now is that depending how many you order, you may need a significant amount of room to store them in once you get them. I ordered decks, little white books and boxes for 777 decks, plus 500 5x8ish companion books, and here is a picture of how much room it took up. (I have an extremely small house, so this was something to deal with! It doesn’t look like much in the picture, but that is basically taking up my entire living room there, even with it completely devoid of furniture as you can see.)



(With large Boxer dog shown for size comparison)


So that is all for now, this post is getting too long and I can’t write anymore. I think I covered the bulk of what will help you. Next time (maybe) will be the last post in this series, covering all the other stuff that I bet you may not have even considered besides the printing. Stuff like, 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, customs, and more stuff if I can remember it all! (I may be optimistic that it will be only one more post, but I will try!)


Hope this has been helpful so far for anyone who wants to make a deck! More to come when I can find the time…



Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part IX – Mind your P’s…penultimate post on printing, publishing and production.


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 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 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!



Next up: Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part VIII – Grounded, the stages of completion…


A few days ago I posted on the Aeclectic Tarot forum in the Rosetta Tarot thread asking people to let me know if they had any questions they wanted me to address in the final round of these creation posts. But, no one has had any burning questions yet, so I am left to my own devices to try to remember what I wanted to post about when I first started this. I was hoping for a few diversions! If you have any questions, log in onto the thread at AT and post them there, and maybe it will break the ice so others do as well. Otherwise, here goes on what I can think of say about the rest of the cards, and next time, I will talk about printing and publishing pleasures, perusals, and potential pitfalls.


The only tarot suit I haven’t talked about in these creation process posts yet is the Suit of Disks, so guess we can start there. At first, I thought the suit was going to be extremely challenging in the sense of making it interesting while drawing compilations of round objects. I didn’t want to make them all “coins” or “pentacles” and I didn’t want to copy the Thoth deck. The funny thing is, in the end I think the Disk suit ended up being one of the most interesting, original, and diverse sets of imagery. Not sure if it was because I did them last, and I was “all warmed up” both artistically and creatively, or why, but I thought they would be the most boring, and it ended up that I found them anything but. I have both of my chart rulers (Jupiter and Uranus) and also Pluto in Virgo, so no lack of Earth there, maybe which helped! (For you astro-buffs, the Virgo is probably why I love little details and was able to work on teeny tiny paintings without going too crazy. But I’m not a Virgo, I’m a Sagittarius so I like working big too! Yes, the flavors of Virg and Sag do not agree so much. Which is why I feel disoriented around clutter and uncleanliness but can’t be bothered to clean as it is boring and life is too short. The solution is, have very little furniture, almost none, so no clutter can accumulate and it is easy to sweep occasionally, and lots of Aqua in your chart so you can detach from the dirt and not see it.)


The medium for the Disks suit was oil paint, and of course the acrylic that ties all the suits together. This mixing of media was actually a blessing, as I normally don’t work in oils often, lacking the patience to wait for them to dry. What I did for the Disks suit was to do an almost complete under painting in acrylic, then paint over that with thin glazes of oil paint. This gave the paintings that deep rich glow of oils, but the thin glazes dried much more quickly, so I could continue working at the speed I wanted.


I loved doing the Ace of Disks, with its pulsing emblem of growth weaving qabalistic trees of life, actual Celtic knot-like trees of life (that also resembled human female reproductive organs), with expanding tree rings, green eyes, and winged maple keys. The Ace of Disks is the card that can traditionally contain the artist’s signature, so all around the card are hidden my initials as part of the design. Since my initials are three “M”s it was easy to hide them as bolts or energetic waves around the card and embed them in the design. It is the only card I signed in any way. Funny I often have to be reminded to sign my other artworks. I don’t really like doing that for some reason. What does that mean? That I have an inhibited or underdeveloped sense of self? Or am I just detached and forgetful? Maybe I want to be someone else! Analyze away, I don’t mind!


I branched out quite a bit both on the Disks suit, and on the trumps in the second half of the deck, doing many cards in a way that was unique to the Rosetta Tarot, or at least I think so, never having seen those particular tarot images done that way anywhere else. The many-armed Adjustment goddess, the pre-Osirian fish priest Ea as Death, Scylla and Charybdis on the Moon card, the Devil and his psilocybins, are a few trumps that come to mind, and for the Disks some unique ones are the paper wasp cells for the Three of Disks, the bank vault tumblers on the Four, the steampunk machine gauges of the Five, the honeybees of the Six, the Minotaur and labyrinth of the Seven, the Owl and nests of the Eight, and the abacus beads of the Nine were all totally original ideas of my own that were out of the box but still fit the traditional meanings. Guess I was on a roll there at the end. Funny how it is like that sometimes, that ideas come fast and furious, and other times I’m just floundering around, flopping like a fish out of water, starving for air, no ideas at all!

Here are two not on the website – the Devil and the Four of Disks, two graspers for Capricorn season:



This new deck I’ve started (which I will show you the first card of in a minute) so far was like that. In one night, the night of the full moon eclipse actually (of course), original image ideas for four cards (The Fool, Magus, Empress, and Lovers) downloaded into my head while I was in bed sort of asleep but not really. I got the Fool done already and the Magus almost done, and they both do something different with the images while still remaining true to the traditional. Now I’m almost ready to start the Priestess, and where is she hiding? As one of my favorite cards, you would think she would have showed up but nope. Guess she is keeping the book of wisdom veiled for now.


So after the Disks, I wrapped up the last of the trumps, with The Universe being the last card done. In the Thoth deck, Lady Harris’ Universe card is one of my favorites, so I was rather intimidated trying to make one I liked as much. But in the end (pun intended) I ended up liking it quite a bit. The ouroboros and also eyes have always been some of my favorite artistic images, and on this card the ouroboros portal of the Fool has wound down into a skeletal form of itself, forming a giant eye with the circle squared as its iris.




So, unless anyone has any questions about the artwork or the cards, the next post will be about the mundane work of getting them turned from pieces of art into a deck of tarot cards. Making the cards, the box, the book, the paper, ink and printing challenges, and all that stuff that can make you crazy with worry and stress when you have never done it before, but actually isn’t all that bad looking at it in retrospect. Kind of like giving birth, you think a woman would be insane to ever go through THAT again, but somehow, people do. And the Rosetta Tarot only got officially published less than two months ago (Jan 2 will be its 2 month anniversary) and already, it has a sibling on the way! The new deck has no official name yet, but for now I’m referring to it as Tarot M. (It was going to be Tarot X for now, but since you can use any letter in algebra I figured why not M as the placeholder?)


What will be different about the new deck? For one thing, I am working bigger. Instead of doing the images the size of cards to begin with, I’m working on 11×7 sheets. Ahhhh, so nice to have space! Also, I’m not planning on using different media for each suit. For this deck I’m working with permanent marker and India ink on frosted acetate. It is a nice medium in some ways – the ink colors are gorgeous and mixable, and the smoothness of the acetate lets them flow on top rather than sinking in. That and the semi-translucent nature of them and the acetate, means they really glow. Like acrylics, they can be layered, but unlike acrylics, they are not opaque, so you can’t fix mistakes. They are like permanent watercolors. I love them for the most part, but the hard part is that this is a very unforgiving medium to work with. The permanent marker and the India inks are both, well, permanent. The paper isn’t paper, it is more like plastic. While you can erase pencil on it with ease, once the ink goes on, it isn’t coming off, and you can’t paint over it like with acrylics to fix it. So there is no room for error, or changing your mind about a color scheme, and no making corrections. Why do I do this to myself? I should have just done this deck in acrylic or colored pencil, now those are two lovely, forgiving, easy to get along with mediums. Why did I have to fall in love with ink all of a sudden? Will I still love it after 78 cards? Assuming I finish, that is. Anyway, here is The Fool from the NEW mystery deck, Tarot M! (copyright 2011)



Copyright 2011, 2012 M.M. Meleen


No borders or titles added yet, this is just the artwork.

Next up, part IX – mind your P’s (wish it was Pints, as yes Pippin, it does come in pints, but it is actually referring to Printing and Publishing issues)

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part VII – Waterlogged!



catch up on the prior installment here

Creating the cups suit of this tarot deck was difficult for me. It may be because I don’t have a lot of water in my astrology chart – only Neptune, the MC, and Chiron, if you really want to know. But more likely it is that I don’t have a lot of experience with watercolors. Plus these paintings were tiny! They were painted pretty much the actual size of the cards. I’m a painter who likes control. Watercolor was just not a medium where I could have the control I wanted to paint tiny details. When I started the Cups suit, at first there was a lot of swearing happening until I learned to go with the flow. By the balls of Zeus and the chin hairs of Aphrodite! I got really good and creative with my swearing.


I also had to find a way to get the details painted that small. I ended up settling on a combination of watercolor and colored inks, as the inks had a little more control than the watercolors. At first, I thought I had found the Holy Grail (Ace of Cups pun intended) when I discovered Derwent’s Inktense pencils. They are basically like watercolor pencils but instead of watercolor they are (supposed to be) permanent ink pencils. Brilliant, beautiful colors, but while they were more permanent than watercolors, they were not as advertised. I had read that once they dried the color was permanent, and one could layer over them without lifting the color underneath, like acrylic. This proved to be not at all true. Even after drying overnight, if they got wet again the color would run. Bummer, as if they could have pulled that off they could have become probably my favorite media ever. Or at least for a while! (Can you tell my tastes in art supplies are fickle?)


Still, I am glad I coughed up the dollars for the large set of them at that time, because they really are wonderful colors. Using traditional watercolors, the Inktense, and occasionally a super fine micron marker I was able to get the teeny tiny details in where needed. I used a tiny brush dipped in water and then ran it over the tip of the pencil until it was good and saturated with ink. Oh, almost forgot, using masking fluid to block certain areas off was really helpful too at times. I was super critical of myself during the process, as painting with the techniques that watercolor requires is not really my MO. Some people really ended up liking the results though I guess, as a few people told me the cups were their favorite suit. I for one will never attempt to do watercolors that small again if I can help it! One thing that was surprisingly enjoyable though was actually painting WATER with watercolors. (Duh!?) It was fun to do a wash over an area then add color and see it morph and swirl. THAT I liked! It was good then that the cups suit has a lot of depictions of water!


If anyone reading this knows of a brand of colored inks that ARE permanent and don’t run when water gets on them after they are dry, please email me! I actually just ordered some Dr. Ph Martin’s Bombay India ink for my next project. It should get here in a couple of days, fingers crossed that it has those properties!


In case you are wondering, my next art project is indeed another tarot deck! I have the pen & ink part of The Fool drawn and ready to color. Maybe I’ll share it with you soon! Would you like to see it?? It is pretty trippy *grin*. I’m working much larger this time too – I learned my lesson! For now, I’ll keep it under wraps, at least for a little while.


I guess now that I’ve taken the plunge and started another tarot deck, I’d better finish these write-ups, while I can still remember all of the details I wanted to share with you about the publishing part of the project. The next installment will share a little about the process for the Disks suit and the rest of the trumps, and then I will give the mental download of the printing and publishing info for all you creators out there. I hope I can remember everything. I have a notoriously bad memory in some ways. I can remember all sorts of esoteric details and qabalistic and astrological correspondences, but can’t remember stuff that happened yesterday. I only got the Rosetta tarot deck published in November, but already it is all one big blur! It’s like there is only so much tape to record on allocated to that type of memory, and I just keep rewriting over it, thus losing what isn’t recent. Maybe I need a RAM upgrade. Or a time machine.  I’ll do my best to put down some useful info before it is gone from the memory banks. Hey, it may even help me with my next deck, as I’ll probably have forgotten it completely by the time I finish that!


Next up: Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part VIII – Grounded, the stages of completion…

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part VI – Lust and Fire, what’s not to like?



(I don’t actually finish Lust until the next round, as I pause before her to complete the Wands suit. But she insisted on being here, and cannot be denied!)

To review Part V, click here

After the Swords suit, I next went briefly back to the tarot Trumps. And now I outlined a plan: I’d power through The Chariot, make an Adjustment, consult with The Hermit, move on to Fortune, and get ready to fulfill Lust before tackling the Wands Suit. I figured that Lust, as the trump of Leo, the middle sign of Fire and thus most fiery, was a good place to stop and move on to the fire suit. There I’d be poised between Fortune (Jupiter) and Lust (Leo); perfect place to start a fire! At this point I actually plotted out my plan onto a calendar. I set an overly ambitious series of goals; especially considering I have a day job. I plotted out a card a week (hah!) though it didn’t turn out that way.  I was always behind the eight ball, always behind schedule, everything always and for certain took longer. But I’d just move them up on the calendar as needed – so that is why they call it “penciling” it in! Luckily, I was wise enough to use pencil.


It was here around the start of the Chariot that I really hit my stride. After painting all of the Swords cards, having a period of doing nothing but painting since they were all designed first as etchings and printed on a press, I was seemingly getting much better at painting. I was pleased with the Chariot, and loved doing the crab armor for the zodiacal trump of Cancer! (Though my Mom, who is a Cancer, said he was “scary”. Oh well, too bad, he is cardinal water and he is on a mission! Tidal waves are scary, too!)


After the Chariot, I must have been on a roll (no pun intended) because the next cards turned out to be some of my favorites. Adjustment, who Crowley calls the Fool’s girlfriend and the Woman Satisfied (guess he is not always androgynous!), is based on Maat. She dances the sword edge of Truth; the balance between Venus and Saturn through a vesica piscis portal with Harlequin patterning. Her many arms hold the Scales containing the Alpha and the Omega, her hands in positions of mudras and gestures of surrender.


The Hermit card looks like a cross between Hermes, Gandalf, and a Yod, as he carries his solar lamp and caduceus egg staff through a moonlit walk on the labyrinth (that almost looks like circuits on a computer board). I am very fond of the color scheme of that card!


Fortune is one of my favorite cards in any tarot deck. It is the Jupiter card, so as a Sagittarius it is one of my rulers. Fortune’s Hebrew letter is Kaph, which means palm of hand, or fist. Fortune is karmic and a hand can be open-handed or closed like a fist, punishing and withholding. I see the card as very positive, so I went with the open-handed motif – the background of the card is my own palm print. The card also has wheels within wheels, an earthly gear mirroring a heavenly gear which is a one and a zero, and axle and a wheel, a phi symbol.


Next up after the Wands would be my lady Babalon, Lust personified, the “joy of Strength exercised.” She rides the beast, her kundalini rising and exploding outward in honeycomb nascent sephira. She carries the Grail – the same one as seen in The Chariot, containing a galaxy of white gluten in a sea of blood. So here we are full circle, as this next phase of the work began with driving The Chariot and here before satisfying Lust, trump of the royal fire sign, I figured it was a good place to stop working on the trumps and switch gears to the Wands.


I really enjoyed doing the Wands Suit. Maybe because I’m a fire sign myself. Now it was time to switch to a new medium. While the Swords were done as dry point etchings (so right for Swords and Wind), the Wands special medium was to be colored pencils, wooden sticks also quite appropriate for Wands and Fire. I’d not done much work with colored pencils before, though fortunately I owned a lovely set of Prismacolors. I really fell in love with them and how they handle while doing this suit; I’d never realized what beautiful effects one can get with them, how smoothly they blend, and what rich colors!


My obsession while doing the Wands suit revolved around finding the perfect pencil sharpener! My one complaint with the Prismacolors is that while their softness is why they work so well, it makes them difficult to sharpen. Nothing was more frustrating that carefully sharpening the pencil and immediately having the lead crumble, and having to do it again, watching an inch of precious and costly pencil disappear in the process! I purchased a couple of different handheld pencil sharpeners during this time, never finding the perfect one. Also true to my OCD nature, got a few colors I didn’t already possess, a few extra blenders, and a holder for when the pencils got too short. Always thinking ahead when it comes to spending money on art supplies! Ultimately I used a combination of one of the better though not ideal handheld sharpeners and a standard electric pencil sharpener like you see in offices. I just resigned myself to the fact that this was a sacrifice to the fire gods. There was no way around the fact that by the time this suit was done, all of the reds, oranges and yellows in the set would be considerably shorter! And honestly, the pencils are meant to be used! Hoarded art supplies do not make anything!


The Wands suit was fun to do; its salamander fire elementals had much more personality than the dendrite and neuron explosions that were the theme in the Swords suit. And the decans really started to make themselves known, progressing through the three decan cards of Aries with their Rams, the three decan cards of Leo with Sekhmet the Lion goddess, and the cards of Sagittarius, that had horse-like elements (with the exception of the eight, unless you count that Swiftness is an attribute of horses!)


The one exception to the fun of the Wands was just at the beginning of the Five. Interestingly, just as I began the Five, I was surrounded by strife, as two of the other people living here at the time had a big row, which then triggered me into acting out. How appropriate!


I really liked doing the Wand Court cards too. They contain my personal birth card (Lord of the Flames and Lightning, perfect for a Sagittarius with strong Aquarius elements) and I think the Fire Queen and Princess are hot tamales! The Prince reminds me strongly of a Leo from my past – I see him every time I look at the card!


It was sad when the Wands Suit was done and the pencils got put away! Someday I hope to do more with them; it is a great medium.


So next up I’ll discuss the series around the Cups, which were done in watercolors for the Water element. After the remaining trumps and the Disks get a turn, there will still be lots of posts to write. I think the posts after the cards will actually be the most useful for those of you who hope to create a tarot deck, or publish a book someday, as I will share a lot of information that I had to learn the hard way!


Next up: Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part VII – Waterlogged!