So you want to print your own tarot deck!
In the spring of 2021 I began doing digital collage art and doing a few tarot cards. I shared the images and discovered that, OMG, people actually LIKE my art. (Insert excited happy dance here). I then expanded the project to designing and then printing and self-publishing a full tarot deck. It’s been a process! Note that this did not include going full Kickstarter, as that is it’s own level of project. This instead was self-published using a company that is there for low-volume print production.
My preferred creative software for creating my artwork, including tarot cards is Serif Affinity Suite and my current publisher is DriveThruCards.com. This article is specific for that printer/publisher as they are the ones I have experience with.
You may find another printer works best for you. It’s always helpful to reach out to them and to ask questions: they can guide you through what they have available as well as walk you through their own process and specific requirements, which can vary significantly between printers and also which can impact how you set up your cards and templates.
I chose DriveThruCards for my printing and publishing platform from a list of publishers recommended by a number of tarot deck creators as a good resource for those who were getting started with low-volume indie deck creation. After looking into them and others on the list I picked DriveThruCards as being one of the more affordable and especially as having good instructions and a template for setting up the files for print using Affinity software. Since then, my experience with this publisher has been excellent and I regularly recommend them. (NOTE: I am not receiving any compensation for this recommendation. As a publisher and affiliate, I do receive a compensation if you follow my links to their site and make a purchase. So it would be absolutely awesome if you do actually go and check out (and maybe even buy) my deck or any other deck you like on their site!
Templates are Good!
Starting with a publisher’s template can be a very good thing and can save a considerable amount of work. DriveThruCards provides a template that is helpful for ensuring that the cards meet their requirements.
When I began designing and creating my cards I just launched into the process with a great deal of enthusiasm and very little knowledge of how to go about things in the best way possible. So I didn’t have them formatted anywhere near correctly, which led to a LOT of extra work redoing each and every card to set them up for printing. I didn’t realize at first that full size is the card PLUS the bleed area”. So I had to go resize the cards to include the bleed area, change the color format from RGB to CMYK (which also meant tweaking the color),
The publishers template shows the sizes and dimensions for the safe areas (where all of the art will show) along with the printers marks for cut zones and bleed. Their documentation and card specifications page provides the templates and additional guidelines that will make your life easier once it is time to print.
The card publishing options for DriveThruCards are limited to Premium or Embossed cardstock. They offer a selection of sizes, including standard Tarot (2.75″ x 4.75″), Poker, mini, and 6”x6” square. I think that’s part of how they keep costs down. Bonus is that they’ve picked good quality cardstock. I did one set of proof prints where I did one of each for the entire deck, so I could compare visuals between Premium and Embossed. For digital photo-montage my personal opinion was that the difference was subtle but that especially fine detail and some of the highlights were lost on the embossed deck, so Premium (smooth) was best for that. I believe that for hand drawn and painted cards I might favor the Embossed, but that is because personally I like the tactile experience a bit better with that cardstock, and the Embossed would more closely suggest the texture of watercolor paper or canvas (but not Bristol board).
How to Set up Your Cards and Print Samples on DriveThruCards
For each set of samples or proof prints as well as for the final product file for the full deck, I export each card file in the format and settings recommended by DriveThruCards. With my toolkit it means that I export each card from Designer or Photo as a flattened CMYK TIFF file, then I create a document in Publisher that includes all of the cards I am printing for the project and then I export that file in the specified PDF/X-1a:2003 format. I then set up a title on the DriveThruCards website in the publisher’s area and upload the pdf for printing.
You will need to create a title for each PDF file that you want to print. When you create the title and add your file you will have the option to choose your print format. Once you are happy with your PDF file and your options settings, add it to your cart and buy it as if it was a normal purchase.
If you want to do a test print of the same cards with both embossed and premium cardstocks to compare the two, you will need to create two titles “Proof Version A – Embossed” and “Proof Version B – Premium”, upload the same PDF to each title, set each to the appropriate cardstock, and then order both titles.
You can change the name of each title as much as you want. I like to name them as a draft or proof print version until I’m happy enough to set it to its actual title-name for sale.
A title in DriveThruCards is a single product offering, though it can be sold in two formats and multiple combinations: under the same title you can sell the PDF file that you used to print the cards, just the print-on-demand cards, or a bundle of the PDF plus the cards. I have not tried setting it up for a combination of the printed cards with a separate PDF guidebook that is different from the print file for the cards, mainly just because I’m still writing the guidebook.
Ordering a Sample Print Copy of Your Cards
After you create the title and upload your file, you are ready order a printed copy of your cards. This is the easy part. You simply go to the list of titles or the product title page, view as publisher, and add the cards to your cart and place your order.
Selling Your Cards on DriveThruCards.com
Once you are happy with how your cards look, you might decide you want to sell them.
On DriveThruCards, each title is by default Private until and unless you decide to make it Public for sale. You cannot sell it until you have ordered and received your sample cards. If you make changes and update the file, it reverts back to private. You will have to order a print of your updated file before you can sell it again. This protects both you and the printer: you don’t want to do a full order or set it to live and for sale only to discover that you need to make additional changes because (for example) you had a honking-big typo, or the colors that looked great on your monitor were too dark in print.