So you want to make a tarot deck you can sell? Creating a best-selling tarot deck takes a lot of work, and with some thoughtful planning, you design a deck that is sure to be a hit with your customers.
There’s no better way to make your upcoming deck awesome by looking at what’s working and what’s not working with the tarot decks currently on the market. I have evaluated several popular tarot decks on Amazon and synthesized all the customer reviews into a shortlist of features that matter most to those purchasing tarot decks.
Almost all of this customer feedback can be organized into five categories:
And we’ll unpack each of these below…
#1 – It’s the artwork (and the energy of that art) that sells the deck
The most distinguishing feature of any tarot deck will arguably be the artwork and the attention to detail in those designs. Tarot decks are very much works of art and a great deal of creative design goes into making a deck. Your artwork must be clear, sharp, and readable.
The artistic style applied to your deck gives it a certain feeling that the user will tap into (or not); this is something commonly cited in reviews—tarot readers looking to connect with the energy of a deck.
And, the landing pages where you promote your deck (Amazon, Etsy, etc.) should also feature equally compelling product photos that really showcase the design and quality of the deck.
#2 – Color harmony is a big deal
In addition to the design of the deck, color harmony is equally important and a feature that really adds to the overall feeling of the deck. You can have great designs, but if the color schemes don’t harmonize, it will be very offputting to the user. Issues commonly cited by reviewers are that colors are too bright, too dull, too saturated, or lack balanced color schemes.
The harmonization of color is a skill in and of itself, so working with someone who understands color theory may be immensely helpful in the design of your tarot deck.
#3 – Find your own unique style if using Smith’s original designs
Many tarot decks on the market use the original artwork from Pamela Colman Smith who designed the Rider-Waite deck (especially now that this artwork is in the public domain); some of these decks just use the original artwork while others have made mashups or new interpretations of those designs. If you’re going to use Smith’s original work, finding your own unique spin will be important (given that there are now so many versions).
Some designers differentiate their deck by using the original artwork but with a unique card back design, while others upgrade the front side of Smith’s original designs with new color schemes, more modern graphics, and even more diverse and inclusive characters.
#4 – Don’t deviate too far from commonly recognized symbolism
If you’re going to design your own artwork, it’s important that the commonly recognized tarot symbolism not be lost in your interpretation of the major and minor arcana—there is a great deal of symbolism in the tarot, so if you deviate from some of those conventions, it may confuse those who are trying to use your deck. A good way to avoid any issues here is to test your designs with other tarot readers.
#5 – Use semetrical artwork on the back of your cards
Another big pet peeve among tarot readers is cards that use asymmetrical artwork on the back of the cards. The problem here is this tips off the reader in advance if the cards will be in the upright or reversal position. Tarot readers prefer to make these interpretations when the cards are revealed and not a moment before.
Material & Finish
#6 – Use high quality paper stock, but nothing super thick
There are a number of tarot decks that use super thick card stock because there is a perception that this card stock will not only last longer but also gives the deck a more premium feel. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Tarot cards need to be easily shuffled, and super thick card stock is an impediment to that goal. Thick card stock not only hurts your hands when you try to shuffle it, but it’s also incredibly difficult to achieve a riffle shuffle. The cards are also more likely to crease if they are too thick, plus the edges of the cards are more likely to fray and create white dust when you shuffle them.
Casino quality playing card stock works just fine, and that paperweight comes in at about 310 gsm.
#7 – Always choose a matte finish rather than a glossy finish
While glossy cards do have a pretty shine to them, they are more difficult to shuffle and increase the risk of the cards creasing and bending because of the chemical used in the gloss. A glossy finish will also make the cards tacky and cause them to stick together when you try to shuffle them. Tarot readers want decks that are easy to shuffle and feel good in their hands. High-quality tarot decks should use a smooth, matte finish (linen finish is fine too).
#8 – Premium printing embellishments often add to the quality
When you design your tarot deck, you’ll have the option for some premium printing embellishments like gilded card edges, embossing, holographic ink, hot foil stamping, etc. While there are many popular and successful decks that don’t use these extras, you may find these features a great option to help distinguish your deck even further.
#9 – Use the standard tarot card size (and consider additional sizes if successful)
The standard tarot card size is 2.75″ by 4.75″. Even though there are other card sizes you can use, when you’re creating the first version of your deck, it’s best to default to the standard size. If you launch your deck in a non-standard size you run the risk of getting a lot of initial complaints about the deck being too small or too big, depending on the size you select. People are most familiar with the standard size, so it’s a safe bet.
However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider larger or smaller sizes in the future. If your deck becomes really successful, you may want to consider mini and jumbo size options. There are certainly customers who do prefer smaller and larger decks too.
Printing & Deck Assembly
#10 – Order a physical proof
When you design your deck, you’ll have the option to get physical or electronic proof of your deck. A proof is essentially a final version of all your artwork before it goes to the printer. This is your opportunity to inspect that artwork one last time before the print run begins.
Some printers will immediately send you an electronic proof to approve before sending your cards to print. However, I recommend ordering a physical proof so you can lay eyes on the creative outcome and ensure everything will print on paper exactly as you want. A digital proof will sometimes render a higher quality output than a physical proof will, thus prompting you to adjust the artwork.
You want your artwork to be vibrant and clear, and sometimes the only way you can tell that is by looking at the deck physically in your hands.
#11 – Make sure that the cards are evenly printed and cut
Surprisingly, some card manufacturers will cut orders and produce decks that are not evenly printed or cut, creating the appearance that the artwork is lopsided or off balance. If this should happen, it’s most likely time to find another printer (especially if someone is sending you samples or proofs that look like this). If a printer doesn’t have tight quality controls to prevent this, you probably don’t want to work with them.
#12 – Printing location may or may not matter
US Games Systems prints the Rider-Waite deck in Italy, and there’s no shortage of customers that love that—Italian-made gives the perception of high quality vs. Made in China. I print all my decks in the USA because it’s easier for me to manage the needs of my business with someone close to home, given the size of my card portfolio. However, there are fantastic printers in China who are using some of the very latest card printing equipment and technology (and probably better than some in other markets).
The best way to evaluate any printer’s card quality is to order samples. If what you get looks awesome, then location is less of an issue.
#13 – It’s important to seal the deck
When you get done printing your deck, you’re going to need to store it somewhere. Either in a fulfillment center like Amazon or at your house. If the outside of the deck isn’t sealed, then the box will get scuffed when it’s moved around (and there’s nothing more frustrating than ordering a new deck that’s already damaged). In addition, you may want to consider sealing the cards inside the deck too, so as the box moves around in shipment or at the warehouse, the cards don’t get damaged inside the box.
You will generally have the option for shrinkwrap or cellophane to seal the box and the deck. I would recommend using cellophane on both the box and the cards. Shrinkwrap is not easy to open, so people can damage the box and the cards in the process of trying to remove the shrinkwrap.
#14 – Put the cards in the right order
You’re going to need to give your printer instructions on what order to put the cards and whether those cards should be facing up or down when the user opens the box. Tarot cards should be sorted in the same order as they are described in A.E. Waite’s The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. There are some reviews where people are receiving cards that are shuffled completely out of order—tarot readers want to open a fresh deck of cards in order.
#15 – Make sure the cards are a cleanly cut
Once your cards are printed, they need to be cut. Depending on the cutting equipment and the paper, this could produce different outcomes. The best outcome is clean-cut cards that lay flat against each other with no frayed or rough edges.
However, with some printers this is an issue; some cards may be cut in such a way where they won’t lay flat against each other after just one shuffle, or they may have rough edges that peel and fray.
#16 – Check the smell to the cards
When you open a fresh deck of cards, how does it smell? Does it have that new car smell? LOL. Some folks love the smell of fresh-cut cards, however depending on the printing process, some may have an overly chemical smell, so it’s always good to check.
#17 – Set up a process to replace damaged or missing cards
Surprisingly, several tarot deck reviews on Amazon complain that they received damaged or missing cards in their deck (or a damaged box). It might be a good idea to set up a process that would allow a customer to receive replacement cards or box if this is the case (and a benefit you could print inside the booklet or on a marketing card in the deck on how to replace a damaged card).
#18 – Opt for a sturdy box
Of all the card products on the market, tarot decks are generally sold at a higher price point and get some good wear and tear. Having a safe, sturdy box to store the cards is really important for most tarot readers; a place where the cards won’t get damaged.
#19 – It’s important to seal the box
As mentioned in #13 above, it’s important to seal both the cards and the box (and the box at minimum). If you don’t seal the box, you will run into issues where the boxes get damaged during shipping or at the fulfillment warehouse during the pick and pack process. Cellophane is more optimal than shrinkwrap because it reduces the risk of damaging the box when removing the plastic wrap.
#20 – Consider including a booklet
Most of the mainstream tarot decks include a booklet, however, there are several on Etsy that are just cards only. A booklet provides you a unique opportunity to not only educate on the tarot but any other periphery insights about the inspiration and design of your deck
#21 – Booklets need to be beginner friendly
The biggest issue you’ll read about in Amazon reviews is that most booklets in most tarot decks are not beginner-friendly. Your tarot deck may be the very first tarot deck someone buys, so when they hear it includes a booklet, they often assume that booklet will be enough to get them started to learn the deck and how to do readings.
Yet, from reading most reviews, it seems a lot of tarot booklets provided with decks often fall short of this need. Some booklets are just a few pages stapled together, while some decks provide almost full-size books. If you’re going to do a booklet, make it comprehensive with easy-to-understand explanations with visuals of the cards and spreads.
Some customers complain that definitions from one deck to another seem to conflict with each other, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve really done your homework and not created explanations or definitions that are outside of commonly accepted norms. Be sure to include a balance of both positive and negative definitions where necessary, all the reversal meanings, as well as the corresponding associations to “the elements” and the zodiac.
Do some benchmarking; it’s a good idea to compare multiple books across several decks and see what you like and don’t like.
#22 – Make the book readable
Is the booklet user-friendly? Is it something you would read? Many of these booklets are tiny with super small fonts. The booklets might be just stapled paper or tightly bound at the end and difficult to fold (neither are optimal).
#23 – Proofread your booklet
Surprisingly, there are several booklets with typos, misspellings, and even pages that are printed out of order. If you’re going to make a booklet, treat it just like a book. Have an editor help you write and proofread it to make sure you have a high standard of publishing. In addition, seek feedback from experienced and new tarot readers in whatever you publish.
#24 – Cite the source of your artwork
There are a handful of reviews that are citing certain Rider-Waite decks as fakes of the US Games Systems deck. However, I think some of these customers are probably not aware that Pamela Colman Smith’s artwork is now in the public domain for anyone to use. I think I would just acknowledge this in your listing/booklet if you are using Smith’s original work to avoid receiving a claim against authenticity.
And here’s a final thought…
Tarot has a long history, so do your research and let your knowledge of this ancient art shine through in the design of your deck (this is the ultimate hallmark of quality).