How to make your own tarot (or oracle) deck

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I’ve been in search of the perfect tarot deck for the last 25 years.

After owning and parting ways with more than 200 decks, I decided to make my own.

For the last several years, I’ve been creating tarot and oracle decks and, so far, I’ve published fourteen decks. Originally, I designed them for personal use but now I share my creations through printerstudio.com.

Reasons to create a deck

Why would you want to create your own deck when there are so many choices out there?

The main reason is to create a deck based on your own vision. You can create one with the artwork you love, that’s the right size for your hands, and that shuffles the way you like.

Another reason to create a deck is self-discovery. I learn something new about myself with each new deck. For example, I learned that my preference is for the Major and Minor Arcana cards to blend seamlessly together because I often feel like I’m using two decks instead of one. I also thought I didn’t like photographic decks until I made the Tarot Everywhere deck. Now, I realize I simply prefer photos of people to be de-personalized and more anonymous.

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Tarot Everywhere

When you create a deck, you can share your vision and inspire others. Sharing your creation is a vulnerable experience – you’re allowing others to see and critique your creativity. But it’s very rewarding too. Many people have told me that they’ve been inspired to create their own deck after seeing mine.

Are you interested in making your own tarot (or oracle) deck? Here are some things to consider:

Vision

Your deck begins with your vision for it. What type of deck do you wish to create? How will it be used? What is the overall concept or theme?

What type of deck? Tarot, Lenormand, or other? Remember that divination decks fall into different categories and readers will expect to be able to apply a specific system to the deck if it has one, like tarot or Lenormand. For example, people expect a tarot deck to have 78 cards, a major and minor arcana, and court cards. People expect a Lenormand deck to be based on the 36 Lenormand symbols. Of course, you can throw in variations if you like. If you’re creating a unique oracle deck, on the other hand, then you can invent the system for it.

What tarot tradition are you using? Marseille, Rider-Waite-Smith, or Thoth. These appear to be the main traditions underlying tarot deck formats. Which tradition do you prefer and how will your deck present this tradition?

Personal or public? If it’s a personal deck (just for your personal readings or study), no one else needs to understand it but you. However, if you plan to make a deck available to the public, the concept should be clear so readers will understand how to use the deck.

For instance, Tarot For Lost Souls is a personal deck I created using the Uface app. All of the faces chosen for each card make perfect sense to me but they may not resonate with others.

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Tarot For Lost Souls

Concept

How would people describe your deck and who would be interested in it?

Purpose. What need does your deck fill for readers? How will readers use the deck (guidance, prediction, meditation, storytelling, etc.)? Does it address a specific type of concern like love or money?

The Lover’s Oracle is one of my decks in progress. It’s based on the Italian sibilla decks but with a romance and relationship focus.

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The Lover’s Oracle

Uniqueness. What’s unique about your deck? Every divination tool should help people gain insights and understanding. But HOW does your deck do this? What will the deck be known for? Are there any adaptations to the traditional system, such as a change of the suit emblems?

For instance, The Animal Tarot features a landscape orientation which gives it a more cinematic quality. I also made the suits elemental (Fire, Water, Air, and Earth) to go along with the nature theme.

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The Animal Tarot

Demographics. Who wants it? Who would your deck appeal to? Does it have a specific theme or genre? Is your deck for certain age groups or tarot study levels?

If you’re at a loss for your deck concept, these questions may help you get to the heart of the deck you wish to create:

* Describe the deck you’ve always wanted but could never find.
* What topics or themes are you passionate about?
* What are your three favorite tarot decks? What do you like about each one?

Write down the answers to these questions in as much detail as possible. Then look through your notes for similarities and themes. Try to see if they point toward a specific deck concept.

I’m passionate about playing cards so I’ve created three decks based that combine the analytical system of playing cards with visual symbols. For example, the Medieval Secrets Oracle is a deck featuring characters that interact with each other through their body language to tell a story. You can use the playing card symbols to interpret your reading or just the visual symbols and keywords.

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Medieval Secrets Oracle

Artwork

The artwork should flow from the concept, not supersede it. I often find photos or illustrations I’d love to use but if I can’t come up with a great concept for it, I don’t use it.

With The Cinderella Deck, I found old book illustrations from the book The Wonderful Story of Cinderella: Rhymed and Retold published in 1921. I used the book illustrations for each card so that together they tell the entire story of Cinderella. When using the deck, the seeker is always represented by Cinderella so this helps you understand the seeker’s role in the story of their life.

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The Cinderella Deck

How are the images created? There are many techniques for creating images, even if you have no artistic talent or experience. If you do, you can draw your images, or do a collage. Other options include using stock photos, vintage photos, and old book illustrations. Digital art is another option but you don’t have to be a Photoshop whiz. In fact, I don’t know how to use Photoshop at all nor do I have a graphics background. My original art is always created using my iPhone and photo editing apps. There are tons of creative possibilities with apps these days.

For instance, I’ve used photo editing apps to create chakra cards, a self-portrait tarot deck, and a deck in progress featuring mandalas:

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And you can always do something super simple with just words like I did with The Simple Tarot. The cards of the Major Arcana and each suit are different colors. I made the numbers stand out to take advantage of the numerological aspects of readings:

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The Simple Tarot

Copyright and usage issues. If you’re not creating the artwork yourself, it’s important to check copyright and usage laws. Copyright is ownership and usage is the restrictions placed on how you use the photos/artwork. You want to make sure you can use the photos for commercial purposes if that’s your end goal. If you’ve created the artwork, registering the work is important for protecting your copyright. Check the laws in your country for copyright details.

Printing and distribution

Once you’ve created the deck, you want to print it, right? But how? That may depend on how many copies you need. Will you distribute the deck or have another party distribute it for you?

How will you print the deck? If it’s a personal deck, it may be easy enough to simply draw or print on blank card stock or a deck of blank tarot cards. Another option is to scan your artwork and turn it into a digital image you can print on the computer or send to a printing company. One type of printing company to consider is print-on-demand (POD). POD is a print-to-order process allowing for small quantities to be printed. This means you don’t have to order in bulk. You can order just one deck if you wish. This is a great option especially for making a personal deck or receiving a prototype of the deck for review. When printing the deck, you also need to consider the size and the cardstock quality. Some people prefer a standard tarot size deck but I prefer something smaller like a standard poker card size.

How to distribute it? If you’re making the deck available to the public, or for commercial purposes, you have to decide how to distribute it. One way is to make the images available in .jpg or .pdf format for people to download, either for free or for a fee.

If you’re getting your deck printed by a printing company, you need to decide whether you wish to distribute the deck yourself or find a distributor. If you distribute the deck yourself, it’s best to buy in bulk to lower the price of the deck and then sell it at a higher price. One of the limitations is the cost to purchase in bulk and marketing the deck to potential buyers. You must also consider shipping fees.

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Magic Mantras Oracle Cards

There are also POD companies that will sell the deck for you. Printerstudio is the one I use and there’s also The Game Crafter. You split some of the profit with the company but you don’t need to worry about having inventory on hand or shipping fees.

Another option is to set up a partnership with someone who has a large subscriber base who is willing to market and perhaps sell your deck directly for a commission.

Getting started

Are you ready to start making your tarot (or oracle) deck? Even super artistic people are daunted by the thought of creating 78 cards. If that’s the case, begin with a 22-card majors deck. Or, explore different ways to create your deck. Try another medium or approach. Or even a different type of divination tool. Consider creating dice or runes, for example, like these Lucky Lynx Fortune Dice by Lucky Lynx.

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Lucky Lynx Fortune Dice by Lucky Lynx

Here are a few more ideas to get you started:

Join a DIY challenge. Last year, I did the #diytarotchallenge online to make a 22-card deck. It’s a lot of fun and you’re participating with other people who encourage and support your progress.

Take little bites. Work on one card a day or a few cards a week.

Join Kickstarter. Kickstarter.com helps people fund their creative projects. This is a great option if you anticipate your deck will require many resources and considerable time to complete.

Join Patreon. Patreon.com is a website where patrons can support your ongoing creative projects by pledging a few dollars a month or per creative piece.

Get inspired by other deck creators (see a few below). I love seeing new decks other people are creating. It really jumpstarts my creativity and keeps me inspired:

  1. Money Magic Manifestation Cards & The Prince Lenormand Oracle by Ethony, 2015
  2. SotoTarot by Eric Soto, 2015
  3. Sacred Cocoon Oracle by Lottie Gwynn (creator + artist), 2015
  4. The Antique Anatomy Tarot by Claire Goodchild (Black And The Moon)
  5. The Faerie’s Nature Oracle by Raven Magill (Alkonost Oracle), 2015

Happy deck making!!

 

24 comments

    • Kristen (@Over the Moon Oracle Cards)

      Yes, makeplayingcards.com is another great POD option. They have the same easy drag and drop interface as Printerstudio. They also offer more cardstock, print type, and card shape options (you can purchase round cards, for instance). But their prices are a little higher comparably and they don’t have a sell your design option. As with anything, you’ve got to do your research and determine what’s the best solution for you!

  1. Charlotte says:

    Thank you for this guideline, it was an eye opener for me. I have a question about the quality of the resolution when you create artwork on your Iphone.
    Can you recommend some apps that you use in your editing process?
    Also, is there any format issues I should think of?
    Sending good vibes from Stockholm, Sweden =)

    • Kristen (@Over the Moon Oracle Cards)

      Great question, Charlotte! There are plenty of photo editing apps that save to full or high resolution and many that allow you to choose the quality of resolution for your image. Those include free apps for basic photo editing like Snapseed or BeFunky. For more advanced image editing functions try PhotoToaster, Filterstorm, Handy Photo and Photoshop Touch. Photoshop Touch is the app version of the software Photoshop. There’s also a free version with fewer bells and whistles called Photoshop Express.

      There are also a few apps that give you a choice of saving in .jpg or .png format. They include Photoshop Touch, iColorama (creative photo editing tools), and Superimpose (masking, double exposure). I generally save in .jpg format because .jpg tends to be better for photographs or colorful illustrations/graphics.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Tanja says:

    I am looking at making my own tarot cards using my artwork, is there anything else I should know like is there anything bad about making them spiritually.

    • Kristen (@Over the Moon Oracle Cards)

      Thanks for your question Tanja! No, there’s nothing bad spiritually about making them. When you make a deck yourself you infuse all of your own love and light into it and you have a deeper connection with the deck because it’s a direct reflection of yourself. You can also make it any way you choose without relying on any SHOULDS that other people want to impose on you. Enjoy the creative process and good luck with your deck!
      Kristen

  3. Great post. I’ve just created a deck of mantra cards myself and am looking for printer-options in Europe (Denmark), since that’s where I live. If I buy from outside EU let’s say from Printerstudio I’ll have to pay extra taxes which will then end up in a more expensive deck. Also I’d love for my boxes to have my logo on them instead of a sticker…

    I have a little hard time finding POD’s in Europe. Can you maybe help me? Any tips?

    Best regards
    Marie

    • Kristen (@Over the Moon Oracle Cards)

      Thanks Marie! And congratulations on your deck! The only thing I can recommend for finding a POD in Europe (Denmark) is to do more research.

      Have you actually gotten information from Printerstudio about costs/shipping? Printerstudio is not US based. They also have offices in UK and Australia. I would send them a note through their CONTACT form to inquire about costs, etc. I would advise you to do this same process with makeplayingcards.com based in Hong Kong.

      Good luck!

      Kristen

  4. Amy aka OracleofAwen says:

    This was a great article. I really want to create my own oracle deck. I have the concept and title and I’ve been doing my research, but I’m more of a writer and not an artist at all. I would prefer to create a great guidebook and create spreads and have someone else create the art. But if I can’t find an artist to collaborate with, trying my hand at collage might be an interesting place to start. Thank you!

  5. VannaB says:

    This is a great article! I’ve always wanted to create a deck and have finally dedicated my personal art time to this project. Your thoughts and questions are inspiring. I’m very glad I came across this as I was doing my research.

    I wasn’t sure if it was an “ok” thing to do or not and was glad to see that question answered above. :)

  6. Eva says:

    Hi Beth, Wow such a helpful article! I was wondering if you knew if The Game Crafter will also allow you to pitch your personal deck to other publishing houses to try and get it out in the mainstream market. Or do they own your deck only? Hmm just trying to see how all this legal stuff works!

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