Who makes our tarot cards?

Uncut prints of the Brady Tarot, fresh off the print machine in Shenzen, China

Let’s talk about who makes our tarot cards.

Those of us who are concerned about ‘ethical shopping’ are used to asking this question about our clothes, perhaps shoes, homewares, foods. But do was ask this about our spiritual tools? Our tarot cards, crystals, books?

I love to promote the artists who conceive and create the decks we sell, but I notice that there is usually a chunk of information missing from the loving descriptions I add to product pages: where and how these decks are actually manufactured. I get excited when creators tell me they’ve printed their deck with some small local company or used sustainable papers or inks. But when I don’t get this information? Well… so far, I haven’t asked. I’ve remained happily ignorant – and I don’t want to do that any more.

The Little Red Tarot Shop has an ethos, rooted in four guiding principles.

One of these values is ‘connection’.

The reason I chose this word is because it’s important to me that there is a line of connection running from the creator of a deck right through to the person who ends up buying and using it. Well, a big part of that story – the part that I’ve overlooked thus far, and that I rarely hear discussed – is the bit where it gets physically manifested! Whether by print companies local to the artist, or by big factories in other regions or countries (very often China, where much of the world’s book/print industry is based), the cards we shuffle and read and love and share have a history, and it’s not just the (very beautiful!) story of a deck’s inspiration, conception, illustration.

I want to begin to close that gap, offering more detailed information about the entire process of a deck’s creation, so that we can all become more conscious of the journey our spiritual tools make in order to get to us. Let’s become aware of the ‘invisible bodies’ in this journey – factory workers, freight workers, couriers, and others. Are these people treated fairly? Are their working conditions safe, humane, and healthy? Where are they based? Who owns these companies?

I’ve asked all creators who supply this shop to provide what information they can at this time (you’ll see this added to product pages as we receive it), and am resolved to encourage folks to ask deeper questions about labour practices when selecting printers for their creations.

This said, I don’t lay this responsibility solely at the feet of creators! As a retailer who literally makes a living from selling these creations, I’m complicit in wilful ignorance of labour practices in the orint industry – and for me, this project begins there, with stepping up my own awareness. Customers too, rarely ask about where decks are manufactured. I’m resolved to learn more about the print industry and the folks who work in it, and to elevate this conversation, so we can think about the ethics of the print industry just as we do the fashion industry.

Case Study: Emi Brady’s trip to Shenzen, China

This project was, in part, inspired by a Kickstarter update from Emi Brady, a few years ago, as she travelled to China to visit the factory where her forthcoming Brady Tarot deck was being produced.

(Of course, not every creator has the capacity or resources to visit their factory in person, especially if it’s in a different country to where they live – Emi ran a killer Kickstarter campaign that afforded her this amazing opportunity. It’s also the case that Emi’s deck was one of the more expensive I’ve seen in recent years – though the forthcoming second edition will have a lower price.)

Anyway! I reached out to Emi and asked her about what she learned on her trip. Here’s what she said:

It was so wild going over to Shenzhen and seeing how they made those decks. The neighborhood the factory was in was industrial, but there were also restaurants and green spaces close by. We ate lunch at a restaurant near the factory (which was so dang good!)

The factory itself was set within a brick wall with greenery growing on it which enveloped the facility, and there were a few trees and plants growing outside the building in the courtyard/parking area. They had a separate little kitchen and dining building, and at noon (about halfway through my visit that day), the whole factory shut down for about an hour and a half and everyone gathered there. Someone cooked a big lunch in the kitchen and they all ate together. There was a sense of everyone working together.

Watching those cards get printed was incredible. Their Heidelberg Speedmaster printing press took up about half the first floor of the building, and that thing can CRANK through those cards. It was so impressive. Don’t forget I have a background in printmaking, so I was all over that shit. Upstairs on the second floor I saw where they cut down the cards and put the finish on them. The gilding is done last; for the matte gilding (what I used on my deck), they clamp several decks together and sprayed the edges with gold paint.

I also saw them packing decks to get them ready to ship out on the third floor, and I think they were working the hardest. I feel a lot of compassion and empathy for people who work in factories, it is often grueling, repetitive, and physically demanding work. But I did see people taking smoke/bathroom breaks when they needed them and no one looked super unhappy or unhealthy.

I know they moved to another factory further into Guangdong since I visited, so I can’t speak to how things are in the new place, but I was really impressed with what I saw. I have A LOT of mixed feelings about going to China for the decks (all the fossil fuels that go into shipping, etc), but ultimately China is the only place in the world where I could get decks made that are not only very high quality, but also affordable. And I just like this company. They’ve been great to work with, they’ve never hesitated to tell me if I need to change something about the design to improve the final product, and ultimately I trust them which is pretty much invaluable in the printing world.

Even in a shop as little as this one, it’s going to take a long time to gather in all the details I’d ultimately like to offer about every item we sell. I’m starting small, understanding that this may be a big ask for some of our creators and suppliers.

My goal is that eventually we can offer detailed information about the production and labour practices involved in each deck we sell, and that this becomes an engaging and vibrant conversation within the tarot community. I want all of us – creators, retailers, customers – to make ethical choices and vote with our wallets when it comes to the spiritual tools we buy and support, and move towards transparency and a truly respectful, caring story for each and every deck.

Notes on cost and accessibility

I know very well that many creators walk a really difficult line between the ethics of production, and the ethics of accessibility. By this I mean not only the end price of the deck for the customer (a really important consideration at a time when spirituality, ‘wellness’ and self-care are being gentrified, appropriated and commodified in really hideous and violent ways) but also whether they themselves can actually afford to have their own deck brought to life. One of my favourite decks in the shop, printed on sustainable materials in a company based in North America, is about to be discontinued, and one of the reasons for this is that it’s simply too expensive to produce on an indie (i.e. not mass-market) level. It costs a LOT for a creator to self-publish their art without the backing of a giant publishing house. I have a lot (a looooooot) to say about the gross gentrification of spirituality and the excesses of the ‘wellness industry’ – and I’m also well aware that the decks I sell are inaccessible to many. It’s a topic very close to my heart and one I’m continually trying to navigate. I wanna write more about this soon, as I dig deeper into the ethics of production and talk with more creators about how and why they make their printing decisions.


  1. Blake says:

    There must be print houses in Europe? I’m getting ready to print my own deck, and am trying hard to avoid China – even the US isn’t great. Surely we could compile a list of reputable European card printing factories?

    Help! <3

    • Beth says:

      Hey Blake, there’s no need to ‘avoid China’, there are great printers there as everywhere! But if you’re looking for something close to home, yes, there are printers in Europe – in the UK we have Ivorgy Graphics, and there’s Ludo Cards in Italy… I’m sure there are others too. I find searching for ‘playing card printers’ is a good way to find the right kind of print company :)

  2. RuRu says:

    I found that some Lo Scarabeo decks are printed in Italy. Maybe EU oversight increases worker and environmental protection somewhat there? However, I also really wanted a “diverse” deck (i.e., not “tarot so white”) and Lo Scarabeo doesn’t have a lot of options there. So the search continues…

  3. Hermit Spiritus says:

    Thank you for giving this information. Any activity requires compromises. But the more we know, the more we think about such problems.

  4. munchkin.face says:

    Thank you for writing this. I only found out recently that most tarot decks are printed in China and this has been on my mind since. So happy to see this coming to the attention of the tarot community x

    • Maria Fisk says:

      What nonsense. The fact is, Emi’s footprint was HUGE! She got a free trip to China thanks to Kickstarter, and used it look in on a lowly factory in order to get a photo op of herself peering over a printing press and to watch the ‘hard working’ folk make cards for this relatively wealthy white person. No matter how you try and spin this process, we all know that local printers will charge much more per unit, but hey, as long and there is a printing company in a brick building in China (with greenery nearby!) printing your cards for pennies per unit, you can claim sustainability and sleep better at night. Asking your suppliers to justify their printing processes will perpetuate this type of PR. Everyone prints in China, no matter how you spin it. Cards and packaging use polluting dyes and inks, the staff are underpaid and it costs a lot to ship. But it is the cheapest option for large scale printing. If you really wanted it to be sustainable you would have your own press and print on demand.

      • Beth says:

        Thanks for the feedback Maria. I take your point on the carbon footprint of Emi’s trip to China and am definitely not suggesting that all creators should do this! I included Emi’s story as it’s the first time I personally had heard of a tarot creator visiting the factory printing their goods, and it gives us a window into where and how decks might be made, which is the aim of this post. I was recently surprised to find that huge numbers of people don’t know where their decks are made. I really want us to become aware of the journey our spiritual tools go on before they reach us – not to create fake PR nonesense, but because it’s a conversation we should be having.

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