Journal Notes on a Deck Production Process

Proofs Line Sheet #1

The ball is now officially in motion. It’s well past the point of no return. Also, fair warning: this is a really long progress update.

I ended up not having to convert my card image files from JPG to PDF, and could submit them directly as JPG files, which I was really happy about. By the way, if you want to see all finalized images, I’ve shared a Gallery of All Cards here.

Proofs Line Sheet #2

Also, aspiring tarot deck creators: from the line sheets I’m sharing, you can now see why it makes sense to design 80 cards, right? Even if you are sticking to the 78, I would still recommend creative ways to utilize the remaining 2 cards. Even if you say you’re going to print 78 cards only instead of 80, you’re getting charged for 80 anyway. Do you see my point?

And check out the ordering of the cards on the line sheet. My educated guess is that the automated printing machine will be cutting the cards starting from the bottom row of the sheet, going left to right. (Not all that important to know, but for the curious nerds, something fun to observe.) You’ll see what I mean.

For the particularized ordering my deck will arrive to you, it’s Majors in the order you’re used to, then Aces to Threes, then Kings, Queens, Knights, Pages, then Fours to Tens. Very last card in your tarot deck is the Ten of Pentacles. Come on. Occultists are shedding a tear. It’s esoterically poignant (Malkuth? materialization? Tree of Life arrangement that’s featured in both Waite’s and Crowley’s decks?).

Meanwhile, if you intend on self-initiating with the deck (you totes do not have to; the process has nothing to do with the efficacy of the deck and everything to do with a simple assist with deepening your own connection to your Path) or want to study and work with the deck for intensive journeying work, then the very last card you’d be ending on would be the Archangel of Mysteries (tarot King of Pentacles/Disks). Ya know. Revelation of the Archangel of Mysteries to you? Nevermind. Psst… if you think you’ve figured out which Abrahamic-based Archangel I personally associate with the Archangel of Mysteries and you’re familiar with the Torah, Bible, and Quran, then that’s another couple layers of meaning you’ll pick up on. 😉

I also learned that your LWB, whether it’s saddle-stitched (that means it’s the classic stapled LWB tarot deck enthusiasts of the 90s all know and love) or perfectbound (when it looks like a miniature paperback book with the glued binding), the total page count needs to be in multiples of 4.

My LWB was exactly 78 pages, which I thought was kinda neat, except then I found out it needs to be in multiples of 4, so if the page count of the booklet I submit isn’t in a multiple of 4, then they just add extra blank pages to the back end. I didn’t want that, or at least was like, ya know, if I have to pay for it anyway, mind as well print more crap on those pages, right? So I re-submitted and now my LWB is 80 pages. Interesting. 80-card tarot deck, 80-page LWB.

Oh! Storytime. Okay, so it’s an evening hour, all proofs on the manufacturer’s end has been completed, and then I get a ping from my contact. We get on a Skype call because there was a miscommunication or point of confusion over the pagination of the LWB.

Notice how the formatting for my LWB– because I know it’s going to be perfectbound– has a thicker margin on the left vertical for all recto (front-facing) pages and a thicker margin on the right vertical for all verso (back) pages. That’s so after the book is bound, when you the reader use the book, the text closest to the binding doesn’t disappear into the chasm.

There was just the slightest risk of a snafu due to the 78 total pages I submitted vs. need-to-be-multiples-of-4, like 80 page issue where all my intended recto pages would end up verso and all my intended verso pages would end up recto, and therefore the thick margins would end up on the outside and the thinner margins on the inside. So, we’re all on Skype to try to communicate the layout of the LWB.

We confirm the corrections I need to make to get my page count to 80.

Then they’re like, oh, the machinery guy has your layout set already and is currently waiting and stalling for your corrections. So if you can get it to us in the next two hours, it’s cool, but if you wait more than that, they’re going to take your stuff off the machine and do somebody else’s production order, and your place in line will get moved to the back.

I’ll admit I wasn’t happy about what was pretty much a threat, but I also understand where they’re coming from because that’s just how it is in manufacturing. Taken in business context, the fact they’re even giving me a few hours and holding the line is a gift.

But that gift meant the millisecond I got off Skype, I was making some substantial changes to the total organization of my LWB last minute and rushing to get it done within two hours’ time.

Because life is what it is, an exigent situation arose on the day job front (even though yeah, this is now after office hours– this is just life, in case anyone not in my profession didn’t know) and they needed me to review something ASAP because it needed to go out ASAP and yeah, it was important, I ended up having to take a really deep breath, putting my game face on, and doing all of the above, all of it, in two hours’ time.

In an earlier progress post I had talked about how 8 mm can equal $5,000 and the really, really important business and financial reason for keeping the depth of my tarot deck box under 39 mm. Well, that just isn’t going to happen unless I want to compromise quality. We talked it over and given our realistic options, we went ahead with the assurance of quality but the clear result of the depth being well over 40 mm, and in fact, after the bubble wrap that will go around the box, for conservative measure, closer to 45 mm in depth for shipping. So. That impacts our packaging overhead and shipping costs. Sigh.

Another interesting thing. Initially I wanted minimal plastic wrap, shrink-wrap, all that packaging stuff. As a tarot deck collector myself, I never like trying to get through all that plastic wrap, breaking my nails if I try to do it by hand, being nervous with a pair of scissors as I try to cut the plastic wrap but not scratch the box or cards, I mean, I don’t need to reiterate the very real struggle since you’re probably experienced yourself.

Plus, the environment. I’ve been watching too many documentaries of cute sea creatures dying on account of plastic in our ocean water and I wanted minimal waste to be accumulated on the buyer’s end.

Big problem with that very heartfelt aspiration. The overwhelming majority of your customers don’t give a shit. You think I’m wrong and in fact you do care about beluga whales who are getting poisoned from eating plastic and you say you don’t like trying to make your way through all that plastic just to unbox a tarot deck either? You want to convince me you do actually care about beluga whales? Okay. Let’s talk.

Shrink-wrapping the deck itself keeps it compact so that during shipment, it doesn’t bang around and get wear-and-tear. If you don’t compact the shipping of the loose cards, all that banging means by the time the deck arrives in your mailbox, it will have looked old, used, and bruised. If you don’t shrink-wrap and pad up the box with plastic bubble wrap, again, banging around means the box will get dinged and scratched up in-transit.

Before a box of tarot cards arrives at your front doorstep, dear friend, that box will have traveled around the world to more places than you have, getting tossed, turned, and gruffly handled by underpaid, disgruntled, apathetic workers. So the fact that any box of tarot cards arrives to you without a single scratch is nothing short of a miracle.

Just watch a couple of tarot deck reviews on YouTube or snoop in tarot deck forums. Tarot folks lose their minds when their box of cards arrives dinged, scratched, and banged up.

And then they go marching back to the poor indie deck creator demanding a refund.

The Hubby very gently explained to me that it’s potentially more costly for us to reduce packaging padding on account of sea turtles I saw on TV that I arbitrarily named Lorelai and Frederico while watching said sea turtles on TV and then had to hug my stuffed teddy bear (actually, FYI, it’s an oversize hamster) in consolation as we watched the slow, painful deaths of Lorelai and Frederico than if we go with the manufacturer recommendations, reduce risk of damage in-transit, and thereby reduce the risk of angry customers who want a full refund because there’s a scratch on the box.

The hamster’s name is Qiu Qiu, in case anyone was wondering. That means “Ball” in Mandarin. Yes that’s right. His name is Ball. Look, it’s cuter in Chinese.

Will going with the shrink-wrap recommendations of the manufacturer actually reduce the risk of damage to the boxes and cards? I have no idea. I have zero experience. I can only trust the opinion of those who are experienced and as a proprietor, take the lower-risk measures for ensuring happy customers.

Lorelai, Frederico, I’m so sorry. =*(

Many indie deck creators are experiencing this all too real problem themselves, which is why if you notice, many of them now also offer a discounted “as-is” version of their decks, with the clear caveat that you’re getting a banged up copy with faults, but in compensation, you’re paying a fraction of the cost. So that’s another option deck creators have gone in.

Manufacturers are also not all created equal, so some are great while others you end up working with are not so great and for the most part, it’s a luck-of-the-draw. I’m thinking for the time being I’ve lucked out and gone with a great one, but obviously, I don’t have product in my hands yet so that remains to be seen. I will for sure report back to you all how it goes. Though you’ll certainly have the product for yourselves to ascertain how I’ve done on the luck department. =D

So far into this whole deck printing production process, how do I feel? I really don’t like it. I haven’t had much fun at all in the production phase. There was a lot of very interesting learning that happened, which I’m grateful for, but overall, I have not enjoyed it.

I very much loved the creating and the design process. The creative side was everything to me. Everything. After I got the tangible work product, however, and I got convinced to print and publish it for sale, that’s when it stopped being fun. Everyone has an opinion… and they disagree with each other so basically no matter what you do, you’re disappointing somebody. Everyone thinks they know more than you do (and truth is, they probably do).

Would I do this again after the first 1,000 copy print run? I don’t know. I think I can’t make my final judgment call on the experience just yet, since technically, I’m mid-stream. This is, like, Act II. Right? Some serious Second Septenary life lesson stuff?

Anyway, let’s see. What’s up next for me. We’re waiting for production of the 1,000 decks to get under way over on the manufacturer side. For those who want to know:

  • The cards are black and white (but you knew that already, and if this is a surprise to you… um… man, I don’t know what to tell you at this stage of my progress notes…) at 70 mm x 120 mm, which is to the tee standard tarot deck size.
  • There are white borders, but I’m praying if everything goes right and as intended, it’s going to be quite balanced aesthetically so the borders in fact help the illustrations to pop. When I tinkered with borders, I noticed it was such an exact art. Just a little too much and it looks like it’s swallowing your artwork. Too little and lots of bad things can happen during production, printing, and cutting. So I think I got it just right, but at this point, honestly, it’s out of my hands. We’ll all see together what happens post-production.
  • Card back design is reversible, mostly solid black. Click around all this content I’ve posted about Spirit Keeper’s Tarot and you’ll find images of the card back design.
  • The cardstock is going to be 350 gsm. For those of you who are like, yeah okay, that means nothing to me, 350 gsm is thicker than mainstream publishing industry standard, but there’s still some give to the cards for riffle shufflers (whereas cf. the 400+ gsm cardstock tend to be quite rigid)
  • The finish on the cards is absolute matte with a UV coating. I don’t know what UV coating means, but what I can tell you is when you do the overhand shuffle with the cards, it makes that really soothing (well, soothing to me) ASMR-inducing quoosh, quoosh, quoosh sound, do you know what I mean? No? Forget it.
  • There will be a matte gold gilding to the edges. It’s a matte gold finish, so it’s not really going to have any shine to it. It’s going to be subtle.
  • Your deck comes with an 80-page black and white perfectbound LWB (little white booklet) that fits inside the box with your deck. This is not the Book of Maps I’ve been talking about.
  • The box feels really sturdy. I forgot exact gsm, can’t remember off the top of my head and don’t know exactly where I wrote it down, so I would have to hunt for it, which is probably not worth the time since I haven’t found the majority of tarot people to actually care about the gsm for the box. Just know that based on samples I’ve handled, it’s that kind of box that you knock on and go oh, wow, that’s nice and sturdy. Think of it this way: the damn box is causing the depth of my packaging to go over 39 mm and into the 43 to 45 mm range. Typically, 39 mm is more than sufficient for a tarot box’s depth. It’s a top and bottom lid box, with a circular groove cut-out thingie along the edges for easy opening and closing. Box is also black and white, mainly because a full color box that’s all shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and so on where you open it up and then boom. No-color deck inside. I think that’s like borderline misrepresentation. Right? So yeah. Black and white box.

In the next two weeks or so, they’ll be able to get back to us with the exact measurements of our tarot deck box, so that we can use those measurements to make decisions about our shipping box, which for sure is no longer under 39 mm and so we are going to be going with the increased overhead cost.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reaching out to the U.S post office to figure out shipping costs to different countries, bulk mail discount possibilities, bulk mail permits, etc. I’ve already got my ISBN number, so that’s ready to go. That ISBN number is nicely featured on the back of the tarot box, which is really important for any chance of qualifying for media mail. Oh. Yeah. There’s a chance, despite being a tarot deck, because there are gray areas to Code 173 in the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) and what qualifies for media mail eligibility. More on that later once I’ve got a complete file of information about that and can report back to you exactly which hoops you need to jump through and how, and just everything I’m learning about media mail qualifications with the U.S. post. I’ve found that the info on the nuances isn’t always readily available. You kinda have to dig for it.

In short, given all the data I have available at the moment, we’re looking at a pre-order announcement in the next month or so, with scheduled delivery to your doorstep before the close of 2018. Yeah. That’s right. This deck is most likely going to be published in December, 2018 if there are no surprises from this point out. (::chuckling face followed by very serious face and now bolting for wood to knock on::)

Psst… Free Image Download

Several folks have asked about purchasing prints of a doodle I did for this whole project package thing, which I posted a very early rough draft of over on Instagram.

I’m not selling prints of these, but I’ve uploaded the high-res images and provided them for your free download below. There are three versions. Click on the image to download the high-res file.

No, these are not dedicated to the public domain. Copyright remains with me. This is only a limited royalty-free license to use the works in a non-commercial manner.

10 thoughts on “Journal Notes on a Deck Production Process

  1. Beautiful! luv reading your posts!:) btw you don’t need extra box for shipping, as far as I know bubble wrap envelopes (bookdepository use!:) are best!:) will look forward to more updates & tag you on insta if I color these!:)


  2. jill ackiron-moses

    Hi Benebell, Wow, thank you for all the behind the scenes trials and tribulations of this journey. It’s fascinating , and I feel your concern about Lorelai and Frederico. I am looking forward to pre ordering your deck. I know it will become of my most treasured decks. Thank you for all that you do and for bringing us along on your journey. Have a great weekend, Jill

    Jill Ackiron- Moses

    MA, CPT, 500 RYT, Registered Polarity Practitioner Thai Massage Practitioner Certified Health & Wellness Coach

    516 244 0868



  3. Sally

    Bell I’m just amazed at your journey. That is: what started out to be a deck just for yourself has now been made available to us, your adoring followers, and is even going in for a professional printing. Personally I’m loving that I get to pay for this and that it will be published by a company and I don’t have to fool around with MPC etc etc. I’m sorry this has been so much work for you. I’ve been in an art class for a year where I’ve heard professional artists say that commissioned work is not necessarily fun. That kind of work can pay bills but it’s not necessarily fun.
    I’m VERY appreciative. XO

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kalliope

    This is why my husband is the best counter for me. I just “produce pretty prose” which have no business on a production line. Nothing I create will ever be manufactured as it doesn’t relate to any industry 😦 except “education” and “word of mouth” and “experience”. Haha. But my hubby oversees the operation of an engineering company. So he’s all up in the know how of production costs and blah blah.
    I’ll still be buying a deck! Gotta show some financial support for the people we emotionally and mentally support! Every little bit helps.


  5. Carrie

    Thank you for your hard work on this deck (and for everything else you do!). Count me in as someone who can’t wait to order. Please know it will be treasured.


  6. Jill B.

    I’m so excited you decided to publish this deck. I’ve followed along on twitter and IG from the beginning. I just about danced in childish glee when I found out you were going to publish it! It’s so…deep! I’m so excited for the preorder! 🙂


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