SKT Status Update & the Cards Printing Process

Major Arcana, Key 0 (three versions) through Key 9

We received a status update from our manufacturer in Shenzhen, and China is in effect back under quarantine due to the new variants of Covid-19 cropping up. Travel– and business operations– within the city have slowed due to 48-hour testing requirements anywhere you go, so even something simple like going from Point A to Point B within the city to get raw materials, to ship, anything at all, what used to take 1 day now takes 3 days. If you want to travel within the country, or travel between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, there’s a 14-day quarantine, making business travel next to impossible.

Major Arcana, Key 10 through Key 21

An example of how this applies to the production process resulting in delays: the gilding applied to the cards is done outside their office location, in a different neighborhood. Now, due to the travel restrictions and 48-hour testing requirements, anything at all that took one afternoon to complete now takes 3 days minimum.

We had hoped that the actual production of the decks would be completed by early July, and then the 40 to 45 day shipping time would mean receipt of the containers at our front door by mid-August. However, with the new quarantine regulations in effect in Shenzhen, the projected date we got from the manufacturer for production completion is now the last week of July, which pushes everything back by two to three weeks.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some insights I learned about the deck printing and manufacturing process.

The printing company SKT goes with is a boutique woman-owned business. Her story is impressive and inspirational, especially since women-owned businesses are still rare there; heck, still rare here in the U.S..

I’ve printed my decks with her since 2018, video-conferenced with her over the years, and just from that, have witnessed her rise to the top. I even remarked to her how I observed her three years ago, still not entirely comfortable with management duties, and now her role as The Boss has grown on her. She sits confidently behind a beautiful wood desk, in her own large office, with a commanding presence.

Yesterday by video-conference, she showed me around her company, at the various machines she purchased for her business as a direct result of her own success. The lot size is approximately that of a large house, so it’s still boutique and growing. She talked about how the machines are purchased from Germany, the ways she keeps investing her earnings back into her company to buy even better machines, and her aspirations for traveling to the U.S. someday, post-Covid, to further expand her business.

Although I don’t have photos or footage to share of the factory walk-through, I’m hoping my written descriptions will suffice. I learned quite a bit about the tarot deck printing process from her.

First, there’s a machine that prints the cards in sheets. These are called uncut sheets. Compare it to the uncut sheets of tarot cards for woodblock printing from 15th century Florence. (You can click on the below image for an enlarged view.)

Uncut sheets of tarot cards for woodblock printing (15th century, North Italy), Rosenwald Collection

Then a laminate finish is applied to both sides. This is that high-gloss, or semi-gloss, or even the absolute matte coating you see on the cards.

The stacks of uncut sheets are then tightly wrapped to prevent any damage from humidity. If this step is left out and the stacks of uncut sheets are exposed to open air while waiting for the next step in the production process, that exposure to humidity can cause your cards, once received by you, to be more susceptible to warping.

These wrapped stacks are lined up at the factory prepped for the next step of production. On a different machine, one that has to be manually operated by an employee, the sheets are then cut into the separate cards. While there are cutting guides on the sheets to assist the employee with alignment, which is why the majority of decks come out just fine, there is still a margin for human error, since this is done eyeballed and by hand.

There is then a large table or work station where several employees are seated, putting the cut cards into order. While watching this, I thought to myself, oh, you know how sometimes you get a new deck and there seems to be a strange, like, separation or clump in the deck? I don’t know if I’m describing that coherently… I’m sure I’ve shown photos of it in past deck reviews where I noticed it in decks. Anyway, I was thinking, maybe that happens if something goes wrong at this particular step of the production process. Because I was watching how the employees order the cards and stack them into groups while they’re ordering.

I also noticed an interesting difference between their office in Shenzhen and ours here in California. Right now, at least where I work, we’re required to socially distance and wear face masks inside the office. There, they don’t need to socially distance or wear masks while inside the office, but that’s because every employee is required to test negative for Covid, and they are tested every 48 hours. Just thought that was an interesting difference in policies between two countries.

Next, the stacks of ordered cards are run through another machine, one that rounds the four corners.

The stacks then need to be transported offsite to a different facility for the gilding (gold edging) application. Right now, here is where delays happen due to the nation-wide quarantine and travel restrictions, even travel within their city limits.

Meanwhile the boxes are cut and assembled. Once the gilding on the cards is done, the decks are packed into the boxes. Boxes are assembled and packed manually by employees. Don’t know if anyone remembers the production snafu that happened for my Vitruvian decks, where about a third of the deck boxes were assembled with the bottom lid upside down. This is because assembly is done by hand, by a worker, and the design of my deck box for the Vitruvian made it hard for individual workers to tell what side was up. Doh. =)

The shrinkwrap is then placed around the finished deck box and run through a final machine that seals the shrinkwrap, airtight, around the box by an application of heat. Decks are then packed into the shipping boxes, 40 per box, by hand.

You then have the option to ship by air or by sea. Because of our larger-than-average order quantity, we went with the option to ship by sea, which takes 40 to 45 days. Most mass market traditional deck publishers also ship by sea. Indie deck creators printing under 1,000 decks are probably going to opt to ship by air, which is faster. For both the First Edition and Vitruvian Edition, we shipped by air, and the Vitruvian print run was 2,000.

Minor Arcana, Suit of Scepters (Wands)

While I wrap up this blog post status update, I figure I’d share some images of the deck you’ve pre-ordered, grouped into their respective suits, Ace to Ten, then the four court cards, Page (Herald) up to King (Archangel).

Minor Arcana, Suit of Chalices (Cups)

Also, stay tuned for an FAQ post in the next few weeks. Some questions keep coming up, so I wanted to address them clearly in a focused status update that you can then refer to or refer others to. Meanwhile, if you have any unanswered questions, please write them in the comments section and I’ll try to address it in the future FAQ post.

Minor Arcana, Suit of Swords

The production process as an indie deck creator never gets any less nerve-wracking. The only improvement is you become more aware of every potential area for something to go wrong and try to do your best to account for it, whereas the total newbie just gets blindsided by the things going wrong.

Minor Arcana, Suit of Orbs (Pentacles/Disks)

In the meantime, while we wait for production to complete over in Shenzhen, James and I are not exactly sitting around twiddling our thumbs. We’ve been busy assembling the shipping boxes and cutting to size sheets of bubble wrap. That hyperlinked Instagram photo shows about 160 assembled shipping boxes for the single deck orders. We need to assemble, by hand, just the two of us, around 2,000 of them. There are different shipping boxes for those ordering multiple decks, but we haven’t even gotten there yet.

If you’ve ordered the Premium Package for the Book of Maps, then you have that to read at the moment. =) Please forgive all the typos. I did write it all and line-edit/proofread it all by myself within the time span of 9 months. And yes, I also formatted the book proofs and did all the graphic design and layout design by myself. Ionno, for better and for worse, I’ve always been a DIY kinda gal.

37 thoughts on “SKT Status Update & the Cards Printing Process

    1. stankbeest

      It is sometimes referred to as the “Rosenwald Tarot”. Sullivan Hismans at Tarot Sheet Revival in Belgium created an exquisite reproduction several years back. Although it was a limited edition, I think there might be some still available on his site.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It’s referred to as the Rosenwald deck, because it’s part of the Rosenwald Collection at .. I want to say the National Gallery? Maybe? It’ll come up in a Google search for “Rosenwald tarot uncut sheets.” 😍

      Like

  1. Clare

    So interesting to see the process. The deck is going to be worth the wait, The book of maps is keeping me busy while I’m patiently waiting for the beautiful cards.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Grete Anai

    Amazing story! Thanks for sharing the process! Very interesting to get a peek behind the scenes! I’m awed by your creativity and resilience! Wish you, and the production-people too! all the best of luck 🙏♥️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anne

    Really interesting ( as if you were ever to going to publish a blog post that wasn’t!)
    Your being of Chinese culture and language, has it helped with the production in China? Would non-chinese have found harder to communicate their visions and requirements?
    Thank you as always, I am so grateful for all your work, currently re-reading my holistic tarot and waiting for Lulu to ship my Book of Maps and modified journal.
    Your generosity in sharing your time, resources and knowledge is inspiring 🙏

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do think being of the same culture and knowing the language helps a lot, but it’s not a requirement. A non-Chinese who is sincere and compassionate would have fared equally well! I truly believe it! ❤️

      Like

  4. anna smith

    Such a fascinating description of the production process and great to look at the assembled minors. No problems at all with delays. They will come when they come!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anonymous

    M,kay…Bell, your updates, regardless of the news, are inspirational. The energy shared is upbeat and lifting – even if you’re telling us the challenges. The detail is incredible and sheds light into the nooks and crannies of your world and what it takes to bring us the “products” of your talents and gifts.

    I’ve had the opportunity to visit China on business once, five provinces in four weeks. Like many things in life, the visit made me more aware of living from a place of gratitude. Beautiful people, beautiful country. I caught a glimpse of how business women (and women in general) struggle. The story of your printer gave me good goose bumps/tingles; thank you for sharing.

    I’ve binged on your blog posts, I’m still reading three of your books and enjoying every minute I spend learning and practicing, and am thrilled to be awaiting my first SKT deck. Life is good.

    Grateful for you and James.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Cecilia Pearl

    Thank you for sharing! Glad to support women in any way I can and love to hear of women succeeding and thriving!

    Peace and blessings!

    Like

  7. Stuart Shrigley-Wightman

    Hi Benebell, no problems. It’s worth the wait, you really don’t envision the process behind the manufacture of that deck you hold on your hand when you acquire it and then add COVID!!

    Like

  8. PauloDC

    Haven’t even opened the book of maps yet because I want to see the deck first! =P Trying to not even look at your posted previews of the cards so when I see them it will truly be the first time!! lol! Super excited to get the SKT! Thank u Bell & James

    Like

  9. rrivkahe20

    Rhis is so amazing Bell. I love the diversity in these breathtaking images. I look forward to having the SKT for my own spiritual practice. Your posts are so incredibly educational and awe inspiring. I look forward to them all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Leslie

    This deck will be worth the wait! Such an interesting update – thanks for keeping us in the loop. Seeing the process was very cool. This SKT looks just as stunning as the first two – I am looking forward to getting to know it!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ian Radford

    As many have already said the information provided is so inspiring and I look forward to receiving the deck. I missed the first deck but got the second and it is my go to deck. I ordered the third as my sister wanted one so will be interesting to see how things go as the second deck really speaks to me especially when I need answers and help. I thank you Bell and James for all your hard work and explanation and I look forward to working with this deck in the future. Lots of love. Ian xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ioanna

    Hello, dear! Unfortunatelly for me, I have discovered your decks late the previous month (June). Is there still the possibility to order a SKT III tarot deck from you? Best regards!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ioanna

      I have also sent you an e-mail at the correct adress, but haven’t received any reply! I think I have the same problem with the above mentioning they can’t get through. Is there another e-mail or way to contact you? Do you check the spam folder maybe?

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Jo

    Benebell, this was great to read and see. (I think the Covid testing for them is stringent, but good for them). Fantastic to see a woman led business thriving in China, go Her!!:) I can and will wait with patience for your beautiful new SKT deck to arrive. I hope you don’t mind, but I am saving the major arcana images for some ‘drool magic’. Just wonderful work Benebell, Huge congratulations to you.x Stay well, hugs from down under,

    Like

  14. Patrick Booker

    I have Sullivan Hisman’s restoration of the Rosenwald Tarot:

    https://www.tarotsheetrevival.com/en/home/

    Dai Leon wrote an interesting and erudite book, if questionable in its conclusions, which used the Major images of the deck as illustrations. He argues for a much older and more varied origin for the Major Arcana than is acknowledged by most historians:

    I pointed this book out to Sullivan when I purchased his deck.
    .

    Like

  15. Michelle Roberts

    I wanted to say you are doing a fantastic job keeping us updated. I work for a manufacturer and have a first hand understanding of the frustrations on trying to complete orders in this day. Keep up the great work you both do! You are both amazing!  Many blessings Michelle. 

    Liked by 1 person

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