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.
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.)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.