Backing Tarot Cards
Now, for one of the more challenging aspects of printing your own tarots: the backing! While many of these papers look lovely they are not sturdy enough for shuffling so you will need to back them. You want to back them before you cut and trim your sheets. There is no exception to this rule.
Backing options fall into two areas: those that already have an adhesive surface and those that do not. You also have the option of printing on a professional photographic paper stock that has an adhesive back.
There are cardstocks and matte boards that come with adhesive backing. There are a limited number of cardstocks that come pre-backed. Silhouette makes a wide range of colors for these, and I found the product more than adequate to provide a fast seal and adequate heft for a tarot deck. In general matte board is too thick and heavy for tarot cards unless they are intended for display only.
If you want to apply the adhesive yourself, you have a wider range of options. Remember you are looking for backing that lays flat and stands up to handling. These are some of your options.
Archival Non-acid Rubber Cement: Many artists regard this as a poor man’s dry mount. Cover the backs of both your backing support and print. Wait a minute or two until it air dries leaving a still tacky surface. Overlay the image and support gently, ensuring that there are no bubbles. Then apply pressure. If you are applying pressure to the image side, put a piece of tissue, baking parchment or tracing paper over the image to protect. You can use a brayer, barren, cold iron or rolling pin. It forms a tough long lasting bond.
Dry mount: Typically this comes in sheets or rolls. Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions. These are pressure activated.
Fusible Fabric Web: These also come in rolls and sheets. They are heat activated. They are backed on both sides. You peel off the backing on one side of the sheet and place your image on it. Then you remove the protective sheet on the other side of the web and adhere the backing. You next need to iron it, using the setting recommended in the instructions. You will need a thin sheet of fabric or paper placed between the iron and card.
Spray Adhesives: These can be challenging. In my experience the bond is not as sturdy. One needs to ensure that one is completely coating the surface, and there is a tendency accidentally stain the image.
Another option is to print on coverweight plastic or acrylic sheets as I did with the guerilla version of the Radiant Spleen Tarot. These have the advantage of being easy to shuffle, and there is no danger of the back peeling off. However, there is no image on the backs. Some customers do not favor this.
Finishing Touches and Packaging Your Tarot
Now that your cards are printed and backed, you need to cut and trim them. Don’t think of doing this with scissors or an exacto blade. You need a professional paper cutter that cuts consistently straight. It is a good idea to purchase one that has a bevel punch for the corners of your cards. You can bevel cards with manicuring scissors or a stand-alone punch. Beveling cards is very important. They allow for much better shuffling, and the corners do not get torn or bend. It is a big grievance of mine with both Italian and self-published decks that printers omit this essential step.
Now that your cards our trimmed you need to figure out how you are going to package them. My first preference is a box. However, finding a pre-made box that will fit either a 22 or 78 card tarot can be daunting. Your best bet made be to find a jewelry box that conforms to the size of your deck, and order the amount you will need on-line. Bulk ordering often results in a substantial discount. But remember to order a small amount first to make sure that it works for your needs.
In my experience, this was one of the biggest challenges with The Radiant Spleen Tarot. Initially I ordered a cache of craft paper boxes from a Jeweler’s supply wholesaler. I chose the craft paper because I wanted to gesso, paint and collage a sample card to the cover of each box. This proved a big mistake, because the craft paper boxes warped easily. Adhering the cards to the cover proved highly traumatic. I ended using a wide variety of small boxes found in various good will, old packing boxes, etc. and uniquely decorated each one. While most of the boxes turned very chic and crafty, it did not make my work appear very consistent. I would have been better off buying structurally sounder jewelry boxes and simply gluing a card for the cover.
You have other crafting options.
An origami box. This will involve scoring, cutting, folding and gluing a box together. Make sure that you have a strong enough “paper” and tools that enable you to score and cut it. Many templates are available on-line and in books.
A folder. This is much simpler to make than a box. Distinguished tarot printers like the Museo dei Tarocchi and Osvaldo Menegazzi frequently use them. Basically, you make two to five scores on your paper. Two scores are necessary for the spine of your folder to accommodate the height of your deck. One to three more are necessary if you elect to have a support flap on bottom to hold your deck in place. As always, use a professional paper cutter. (Often these include a scoring option or attachment.) You may want to punch holes on the open horizontal side of your packaging to secure the packaging with a decorative ribbon or string. Some reinforce the covers with an additional piece of cardstock or cardboard. The folder can be decorated as you see fit. Frankly if I had to do Radiant Spleen again I would have chosen this option.
A drawstring pouch. These are popular accessories with many tarot enthusiasts, particularly for those who like to carry reading decks on their persons. I am not the biggest fan of these for deck packaging, but they are relatively inexpensive and can save you time and labor. The option of silkscreening or embellishing them may add to your deck’s unique sales potential.
A heavy duty envelope that tightly fits the deck. I chose the craft-paper option here for the second edition of the Radiant Spleen Tarot and decided to include a personal doodle on it for each customer with his/her name.
Finally, most consumers expect a Little White Book with their tarot decks. Some contemporary tarot makers post these on-line as downloadable pdf files. You can print one on a single sheet, usually printed front and back, and insert it in the box. A lot of the great Italian tarot makers of the 70’s and 80’s did this. You can also print one using multiple pages. The key is that you will have to use design software because you will need to print text non-sequentially and frequently have to flip text boxes in order for the cut and folded pages flow into a sequential booklet. You can finish it by stapling the spine or hand stitching the booklet using a simple pamphlet stitch. For the Radiant Spleen tarot I used a craft paper cover and buff laser paper for the text. I printed it on a Canon laser printer. I cut and scored the booklet using a paper cutter and employed a pamphlet stitch. If I had it to do over again, I would have used a gold metallic paper rather than craft paper for the cover to make the booklet more aesthetically coherent with the deck. For the second edition, I decided to dispense with this and offer a pdf downloadable file upon request.
Hopefully, this gives you a good overview of what you need to consider when choosing to have your deck professionally printed or handcrafted yourself.