Self-publishing a Tarot: Four Artists Share Advice

By Melanie Harris

Have you ever dreamed of creating and self-publishing your own Tarot deck? It’s a fantastic thought for most creative Tarot enthusiasts, but the process can seem daunting if you don’t know exactly what is involved. Where do you start? How do you print it? Where can you sell it? I talked to four successful self-publishing Tarot artists to find out just how it’s done.

Beth Seilonen


Whimsy Tarot, January 2009, 78-card deck. Gerbils, rabbits, guinea pigs and mice make up this whimiscal tarot. 

Pink Arcana, February 2009, 22-card Major Arcana deck. Featuring Nestor the Jester in a highly symbolic Arcana collection.  

Fishy Tarot, April 2009, 78-card card deck. Beth's favorite art class character "Fishy Dude" has come to take on the Tarot in a colorful expression. 

How she got involved with self-publishing:

Actually, I somewhat fell into self-publishing quite by accident. Adam McLean, a noted alchemist and tarot collector, had been watching my progress through my first Major Arcana, the Theban Tarot, and when he saw that I was close to being done, he asked if he could have a copy of the paintings. After the first few editions I created as prints, not actual tarot cards to be used in readings, Adam helped me refine my printing and card making process to where I am today.

Since I print in relatively small editions, I feel it makes more sense to keep the printing process in house. When I am ready to print larger editions of my tarots, I will definitely be looking for a publisher to do the printing.  

Beth’s printing process: 

My printing process involves a number of steps. First, I scan all of the images into my computer. Second, I crop all of the images using a photo program. Third, using the Publisher program, I create the plates. Fourth, I print a proof edition. Then, I will begin to print the editions. As they are printed, they are numbered, signed, and laminated. The laminated sheets are then individually cut and corners are punched with a corner-curving tool. Each card is inspected then placed in order, either placed into a tarot bag or wrapped in silk (depending upon if it’s an Arcana deck or a Tarot deck), boxed, and mailed. I personally hand draw on my boxes. I feel that it makes them particularly special, something original right from me.

Where she sells them:

The majority of my decks are sold on the internet via my own website,, Etsy, and Ebay.  Though I do sell my decks at my gallery—Cat’s Eye Gallery, in Calais, Maine, and also at Maple Hill Farm, in Cobbleskill, New York and Leap'n Lizards in Freeport, Maine.

Best advice for the hopeful self-publisher: 

Ask, ask, ask, and listen to what other self-publishers and others have to share with you.  Those who have published before are a wealth of information and are wanting you to be successful as well. 

whimsy3ofswords2   nestor2   hierophant2

Pam Steele

Pam 1

Steele Wizard Tarot, A masterfully illustrated 88-card tarot that provides a clear concise reading for the beginning or the master reader.

How she got involved with self-publishing:

I approached every tarot publisher on the planet and either they wanted to reduce the size of the cards, which a bit would be ok, but the suggested sizes would have made the details on the images nearly impossible to see. Or they wanted me to cut the number of cards to the standard 78, or both. There was one who actually wanted to print the deck as is, but they wanted to put it on a 3-year queue with option to print then, instead of committing to a sooner date. Besides, I'm the kinda gal who thinks if you really believe in yourself and what you've done, you should 'Put your money where your mouth is.'

Pam’s printing process: 

I searched the internet looking for publishers, then I finally contacted a custom playing card manufacturer out of Orlando, Florida. Wonderful folks!  They call themselves 'Cards-r-Us', it's a family business and I dealt with Charlie (a.k.a. Charles) via email, 

It was a total learning process, the cards had to be scanned, tweaked, the borders added, the text added, and converted to CMYK for print. There were times I would literally sit on my front porch and cry. It was so big. You first need to copyright your material through the U.S. copyright office. Then apply and obtain a barcode. Then notify the library of congress...and, and, and. But this way the creator retains total artistic control.  From start to finish. Expensive? Yes. I ended up selling my house and moving in with the love of my life to have the funds to do this. The total, including everything, was about $14,000. And I did all the Photoshop work myself. I also wrote the book and put it in the appropriate format, designed the box cover, and did all the layout work for the entire project.  

Where she sells it:

Once I had an arrival date for the 2000 copies I ordered (that was the minimum I could order through a manufacturer), I made a trip to Orlando and attended the INATS East show. There I introduced myself to the New Leaf Distributing people (they are lovely wonderful people) and was offered a distributing contract through them. I have advertised in their quarterly magazine, and their e-flyer program, and attended two INATS shows (east and west) with my tarot on display with New Leaf and did free sample readings for a few hours each day. I have a website, which people can order one or two decks from, but before I released the deck I had a small geocities site, and I contacted every available online tarot group I could find. I emailed artwork and information and managed to find several simply amazing tarot sites that did pre-release reviews. I contacted local stores and when I travel anywhere I search ahead and find as many outlets as possible. I have sent sample copies to anyone who would take them, and have a complete travel agenda in place for June....On the road again!

Best advice for the hopeful self-publisher: 

Don't give up. Believe in yourself and your work. When it's ready, the opportunity will present itself. I spent seven years, with many false starts, and broken promises, before I gave my head a shake and put my house up for sale. Not that I recommend becoming homeless, but it was an opportunity to move forward with something I sincerely believed in with all my I took that first step off the edge, trusting to either have the path materialize beneath my feet or grow wings.


Liz Hazel

Liz Head Shot

The Whispering Tarot, poker-sized, signed, numbered limited edition of 900. Deck $25, book $16. 

How she got involved with self-publishing:

I did seek out traditional publishers. The deck was repeatedly refused. I could have continued to submit the deck, but making submissions is a slow and expensive process for the artist. Submission requirements can be ridiculously complex, and the royalties one gets for one's troubles are ridiculously low. And while the absurd can be amusing, the ridiculous is annoying and doesn't stand up well in a cost-benefit analysis.   

Since tarot decks tend to produce minimal returns, I approached self-publishing with the hope of breaking even. It is not an inexpensive enterprise! From my perspective, having minute control over the production details was worth the cost. There's nothing worse than a careless, junky production to make an artist or writer look bad. As I learned later, it's possible for the printer to make mistakes, too.  

Liz’s printing process:

The digital set-up for the cards can be done by the artist, or by a graphic artist who works for a printer. There may or may not be a charge for this service; some printers include the graphic services as part of the printing fee. It's up to the artist to query printing companies, and ask for a quote on their services and options for printing. Some printers use specific software, so if the artist is planning to do their own set-up, the software files need to be compatible with the printer's. 

Production decisions include the deck's physical dimensions, what quality and type of card stock (smooth, coated, etc), the font used on the cards, the border or background for the art, and the box design. I chose a two-part box because they are sturdier than tuck-boxes over the long run. The tarot artist can choose to design the box themselves (as I did) or allow the printing company to do that for them with approval. 

Some choices may add to the cost, like deck size and box type; some choices are not rooted in cost, but in personal tastes. For instance, I chose to have a black background for my tarot images, as I felt this enhanced the colors of the artwork. This wasn't a matter of cost, but of personal preference. The artist may choose to include a book with the deck, or sell it separately (as well as having it printed separately).   

Where she sells it:

I set up a website and do mail orders, both for private purchasers and retailers. Getting deck reviews in various tarot publications and websites is key to public awareness. It's also good to have copies of a self-published tarot deck available at tarot symposiums. The more people who see the deck, the more sales opportunities are created. 

Best advice for the hopeful self-publisher: 

A snappy, clever deck name goes a long way toward promoting a deck. I changed the title of my deck three times, and feel that The Whispering Tarot was the best of many possible names for the deck. 

WT - Magician

Lunaea Weatherstone

Full Moon Dreams, a collage deck 

How she got involved with self-publishing:

When I made my deck (which is a collage deck), I made it for my own use only, with no thought of publishing it. I therefore was very casual about using copyrighted material, and drew my collage sources from just about everywhere, without keeping a record. Commercial publishers of collage and other mixed-media artwork insist on complete permissions from all original artists. That was impossible for me, so I opted to self-publish a small (250) limited edition of my deck. That deck sold out right away, and it's been unavailable for about three years.

Lunaea’s printing process:

I had my deck printed by a regular printing company, the kind that does business cards and brochures and such. It was the first card deck they had ever done! And they loved doing it so much that they put a sample of the deck on display in their offices. It was worth it to me to have very high quality color reproduction, as I've seen some other decks where the colors are rather muddy. Working with a local printer rather than a long-distance one online had two major advantages (besides supporting local business). First, it was possible to do an in-person press check, to make sure the images and colors were true. Second, there were no shipping costs—cards are heavy! The downside of professional printing, is that, yes, it is expensive. I'm gathering names now of people who can commit to prepaying for a second edition. The cost for 500 sets (with book and bag) is going to come out to more than $15,000. I don't have that kind of money myself, so I need those prepays to make it happen.

Where she sells it:

Right now, just on my website and blog, and by word of mouth. Feel free to spread the word!

Best advice for the hopeful self-publisher:

Whether you self-publish or go for commercial publication, make a deck that is unique and expresses your own voice, not another RWS clone.

4air         death         moon

All images shown are used with permission.

All submissions remain the property of their respective authors. 

Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2009

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