Recently I have been taking time to colour the BOTA Tarot deck – which is famously left black & white for students to fill in as their appreciation of the esoteric significance of colour develops. However, instead of trying to colour in the actual cards, I thought it would be far easier for me – in terms of detail and control of colour – if I scanned them, printed them out A4 size, and then painted them. I used acrylic paints, simply because that is what I had to hand.
It soon occurred to me, would I be able to convert these pictures I was making back into tarot cards? Or in other words, create my own deck based on the BOTA cards. After doing some research I found that the answer was theoretically yes – and surprisingly easier than one might think.
But first a caveat. The BOTA deck, I am guessing, is still in copyright, so obviously one cannot create one’s own commercial deck this way. It would have to be a deck for private use only. If I have come up with 100% original designs, that would have been a different situation entirely.
However, the fact of the matter is that there are companies – on the internet, even – that if you provide them with a full set of PNG files according to their specifications, they will print them and turn them into a Tarot deck on your behalf. Usually they do this as part of a wider scheme of creating customised playing card decks generally. Apparently quite a few professional Tarot readers do have their own personalised Tarot decks printed up to impress their clients when giving readings.
Typical size for each image is 3″*5″ @ 300dpi, or 900*1500 pixels. Note that 1/8th of an inch is routinely shaved off each edge as the bleed area, leaving the printed product 2.75″ * 4.75″, which appears to be an industry standard. Clearly, a graphics program more sophisticated than MS Paint is required! I personally have an old version of Photoshop. I believe there is a freeware program called “GIMP,” although I didn’t particularly like it when I gave it a try.
The typical cost for such a deck starts from about $15 for one deck – although if you want your tarot deck to come in a box, you are going to have to pay considerably more, e.g. $26. By way of comparison, the Rider Waite is currently retailing on Amazon for $11, the Crowley Thoth for $21 and Tarot of Marseille for around $16 (all boxed). The only way you would be able to compete with these big boys if you actually went and tried to come up with a proper commercial deck and market it as such. To compete with the Rider Waite, for example, you would only begin to break even by selling out a run of at least 250 decks. However this does not take into account either costs run up in the creation of the deck, or actual profit (is there such a thing???), which if you are going to be working on a professional basis will be considerable. Harry Wendrich, creator of the Golden Dawn Temple Tarot, once told me that he simply employed local people to sit for him as models for the characters he depicted in his cards, which is an excellent strategy for a professional artist, although some of them look particularly shady.