A look behind the scenes at indie tarot & oracle decks
I’ve been selling indie tarot and oracle decks for more than four years now — and questions about deck prices are the most popular (right after, “Will you read my cards?” and “Do you use all these decks?”). The most common question: Why does ______ deck cost so much?
Many factors influence deck prices; I’m hoping to offer some insight for both buyers and budding deck creators here. In addition to my insight as a shop owner, I’m drawing on:
- 20+ years of marketing experience working with graphic designers, printers and web developers
- related industry trends from a family member with more than a decade of indie book publishing experience
- conversations with multiple deck producers.
Let me break it down. Here’s what drives deck costs. Change any of these factors and your deck price will fluctuate.
Card stock: Better quality card stock costs more… and holds up to prolonged use. Cheap card stock will cost less up front. Over time however, the cards will show signs of wear and tear. Corners bend, edges split, and one day you stop using your deck because that tear on the corner of the Three of Swords means you’re no longer getting accurate readings. Some deck creators opt for plastic, others want recycled material or paper from FSC-certified sources. That all factors into pricing.
The nerdy stuff: Card stock often includes a weight, such as 300 GSM (grams per square meter) or 80 pound cover stock. Sometimes you’ll see a thickness, indicated in points. Higher numbers indicate heavier (but not necessarily thicker) stock: an individual card from a deck printed on 350 GSM stock will weigh more than a card printed on 300 GSM stock. Both cards may be the same thickness, though — that’s where deck creators have some leeway. To make cards easier to shuffle, they may balance a heavier GSM with a thinner point size.
Card size and shape: There’s a reason certain card sizes are standard. Printing equipment has been designed to handle those sizes efficiently. Odd sizes or shapes can add extra steps to the printing process, driving up the price. While some larger cards may fit into standard print sizes, they use more material which translates to… you got it. More money.
Color: Printing black and white or two-color decks typically costs less than producing full-color ones. Colored ink costs more than black and white and adds complexity. Working with a printer to get accurate colors can be a challenge, requiring multiple tests.
Number of cards in the deck: I’m not just talking about oracle decks here. You’d think this would be standard with tarot decks, but it’s not. While you’re probably planning on at least 78 cards, you may want to include bonus cards. Instead of a Little White Book or a full-on guidebook, maybe you want to add a card with keywords, simple interpretations, or a link to download a PDF guidebook. Maybe you were planning a 35-card oracle deck, but once you add a card on how to use the deck, one with keywords and another three with some great spreads, you’re up to 40 cards. More cards? More cost.
The box: Standard tuckbox? Two-piece rigid? With or without cutouts? Clamshell? Magnetic closure? Wood? Printed in black and white or full color? Printed or coated on the inside? Is there a ribbon for easy deck removal? Insert to hold round cards in place? Skip the box and use a bag instead? How about a tin? So. Many. Choices. Look at them all:
Special printing techniques: Gilded edges, foil, special coatings or finishes and other advanced printing techniques add costs – quickly. Look at the True Black Tarot, with black foil details on the card backs, gloss on certain parts of the front of each card and black edges as an example.
The guidebook: Ahhhh, the guidebook. Some decks skip this entirely. Another option: printing keywords directly on the card. While this is more common in oracle decks, certain tarot decks also take this approach – like Madam Clara’s 5-Cent Tarot. Double-sided decks often have images and keywords on one side with meatier messages on the other. Others opt for a card or two with meanings, like the Wanderer’s Tarot pictured above.
A digital guidebook offers the chance to provide more detailed card meanings and additional materials while keeping production costs down. It’s simple to include a bonus card with a link to the file or print postcards with the link.
Simple folded mini-guides offer an affordable way to provide some guidance in reading the cards. Other deck creators want to include a more comprehensive guidebook as part of the overall package. The length of the guidebook, as well as choices that influence card costs (paper quality, size, color, etc.) also factor into a deck’s final cost.
Print volume: Ordering a larger print run can translate into a lower cost per deck. Printers typically offer price breaks for larger quantities — which call for larger payments up front. Let’s look at some sample math based on prices from one printer:
|Quantity||Unit Price||Total cost|
|250 decks||$10.50 each||$2,625.00|
|500 decks||$9.25 each||$4,625.00|
|1000 decks||$6.95 each||$6,950.00|
|5000 decks||$4.30 each||$21,500.00|
While the cost per deck for 5,000 decks is less than half the cost for 250 decks or even 500 decks, it’s a significantly larger investment up front. Now consider where you’re going to store those 5,000 decks. While publishers typically have warehouses, indie deck producers often have spare bedrooms, closets, dining room tables or small studios. And roommates who may be less than thrilled about climbing over boxes of decks for months on end. Rent a storage unit? Guess what… that costs money. So does the gas or public transportation to use to get to that storage unit.
Outside expertise: Did the deck creator(s) do everything themselves? Or did they hire someone for parts of the project? Maybe a graphic designer did some work on the final files that went to the printer. Maybe someone edited the guidebook or proofread the cards. Maybe someone else wrote the guidebook. Or created some of the artwork. Or modeled for photos or sketches. Or took photos for the website or social media or Kickstarter campaign or built the website or or or… Making a deck requires a tremendous amount of work. Most creators don’t do all of it themselves.
Thanks for reading my overview of why certain decks cost more than others… I hope you’ll keep some of those factors in mind next time you’re shopping for indie decks. <3