How to get started: A few starting design tips

Though this is the first article published here, I’ve written about ten articles so far and they stretch from one end of the design process to the other. I tend to write when an idea hits me but I also realize there should be some order to what I’m offering. So I thought it best to find a place to begin from and go from there. So we’re going to start with some basics.

I’ve been a graphic designer for a long time and one thing my clients really like about my work is my extreme attention paid to the little details. Before I begin a project I’ve pulled out my notebook and sketched out my idea, laid out my theme, and decided upon a color palette. You’d think that being my general nature I would have applied it to my first tarot project. Yeah, not so much. It was more of a passion project so I just winged it at first. There’s nothing wrong with that really, but it does help to go into project like this with some basic design ideas in mind. I learned very quickly that being thoughtful out the gate helps with the process in the long run.

First, give serious consideration to what card size or shape you want to use. There are standard sizes that I tend to recommend mainly because it will be easier to get your deck printed. Many deck printers have set sizes and templates for you to use. When you go with a non-standard size you move into the realm of custom printing and that generally means a more expensive printing process. It bumps up your packaging costs as well if you have to specialize it to fit the deck. If you have the resources though, hey, go crazy! That aside, packaging and future costs might not actually be on your mind right now. You’re in the honeymoon stage of just creating your cards. I love that stage. However, keeping your deck dimensions (and the costs associated with that) in mind at the beginning will help you better structure your card layout.

Another thing to consider is how your artwork will look on the different card sizes. The smaller the card the more compact your image is going to be. If your artwork is very intricate or detailed some of those details will be lost to some degree. I personally prefer a standard tarot card size, which is 2.75″ x 4.75″ or 70mm x 121mm. It’s an easy to handle card size and still large enough to avoid losing details in your art. This is my preference though and you’ll have to decide what you prefer.

Now that you have your card size settled upon, ask yourself: Are there going to be borders around my card artwork or am I going to go for a full bleed? A border is pretty self explanatory. Having a full bleed means your artwork extends to the edge of the card and beyond. When creating a card with a full bleed make sure to keep the important stuff within a set border space, create an area for a full bleed, and then the wiggle room for the cutting process. You want all important card imagery to stop before you hit the full bleed area.

Also, just a little side note to consider: With tarot decks I’ve learned that different people have different views on what they want design wise in their decks. I know quite a few tarot users who will cut off the borders of a deck if it’s just a solid white or colored border. It’s something to think about as you begin to design. Up to this point I’ve mostly used decorative borders that play into the artwork on the card. I like that unification of the cards. My first full bleed deck was my Attic Halloween Tarot and I still caved into my border-frenzy and made it with the option to get a bordered or borderless version.

Once you’ve gotten to this point and you’re beginning to format your finished art for printing, there are a few other details to keep in mind: Will your cards have words and numbers on them? You’ll need to pick out the fonts you want to use and keep in mind how legible they will be. I love a pretty font but not all pretty fonts are easy to read at card size. Research your fonts too. We have tons of fonts at the ready online but some of them are commercial and you actually have to have a license to use them. So I suggest going for commercial free or public domain fonts. Also, placement of your text on your cards is important. You want your design to flatter your art, not distract from it. Granted, this last tip is a bit of my obsessive compulsive order, though in my years of making and selling decks I’ve read many reviews of other decks to see how to better make my own. I’ve seen reviews of beautiful decks that get points taken away from them for fonts that are hard to read, clash with the art, or are poorly placed in the design. I like to approach the wording and lettering on my cards as an extension of the artwork.

I’ll finish this bit of tips with one last word of advice: Whether you’re making your card artwork traditionally or digitally it will eventually end up on your computer in need of formatting for printing. So remember to make sure your screen is calibrated. You want what you see on the screen to be what comes through in the printing process. There are a number of tutorials online to do this or programs that will do it for you. When in doubt as to if what I see on my screen will come out the same in printing, I like to make 4 x 6 inch prints of them through hour photo. Some photo machines aren’t calibrated as well as they should be but most are pretty spot on. I’ve found times when my work was much darker in the printing process than what I saw on my screen.

That is where I get my tips started and what I will leave you with for today my lovely deck makers. I’m staring down the path of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon while I make spirit boards for the attic shoppe. Buffy and October just have a nice relationship to them. Have a good evening!