How I Made My Collage Deck

These are the steps I followed. I include them here so that you can adapt them to your own needs. Even if you paint or draw your deck, the same method of construction can probably be followed. This will produce a sturdy deck that will stand up to everyday use.

Starting Materials:

Blank Card Stock – I used the Inspirational Tarot Deck. This deck is designed for use in creating a personal deck. You can get it from US Games. Each card has the card title, the position on the Qabalistic Tree of Life and the astrological symbol associated with it. There is an outlined area in the center of the card for your artwork. I did collage work and glued my images directly onto the card. This obviously required me to work with small images. You could still use this deck if you wanted to work with larger images by photocopying the cards to the desired size. I like the framed look of the Inspiration Deck, but I do not like the astrological symbols used. For my next deck, I may just use the frame shape on a blank deck and add my own titles to the cards.

I made two templates from one of the two extra cards in the Inspiration Deck. To make them, I cut the framed centerpiece out of the center very carefully with an Exacto Knife, keeping on the lines as much as possible. This gave me an outer frame that I could place over images to see how they fit and looked. It also gave me an inner template that I used to trace the backgrounds and images. Because the pencil adds a bit to the image, the final product is just slightly larger than the template. This is good because it will cover the black frame lines on the blank card, giving a smoother look.

Glue – I use Avery Glue Sticks. I bought a dozen for $4.99 from Sam’s Warehouse, though youmy3w.jpg (14151 bytes) can probably get them at any office supply store for not much more. Individual sticks are about $1.00 each, and you will use several, when completing a 78 card deck, so you may as well buy in bulk.

Scissors – I learned about Tweezerman Scissors from Arnell Ando. They are expensive, but are worth every penny in their sharpness and accuracy. Mine are curved (Tweezerman #3000), and at first that took some getting used to, but with small images, I was taking very small nips and got used to it quickly. It is my understanding that they are also available with straight blades (Tweezerman #3003). If I were using larger images, I would probably buy a second set of slightly larger scissors from a good sewing or needlepoint store. I also used a large pair of Fiscar Sewing Scissors for large work, like cutting long straight edges for backgrounds and cutting the cards out. Again, quality is important. Scrimping on the price of scissors will cost you in aggravation and frustration. Get the best scissors you can afford up front.

Images – I found that the local libraries had bins where people donated old magazines that I could take for free. This was a good source for magazines like National Geographic. Thrift shops sometimes have old magazines for sale at very reasonable prices. Used art books are good, but they usually have larger images. Chronicle Books publishes a series of small art books. They are excellent sources, but are rather pricey at $11.95 each. The Art Book by Phaidon has over 500 small images for $9.95, which is a nice starter book if you are working with smaller images in collage.

The items listed above are what you need to get started. Here are some extras that I found useful.

Brayer – This is a small rubber roller. I found it extremely useful for getting the image as flat as possible. You could just firm it down with your hands or a heavy book, but the brayer is fast and easy. It is excellent for getting rid of air pockets and lumps. I thought it was rather pricey at $7.00 and up, depending on size. I use a three inch brayer which costs about $10.00 in an art supply store.

Colored Markers and Pencils – A good selection of colored markers and pencils comes in handy. Sometimes you might need to color a thick edge, or fill in a spot. I also used colored pencils to create small bits of papers in colors I needed and did not have. I like Prismacolor pencils. I bought a set of 48. They run about $1.00 each and can be bought individually as well. I started out with cheaper pencils like Crayola, but they do not work as well and do not blend well at all.

Paper – I bought several packs of different types of origami paper. It is inexpensive and brightly colored. It is also available in foil. My Queen of Swords is on an origami paper background. The halo effect is just one of many types of origami paper available. I also found good images in newspapers and catalogs. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Some of my best images are from newsprint. The backgrounds in The World and the Eight of Swords are examples of newsprint.

Cutting Mat – These are sold in sewing stores for quilters. They are hard rubber mats that you can use under your Exacto Knife work to spare your furniture. An old magazine or a thick pile of newspapers also work for this type of work, but make it thicker than you think you will need to be safe.

Paper Cutter – I used this to cut my laminated cards and to trim them to size. It is easier to use than scissors for heavy-duty work.

Laminator – I do not recommend this for everyone. It is expensive and if you are only going to make one or two decks, it is cheaper to use a service like Kinko’s. On the other hand, I like to control my own destiny. Nice to have, but by no means a necessity.my9c.jpg (11906 bytes)


Once you have your 78 originals, you are ready to make your working deck. You could just laminate the originals, but if you read Arnell’s Tips, you know that you will not be able to copy them well once you laminate them. I found that the color copies looked better than the original in most cases.

Step One – Get color copies of your originals. When copying, try to keep like colors together. You should be able to fit five cards on an 8 " X 11" sheet. Have the counter clerks help you turn off the setting that centers your work. You want to get the whole image in color so that you can use the black background as a contrast guide for cutting. If you have the centering setting on, you will not get a background on the outside edges. Here are samples of what I am talking about:

Non - Centered Image

Centered Image

Step Two – Choose a back. Using a plain colored paper or card stock is easiest. Card stock will give your cards a heavier, sturdier, more card-like feel. It will also make them thicker and harder to shuffle. Get the paper or card stock in the same size as your copies. Glue the color copy to the card stock.

Step Three - Cut the cards out. Because the back is plain and glued to the front, you only have to cut once. I use my large scissors for this, cutting the cards along the edge as squares first. Once I have them all cut as squares, I use my Tweezerman scissors to round the corners. If you use a design for your back, you will have to cut the backs and fronts out separately, fit them together and then trim them so that there is no overhang, front or back. I have not done this yet, but may do so for my next deck. If I do, I will update these instructions accordingly.

Step Four – Laminate. Take them to Kinko’s and instruct the counter personnel to put four cards to a sheet and to be very careful! When you pick up your work, check for air bubbles and unsealed edges before you leave the store. Have them run any cards with flaws through the laminator one more time. It is my understanding that you should not run it through too many times, but a second time is fine. If it can not be fixed, I would ask to be allowed to redo the copies for free since their lamination was at fault. They should also do the lamination for free. I have not dealt with Kinko’s for lamination, but I have found them very reasonable and willing to make things right when dealing with them for copies.

Step Five – Separate the cards using a paper cutter. Just cut the laminated cards in half and then cut the halves in half. Leave lots of laminate around the edge of each card. Once you have the cards separated, it is time to do the trimming. Determine how thick an edge you want on the cards and use the paper cutter to trim all the cards, so that you have an equal edge all around. Alexandra Genetti does not leave any edge and gets good results, but I have not tried it this way yet. If you do not want an edge, you will have to use a good glue to hold the front and back together. The laminated edge does this for you, and also seals the card against dirt and accidents. Once you have them all cut out as squares, use your small scissors to round the corners. I took a card from another deck and used it as a trimming guide by placing it on top of my new card so that the top and right edge were flush. Then I cut around it.

After photocopying my cards, it took me approximately six hours to cut, laminate and cut again. If you have backs with designs, it will take you longer because of the additional cutting and trimming. Kinko’s will laminate while you wait, but it takes a while to laminate 78 cards, so you may prefer dropping the deck off and picking it up later, rather than waiting.


Copyright (c) 1998 Michele Jackson