A heavily used tarot deck can get pretty tired looking, especially if the card stock isn’t very good. I have a RWS that I’ve been using for ages now, and it’s gotten so damaged that it’s difficult to shuffle.
Check out the corner on this card – it’s horrible. Badly dented, frayed, and rolled corners like this can cause the cards to stick together. Talcum powder won’t fix this because the card isn’t actually sticky, it’s physically gripping the card it’s attached itself to.
The first thing you can try to do is flatten that gross bulging mess – just pop the card in a hardcover book, and squeeze it shut. The corners should flatten out, and you will be able to shuffle again. For a little while anyway. Once the corners have been weakened like that, they tend to want to go back to being gross.
If you’re finding that the flattening process isn’t really helping anymore, you might want to do something a bit more drastic.
Okay, a lot more drastic.
Put the sandpaper on a flat surface, rest the offending corner of the card on the sandpaper with your finger on top of it, then gently pull the card across the sandpaper. This strips off a little bit of the corner, so there’s less card there to roll over and make a weird lip again. It doesn’t last forever, and it doesn’t look the best, but at least you can shuffle your cards properly.
The picture above is how the card looks after it’s been sanded. You can see the edge looks fuzzy and frayed, but it’s no-longer bulging. Sanded corners become absolute dirt magnets, and will pick up any dust or grime on any surface they’re on. If your deck wasn’t already dirty looking, it will definitely start looking dirty after this.
I’m of the opinion that, so long as I can use the deck, it doesn’t really matter how ugly it gets. But if you’re using this deck to read for others… they might be put off by something that looks too grotty.
So, let’s get more drastic.
Your next option is to trim the deck. Chopping off the borders can make a crummy old deck look crisp and new, and it’ll get rid of any grime that’s been building up on the edges. Trimming isn’t difficult, but you’re going to want a steady hand and a good pair of scissors.
If you have a really well printed deck, you can just cut around the images on the front of the cards. The resulting cards will all be the same size, and the fronts will line up perfectly with the images on the backs of the cards. That’s a best case scenario though.
If you’ve got something a little less well printed (like my RWS), you’re in for some extra tedium.
Start out by cutting the top and bottom border off the cards, using the image on the front as your guide (don’t cut the borders as they appear on the back, you could damage the image on the front). Once that’s done, check to see if all the cards are the same height. Now flip the cards over and check to see if the backs line up with the fronts of the cards – that is, is the image on the back noticeably off-centre now that you’ve trimmed the fronts? Are the borders consistently aligned, or are they all a bit random?
As you can see, mine are definitely not the same height, but the white border on the backs has been removed completely even on the tallest card, and the design on the back isn’t noticeably off-centre.
If you have cards that are different heights once trimmed, you need to go through all the cards and find the shortest one. Then, you need to trim all the taller cards down to match the height of that short card. This means shaving a little off the top and/or bottom of all the other cards.
Some cards are busy at the bottom, but have large areas of blank space at the top, so it’s easy to just cut the whole difference off the top. Other cards are busy at both the top and bottom, so you want to slice a little off both to minimise the amount you lose from either area. If the text boxes on the cards are too cramped, you might find that you can’t trim any enough off the bottom without cutting into the text itself. In that case, I’d weigh up how much I really care about the busy top of the card and how much I care about the text.
Beware: changing the ends you’re trimming from card-to-card might make the alignment of any text boxes look a bit wonky. It’ll be most noticeable when you have cards set out side by side. It’s not a big deal if the boxes were already wonky, but it might irk you if they used to align perfectly. In that case, line the short card up on the tall card so that the top of it’s text box aligns with the top of the tall card’s text box, and then trim the top and bottom accordingly, preserving the height of the text box.
Told you this’d be tedious.
Once you’ve done all that, your next task is to trim the sides. Again, work from the images on the front.
Once trimmed, are they all the same width? Do the backs line up?
For me, the answers are no, and no.
You can see in the picture that there’s a bit of white border still on both sides of all of these cards – that makes fixing the width problem a TON easier for me, because the backs of the cards in this deck are more uniform in size than the fronts, so rather than finding the narrowest card and trimming all the others carefully to fit it, I can just cut the white bits off.
If the back is more uniform than the front, why didn’t I just cut around the graphic on the back to start with?
I had no idea how well the fronts and backs were aligned, and I’d much rather ruin the look of the backs of the cards than ruin the fronts. If the backs were quite a lot smaller, I might have wound up accidentally cutting important bits off the images on the fronts. Any detail close to an edge could have been at risk – numbers or card titles would have been the most likely things to get trimmed off (or in half), but some cards have faces and important symbols quite close to the edge, and those could have been chopped off too.
In my deck, the backs were much taller and a little narrower than all the unevenly printed the images on the front, so had I trimmed from the back, I’d still have had to re-trim to get the entire white border off the tops and bottoms of the front faces of the cards. Then I’d have discovered the fronts were different heights, and had to re-trim again to even them out. So I wouldn’t have saved any labour.
After all that extra trimming, I now have a nice, neatly trimmed deck with square corners.
Square corners are not ideal. They get ruined much faster than round corners, which is why modern tarot decks usually have round corners. You can either carefully round the corners yourself using scissors (very difficult to do evenly), or you can get a corner rounding paper cutter at a stationary or scrap-booking store (or the stationary section of some supermarkets (or borrow one from a friend)). I recommend getting the corner-punch thingy instead of using scissors. It’s much neater and much quicker.
Of course, I’ve misplaced my punch, so I’m leaving the corners square for now. I’ll edit in a photo of the nice corners later. Hooray for the magic of computers!
For my final trick, to hide future ugly grimy grot that will build up on the edges of the cards, I edged the deck with a dark purple that matches the backs of the cards.
Edging a deck is super easy. Get a felt-tip marker that suits the colouring of the deck, and gently drag the side of the tip across each edge of each card. The side is best because you have more control that way, and will be less likely to slip and draw a line across the front of the card. Do one card at a time – it’s way easier to do it neatly that way. If you do several at once you risk missing cards, or putting too much ink on cards that protrude a little further than the others, causing ink to bleed into the image on the front. Ugly.
So, now the deck is pretty, and while it still looks a bit worn, it doesn’t look as much like it was carried around in a backpack for a few years, dropped on the floor hundreds of times by clumsy shufflers, or handled by people with the filthiest of hands. It will wear out again, and next time I won’t be able to trim the borders off, but I’ve gotten a whole lot more use out of this dirty, un-shuffleable deck that I otherwise would have had to retire.
Good luck fixing your cards!