Created and Published by Nicole Em 2018
Cards printed by Pickwick Independent Press
Availability: Etsy

The shapes, forms and images which we’ve learned to recognize as letters began humbly as little more than pictures and symbols meant to represent common sights in our primitive environment. These pictures gave our thoughts a voice, our conscious a form, and standardized language for mankind. Nicole Em has recaptured the essence of written language with The Printer’s Tarot. Inspired by her education in letterpress printing Nicole Em created The Printer’s Tarot as a new and inventive addition to the tarot artform.  This deck is revolutionary for its unique concept of creating images with letterforms designed in Garamond typeface.

 The first time I saw this deck listed on Etsy I was dumbstruck. I could not express my excitement, amusement, curiosity, intrigue, or sense of awe effectively. I knew what I was looking at while at the same time confused. I guess my brain had to wrap itself around the idea that the images I was seeing on these cards were composed of letter. Things like word puzzles, optical illusions, or anything that activates multiple parts of my brain excite me. This deck excites me.

There are no gimmicks or extravagant extras to distract from the simplicity of the Printer’s Tarot. It arrives in a black canvas drawstring bag with a reproduction of The Fool printed on front in silver ink. A seven-leafed pamphlet serves as a guide for this tarot filled with brief keywords and descriptions for all seventy-eight cards. The cards themselves are plain and straightforward on a thick, matte, white cardstock and glossy, black ink which has been printed with a delicate touch. Most card titles follow the traditional RWS model however the court cards have change. The court cards have adopted titles that highlight the craft of printing. The Pages have become Novices, the Knights are now Apprentices, the Queens are Journeymen, and finally, the Kings are retitled as Masters. 

I can’t quite call this an RWS-based deck and although I haven’t worked with Thoth, Marseille, or any other types of tarot, I am confident that whatever associations you choose to attribute to the images in this deck would fit within your understanding. There are only a few cards in The Printer’s Tarot that directly echo the imagery of an RWS deck but even those cards depart from tradition. Every card is an exceptional re-imagining of the archetypes most seasoned tarot readers are familiar with. It is for that reason that I can see where this deck may challenge or dissuade many from using it in regular practice. I am delighted by The Printer’s Tarot for the fact that it is challenging. It is the type of deck to push the boundaries and expand one’s understanding and relationship with their tarot practice.

The Empress, Strength and Nine of Wands are three cards that stood out to me during my first impressions of the deck. Traditionally, the Empress is resting in a fertile and abundant plot or orchard, or some place chock full of greenery. Sometimes she is pregnant, sometimes she’s naked, sometimes there are bunnies bouncy around. All these images are meant to represent the maternal, nurturing, and creative energy of the Empress archetype, so what does a storm cloud and strike of lightning have to do with that? I find the lightning a stroke of creative genius because what could be more energetic than raw electricity shooting from the ground (fun fact…lighting strikes from the ground, not from the sky)? The chaotic, static energy is suddenly focused onto one spot to explode into the sky and atmosphere in a blinding flash. It is truly inspiring and so is the archetype of the Empress. Storm clouds also typically bring rain which obviously creates fertile soil ripe and ready to cultivate. 

 I prefer my Strength cards to feature a lion, a woman, and a display of gentle, graceful, or intellectual fortitude but the Strength card from The Printer’s tarot features none of these. Instead, the Strength features a suspension bridge constructed of the letters H, X, and L. I had to reconsider how a bridge fit into the context of strength but it makes a lot of sense. When we cross a bridge, we put our faith in its construction, in its engineering, in its strength. Spiritually speaking, our faith is the bridge that we rely on in situations that require strength and fortitude. I also thought the X’s were reminiscent of a lemniscate, which is a fun little nod to tradition.

Nine of Wands is not typically a card I seek out when accessing a new deck but something about this Nine of Wands stood out to me. When I see this Nine of Wands, I see three bonfires burning through the night. The fires are a beacon for weary travelers, or warriors, or they could even signal a warning of what approaches just beyond the horizon. They represent the energy of the final push, the digging deep, the last burst of energy one musters just before they reach the end.

The Printer’s Tarot is a deck that lends itself well to intuitive tarot reader but I also find that it can help establish a deeper understanding of the archetypes that make up the seventy-eight cards of the tarot. The tradition decks we’ve come to understand as the standard for tarot cards come from centuries in the past. Many of the concepts that shaped the historical deck have aged well into our modern century however some have not. Although the Printer’s Tarot is based on primitive concepts it challenges the antiquated standards against the turbulence of our modern society. I believe it is important that all modern deck continue to do so.