We've done a lot of research and gotten a lot of feedback, and the designs are just about finalized: We got the demo prints, and are happy with the quality, though are tweaking a number of images where color inconsistencies and issues with line weight that weren't clear on-screen became clear in print.
There are a few changes left to make, and it's now down to the final questions of weighing faith to the form of the old cards against the functionality of the updates, though we believe we've captured the spirit of the historical cards well, regardless of our choices in fine-tuning details.
Along with the printing samples, we also got some cardstock samples, and at this point intend to go with a thicker-than-usual 400GSM paper (as opposed to the 350GSM typically used in tarot decks), with an untextured/semi-gloss coat for protection.
We made several tests to check durability:
• the cards can bend back on themselves without creasing (ends touching), and it took actually folding the cards at close to a 90º angle to see any lasting crease (rather than just a bend)
• the cards took extremely violent shuffling (smashing them into each other, after smashing them a lot to figure out the best angle to cause resistance) to see any damage, and the coating remained unmarred
•we poured and left water and coffee on the cards, with the only time we saw any lasting affect being when we submerged a card in coffee for several seconds, where some seeped in through the edge
EDIT: on this last one, once dry, surprisingly the card hadn't seen any warping and very little discoloration.
So, we're quite confident about our cards' durability. If we get the funds, we'd like to go the extra mile and upgrade to a linen treatment since we like the feel, and (on a more objective note) it improves shuffling and durability further).
Finally, along with our above design, the other added art is the design on the reverse of each card.
This one was a bit clearer of a matter of function vs. faith to form: while I could have done multiple backs or other attempts to make the design feel more authentic, it's completely impractical to make a deck with signs that make it easy to tell which cards are which: in both divination and gaming, it ruins a lot of the function. The card backs are rotationally symmetrical and identical.
For the design, I went for something very minimal and natural, trying to give it both a light and open sensibility, and keep the crest as minimal as possible, with the three primary colors and dimensions.