Where do I start?

For newcomers to Tarot, the choosing of a deck can be a daunting task. Oh, so many to choose from. Which one is right for me? For those who want to know where to start, the answer is fairly simple. Most people begin with. Rider-Waite Tarot Deck (sometimes known as a Rider-Waite-Smith or a RWS). This is the deck that the majority of all other modern Tarot decks are based on. It was the first deck to include such detailed art on all of the 56 Minor Arcana cards as part of a larger story.

Learn the basic language and meaning of these cards and you will find that other decks are simply variations on this theme. Many seasoned professional readers still prefer the clarity and symbology of the RWS deck and stick with it. It is, simply put, the most popular deck in the world.


So who the heck is Rider, Waite, and Smith?

This deck was originally created with detailed  instructions by mystic and scholar Arthur Edward Waite, a Freemason and member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He teamed up with fellow Golden Dawn member Pamela Colman Smith (also known as Pixie) who created the illustrations for the deck under his direction. The Rider Company first published the deck in 1909.

But wait… I see a bunch of different Rider-Waite Tarot decks on the shelves. What’s the difference?

The answer to that is – not much. All the Waite decks are almost identical. The card art follows the same design, with the only variations being the color, linework, and borders. Here is a list of the different Rider-Waite Tarot decks and what to look for:

Standard Rider-Waite TarotRider Tarot Deck Want the basics? This is the standard original version of the RWS Tarot deck and is published by U.S. Games (one of the largest publishers of divination decks in the world). If you want the traditional deck, start here. It comes in a standard size as well as a pocket edition and miniature edition. There is also a Spanish edition. The deck includes a small booklet that covers the general meanings of all the cards. Booklets are standard with most major decks. For additional content, there are many books available that cover the minute details of the Tarot.

Albano-Waite Tarot DeckAlbano-Waite Tarot This deck features the Colman Smith illustrations pumped up with rich, solid colors by Frank Albano. It was originally published in 1968 (during the height of the psychedelic sixties) and plays up the vibrant colors with no shading. U.S. Games reissued this deck in 1991. The backgrounds of the Minor Arcana cards are color-coded for ease in reading. The Cups are light blue-green, the Wands orange, the Pentacles lime green, and the Swords yellow.

Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot DeckRadiant Rider-Waite Tarot The Pamela Colman Smith illustrations have been redrawn by Virginijus Poshkus with a fresh line style and brighter colors than the original. The updated look replaces Pixie’s thick, black outlines with subtle shading that gives depth to the familiar scenes. It is available in a standard size as well as a pocket size in a tin container. This is also available as part of a set with the book Exploring Tarot Using the Radiant Rider-Waite by Avia Venefica.

Universal Waite Tarot DeckUniversal Waite Tarot Deck The Pamela Colman Smith art has been redrawn and colored by contemporary comic book artist and writer  Mary Hanson-Roberts. It has a softer feel, in part due to her use of colored pencils for the details. Some find this deck more accessible for newcomers. Roberts later created another deck, the Hanson-Roberts Tarot, with symbolism similar to the Waite deck while taking a different approach to the images, as well as the Whimsical Tarot.

Centennial Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot DeckSmith-Waite Tarot Deck Centennial Edition This special centennial edition is an attempt to faithfully reproduce the original deck that was first published in 1909. The muted colors and texture will appeal to art lovers who like its vintage quality. Some prefer this over the standard RWS deck, feeling that it is more authentic. The deck includes several bonus cards with Pixie's non-Tarot art. The Centennial deck is also available in a Borderless Edition, allowing the art to extend to the edge of the card.

Golden Universal Tarot DeckGolden Universal Tarot – Italian painter Roberto de Angelis lends a modern, more realistic approach to the classic Rider-Waite imagery. The cards are adorned with brilliant gold stamp impressions. It should be noted that some of the images do deviate substantially from the standard Pamela Colman Smith illustrations. If you want a deck that holds strictly to the original design and symbolism of Smith's art, this is not the deck to go with. That said, the art is quite lovely, especially with the gold accents.

Radiant Wise Spirit Tarot DeckRadiant Wise Spirit Tarot Produced by the Italian publishing house Lo Scarabeo and distributed in America by Llewelyn, this version of the RWS deck is rendered with new, thicker linework and brighter colors. The cards are borderless and printed on a heavier, glossy stock. Some find that the card weight makes them harder to shuffle while others prefer the extra thickness. The other key difference is in the sturdy display box with a removable top lid, a big plus compared to the conventional packaging of other decks. The packaging alone makes this a popular deck.

Is there an easier way to learn Tarot?

Yes, there is a method to begin your Tarot journey without having to memorize the symbolism of all 78 cards. For those who struggle with the layered meanings and want a simpler approach, there are two decks with the keywords added. This makes it easier to master your skills without having to flip through a book for every card.

Apprentice Tarot Deck featuring the Universal WaiteApprentice Tarot Deck This deck features the Universal Waite illustrations with keywords printed at the top for easy reference. The cards also include upside-down keywords at the bottom for when a card is reversed (as they sometimes do). It simplifies work for the beginner who does not want to flip through a book for the meaning of every card. As mentioned previously, the Pamela Colman Smith illustrations are redrawn for the Universal Waite by Virginijus Poshkus with a fresh line style and brighter colors than the original.

Practical Tarot Wisdom DeckPractical Tarot Wisdom Like the Apprentice Tarot, this deck features art from the Universal Waite Tarot deck. The images are printed in a miniature size with the descriptions to the right. Rather than keywords that are used in the Apprentice Deck, the text is written as a conversational sentence and advisory style,  making it easier to use as an oracle deck.

There you have it. Whatever deck you choose, these are all basically the same, with only slight variations in the rendering of the art, card stock, and back. It comes down to you and your personal taste.

We have over 300 different Oracle, Tarot, and inspirational/affirmation decks in stock. To see the many others available, click here.

In an upcoming blog, we will discuss some of the best Tarot books on the market, specifically the ones that use the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

Have fun with your new deck and happy reading!




August 11, 2022 — Denise Welling