top of page

Rider Waite Smith tarot deck: which version?

Following on from my previous post on what I consider to be the best tarot deck for beginners, I thought I'd give a comparison of the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) decks I have so those considering purchasing one can see the differences between them.

In this post I compare the following decks, pictured above from left to right:

  • the Universal Waite Tarot, recoloured by Mary Hanson-Roberts, which I bought as a set, comprising of the deck and a book; printed by US Game Systems

  • the Smith-Waite Centennial edition, regular size printed by US Game Systems (2013, printed in China)

  • the Waite Smith Centennial edition, small size printed by US Game Systems (in a tin, made in China)

  • the Radiant Rider-Waite printed by US Game Systems (2003, made in Italy)

  • the Rider Tarot Deck printed by US Game Systems (2007, booklet printed in Italy)

  • Tarot of A. E. Waite printed by AGM Urania (2008, printed in EU)

There are many other versions of course, including those often referred to as "vintage", dating from 1970s and earlier, however their cost is often prohibitive for many new readers. Here in Australia, at the time of writing this post, one can acquire the Rider Tarot deck shown second from right above, for around $20 at a store such as Big W. Usually however, the other versions such as the Centennial or the Universal are priced around $40-$60.

The AGM Urania deck, on the far right, was one of the more expensive for me (from memory I bought this last year second hand for around $70). I basically wanted a deck that was not published by US Games, and have found it to have really nice card stock that shuffles effortlessly.

Below is a comparison of the 4 of Wands card, in the same order listed prior.

Left to right: Universal - Centennial - Centennial small - Radiant - Rider - Tarot by AE Waite

Which one is the best? Hard to say, since this is such a subjective question that depends on the reader's artistic preference. I'm fond of the Universal, with its softer recolouring (the artist that re-painted it is Mary Hanson-Roberts, who created her own beautiful deck, different from RWS but in the same tradition); I'm not a fan of the Radiant due to its larger borders and the artwork in general is not my cup of tea. The Centennial has great card stock (in my opinion this equates to less plastic lamination and more of a natural feel).

One thing I would mention, is that in the generic cheaper Rider tarot, the faces of the characters in the cards have a rather weird orange colouring. Here is the 8 of Pentacles to illustrate what I mean:

Left: the Rider tarot, a cheaper version. Right: the Radiant Waite tarot

Left: Universal Waite; Middle: Smith-Waite Centennial; Right: Tarot of AE Waite (AG Muller)

I personally find the orange colouring a bit weird, and the overall colour choice in the cheaper Rider tarot doesn't appeal to me. However, for those working on a limited budget, any version is a great start. Below is the 6 of Cups with corresponding card backs. My personal favourite, after more than 12 years of shuffling, remains my first one: the Universal.

Left to right: Universal - Centennial - Tarot of AE Waite (AG Muller) - Rider - Radiant

Warm blessings,



bottom of page