A Collection of Tarot Decks

Rider-Waite Clones
Tarot Decks In Categories:
A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

New students of Tarot are generally given one of two pieces of advice when it comes to selecting their first Tarot deck:
  • "Pick a deck which speaks to you"
  • "Start with the Rider-Waite or a Rider-Waite clone"
Whether or not it is right to consider a deck so jam-packed with symbolism a "beginner's deck" is an argument I will skirt around. Rather than engage in that debate, I simply put this page together to provide some context for the person who has been given this advice. While the impulse behind the page was to provide a resource for beginners, as a "visual review" of a number of decks it will hopefully also have value to old hands.

Why is the Rider-Waite so frequently recommended? What's so special about it?

The Rider-Waite has apparently become a de facto standard, at least in North America. Most "tarot enthusiasts" have at least a basic knowledge of Rider-Waite, and the vast majority of books in English on the subject of Tarot are written with this deck in mind. It has become a common vocabulary.

This is really quite an achievement for a deck that was published in 1910. It doesn't have that position because it's the first tarot deck. Not even close... it misses that honor by nearly 500 years, given that Tarot seems to have been invented in the early to mid 15th century. The classic standard is the Tarot of Marseilles (still more popular than Rider-Waite in much of Europe), dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. The Rider-Waite is not the first deck that was designed for a purpose other than playing a game. That would be the deck by Etteilla (from 1789), the first Egyptianized deck. It's not the first modern occult deck: De Guaita-Wirth (1889), Falconnier-Wegener (1896) and Papus-Goulinat (1909) all came before the Rider-Waite. It's not even the first deck to have scenic pictures on each card, rather than just on the 22 Major Arcana - certainly the 15th century Sola Busca deck precedes the Rider-Waite.

Perhaps it is just a historical accident, and perhaps it is a combination of the special features of this deck - that AE Waite designed into the deck a great deal of intentional esoteric symbolism, that Pamela Colman-Smith was able to fold all of the symbolism into pictures that really hang together well without appearing as busy as they actually are, and that it did have scenic pictures on the Minor Arcana - for whatever reason, this deck got wider circulation in the U.S. at least than any other deck for many years. Perhaps as a result of that, in the explosion of new tarot decks from the 1970's forward, the Rider-Waite has been the model used by designers of new decks more than any other deck, and for authors of new beginner Tarot books, it has been the deck discussed more than any other deck.

Learn More:
Tarot-L Tarot History Information Sheet
The Evolution of the Tarot by Tom Tadfor Little
The Waite-Smith Tarot by Tom Tadfor Little
Villa Revak
The Hermitage - Tom Tadfor Little's Tarot History Site

What is a Rider-Waite Clone?

Technically, only another Rider-Waite deck would be a Rider-Waite clone. As James Revak pointed out in an online mailing list recently, the word clone implies an exact copy. So a clone would need the same lines, coloration and every other feature to be a clone. It would be better to call all the other decks "Rider-Waite variations", since that is really what people mean when they say "Rider-Waite clone". But the terminology is so common, that rather than fight that battle right now, the term "clone" will simply appear in quotes for the remainder of this discussion.

If your purpose in procuring a deck is to attend your first tarot class, or begin the study of tarot through beginner-level books, and you want to learn tarot so that you can do readings...

This page was created for you. As a beginning learner, you are going for basic vocabulary. In tarot, the vocabulary is made up of pictorial symbols. Just as a new learner of a foreign language is probably going to spend some time with "the pen of my aunt" before branching off into the classical poetry of that language, the new learner of tarot will typically begin by associating very basic keywords with very basic visual scenes, with a goal to being able to recall the keyword when presented with the scene. Once that level of information is incorporated into long-term memory for all 78 cards, the student may move into learning in-depth all the details of each scene and understanding all the references involved. But that level of information cannot possibly be transmitted in a beginning tarot class without throwing the students into information overload, and won't be found in any beginning tarot book.

Under these circumstances, "clones" which are almost always missing symbolism can still be appropriate. I strongly recommend that you avoid choosing a deck in the last group of decks as your first deck. The "Art Twist" decks, while influenced by the Rider-Waite, are more easily worked with after you have some experience with the Rider-Waite itself (or one of its closest clones).

You might also want to be aware, although it falls outside the scope of this page, that the situation with regard to beginner books have improved with respect to decks that are not based on Rider-Waite. It is possible to find materials for studying the Thoth deck, for example, and that deck is also supported by a very large "user base".

Learn More:
Lee Bursten's Advice for Beginners
Selected Resources for New Students of Tarot by James Revak

If your purpose in procuring a deck is the study of the Western Esoteric Tradition...

Waite writes "And so I return to the question of an apologia, but only to conclude that after all the Tarot is a research in symbolism; its study is a mystic experiment; and though it has been, is, and will be used for divination, it belongs to another realm and began therein." ('The Tarot: A Wheel of Fortune', The Occult Review, Vol. X: No 12, December 1909)

Waite writes "The use of the cards is (1) for playing in the ordinary sense at a game of skill and hazard - but it should be added that as a mere diversion they have long since passed out of vogue; (2) for the usual art of fortune-telling in its several varieties, a particular method being occasioned by the multiplicity of the elements; (3) for those other practices which are included by the term Divination; and (4) for the higher uses of the imagination in the mystic oracles of the soul." ('The Book of the Secret Word and the Higher Way to Fortune' by Grand Orient in A Manual of Cartomancy, 1909)

A number of streams of esoteric information come together in this deck, and if esoteric study is your goal, you will eventually pick up each and pursue it to some degree. Alchemy, Freemasonry, Rosicrucian Mysteries, Esoteric Christianity, Astrology, and Hermetic Qabalah are just some of the threads you will pursue. This is of course not the only deck you will study, but it is one of the decks that is worthwhile to examine closely, in conjunction with the book written for it, the Pictorial Key to the Tarot. The Thoth and Tarot de Marseilles will also end up in your study program. You will probably end up comparing the Rider-Waite to the BOTA, a deck that is very close to it in the Major Arcana, but which does not have scenic Minor Arcana cards.

At any rate, the best Rider-Waite "clone" to get for the purpose of esoteric study is the Rider-Waite itself. Every flower, hand gesture, color, pattern on clothing, angle between figures, etc. is there for a reason. Even recolored line drawings will make it harder for you to learn what you want to learn, since the colors of the basic deck are part of the symbolism. Even close redrawings often fail to capture small details, like the mudra (hand gesture) of the fallen man on the 10 of Swords. The yellow sky, white sun, arrangement of pleats on the Fool's undershirt, all of these are part of the symbolism of the card, and this page would be short indeed if every bit of known symbolism were required to be present on a contending "clone" for it to appear on this site.

All of the decks listed, with the exception of the Rider Waite itself, are missing symbolism. Some decks are missing more than others. And some "clones", like the Robin Wood deck, replace symbolism, thus changing the meaning from what A.E. Waite was trying to convey (for instance, replacing references to Christianity with references to Paganism).

Learn More:
Pictorial Key to the Tarot
Golden Dawn Decks
Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols
Arthur Edward Waite Short Biography
The Masonic Career of A.E. Waite BY BRO. R. A. GILBERT
Recommended Books and Links at Paul's Tarot Site

If you are interested in doing readings, began working with the Rider-Waite deck, the art isn't clicking with you, and you want to find a deck with art that "speaks to you", while still being able to apply whatever you've already learned...

Any of the decks shown might be appropriate. Once you've built a familiarity with the the Rider-Waite or one of its closest "clones", you should be able to move to one of the decks in any of the categories, including the final "Art Twist" category, without too much trouble.

Decks Grouped by Closeness to Rider-Waite

Closeness Metric I have developed a point system for approximately discriminating how close a variation a particular deck is. It is based on how closely a deck you are comparing to the RWS follows the symbolic language embedded in the RWS. This is the point system used in my article "Rider-Waite and Company" that appeared in Llewellyn's 2005 Tarot Reader. The details of the point system were cut from the article that appeared in publication.


Recolored Recolored Pamela Colman-Smith Line Drawings - These decks begin with the original line drawings, but use different color schemes or methods of coloring the deck. Mainly the symbolism lost will be the color symbolism.
Closest Redrawings Closest Clones Not Using Pamela Colman-Smith Line Drawings - These decks are set in the same general medieval fairy-tale setting as the Rider-Waite, and range from near redrawings to decks which tends to be missing much of the background symbolism as a result of zooming in on the main figures on the card. Though these "zoomed in" decks are rated less "close" to RWS, they tend to be very popular with beginners, as the larger faces seem to be easier to connect with.
Theme - These decks are set in settings other than the generic medieval fairy-tale setting. Some of the theme decks, particularly the African and the Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg are otherwise fairly close "clones". Others, such as the Buckland and Xultun do quite a bit more reinterpretation in order to fit in with the theme.
Art Twist Rider-Waite Inspired Not "Clones" - This last group is generally not a good choice for beginners. Decks famous for confusing beginners in tarot classes are found in this category - for example, the Moon Garden. For beginners, the value of this group is as a warning; knowing that the deck is not as close as you might otherwise think. I have broken this group into two subgroups as well - decks that extensively replaced symbolism or added new symbolism and decks that are very minimalist and have stripped symbolism down nearly to the bone. For those past the beginner stage, some of these decks are really quite interesting. I am personally particularly fond of the Ancestral Path, Light and Shadow, Melissa Townsend and World Spirit decks.

Decks in Alphabetical Order

This page is an index to decks which are clones to various degrees. From the table, links lead to subpages showing three cards from each of several decks. From those subpages, actual reviews are accessible.

I did not include any decks that cloned only the Major Arcana. Thus, the BOTA deck is not included on this page, even though the Major Arcana are extremely close to the Rider-Waite.

Deck NameShort DescriptionPage with Images
Adam Fronteras, The Tarot by Recolored RWS Line Drawings Recolored
African Tarot (45) Marina Romito. 1995, 1997 US Games Systems. South African. Subtitled "Journey into the Self". The art on this very close variant is bold and childlike. Theme
Albano-Waite Recolored RWS Line Drawings by Frankie Albano Recolored
Ancestral Path (25) Julie Cuccia-Watts. 1995 U.S. Games. Innovative majors; minors often riff off RWS themed with 4 different cultures - Japanese, Native American, Arthurian, and Egyptian. Theme
Aquarian (27) David Palladini. 1970, 1993 US Games. The kind of Art Deco revivalism so popular in the 1970's. Art Twist
Aquatic Tarot (60) Andreas Schröter. Extremely close and very beautiful variation painted in watercolors. Only available digitally so far. Closest Redrawings
Ator Tarot (56) Robin Ator. This is a very close variation done with whimsical cuddly figures. Self-published limited edition available from the author. Closest Redrawings
Blue Rose (22) Paula Gibby. Self-published. A collage deck with very strong modern symbolism. Similar to Voyager in that perhaps, but in these cards there is more of a storyline showing in the scenes. Art Twist
Buckland Romani (32) Raymond Buckland, art by Lissanne Lake. 2001 Llewellyn. Theme of the Romani (popularly known as Gypsies). The majors are quite different, but the minors tend to reinterpret RWS very closely. Artwork is excellent and realistic. Theme
Cat People (16) Karen Kuykendall . 1985 US Games Systems. This is kind of a multicultural deck, except that all of the cultures are from the creator's science fiction world. There are cats on every single card of this deck. Theme
Tarot of the Cloisters (40) Michelle Leavitt. 1993 US Games Systems. Round cards done to look like stained glass. Closest Redrawings
Colman-Smith Tarot Recolored RWS Line Drawings by Samvado Gunnar Kossatz. GPL license to print one for yourself. Recolored
Connolly (29) Eileen Connolly and her son Peter. 1990 US Games. Done in colored pencil, this is a positive deck (there are no "bad" cards) that has a strong Judeo-Christian vibe. Art Twist
Cosmic (16) Norbert Loesche. 1988 F.X. Schmid. Has a theater, dance and film emphasis in much of the imagery. Often called the "movie star" deck, because the faces of stars like Greta Garbo, Charles Bronson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Gregory Peck can be recognized on some of the cards. Art Twist
Dali Universal Tarot (22) Salvador Dali. Distribucions d’Art Surrealista and Comos Naipes. A collage done by Dali incorporating various artworks. Art Twist
Diamond Tarot Recolored RWS Line Drawings with psychedelic borders by Klaus Holitzka Recolored
Epicurean Tarot Universal Waite Images with Recipes by Corrinne Kenner Recolored
Fey Tarot (20) Mara Aghem and Riccardo Minetti. 2002 Lo Scarabeo. Anime art with a fey theme. Very creative interpretations. Theme
Gendron (23) Melanie Gendron. 1997 US Games Systems. An attempt to recast the BOTA tarot from a base of Judeo-Christianity to the Sacred Feminine. Multicultural with animal totems. The art is computer-manipulated collage of photographic and painted elements. The Major Arcana have more painted elements and less photographic elements than the Minor Arcana, and make good use of transparent light effects. Many symbols recur throughout the deck - pearls and amethyst clusters, dolphins, butterflies, hummingbirds and outer space. Art Twist
Gilded (22) Ciro Marchetti and Barbara Moore. 2004 Llewellyn Publictions. Incredibly detailed digital art (drawn not collage) with lots of jewels and metallics. Symbolism includes mechanical devices and animals and birds. Art Twist
Golden Tarot (40) Kat Black. 2004 US Games Systems. This sumptuous gilt-edged digital collage of late Medieval and early Renaissance art pays homage to the RWS tradition. Theme
Golden Rider Recolored RWS Line Drawings by Francois Tapernoux. Details obscured by coloring. Recolored
Halloween (26) Kipling West. 1996 US Games. Theme
Hanson-Roberts (49) Mary Hanson-Roberts. 1985 US Games Systems. A very friendly and sweet deck with expressive faces and subtle color pencil shading. Closest Redrawings
Hello Tarot (Hello Kitty Tarot) (37) Joe Rosales. Self published. Based on Hello Kitty by Sanrio. Theme
Herbal (25) Michael Tierra and Candis Cantin. 1988 US Games Systems. Herbs are the main focus of this deck. Smaller scenic elements, reminding one of the RWS image, are combined with a large illustration of the associated herb. Theme
Hoi Polloi Tarot (48) Artist Unknown. 1973 Reiss Games? Redrawn RWS with a few new images - frequently loses background details. Out of Print. Closest Redrawings
Hudes (27) Susan Hudes. 1995 US Games Systems. A very sophisticated attractive deck with a detached yet compassionate air. This deck uses a bare minimum of symbolism and is most notable for using marbled papers, constellation charts and antique maps in collage. Art Twist
Illuminated Tarot Recolored RWS Line Drawings by by Carol Herzer. This is a hand-made deck. Recolored
International Icon Tarot (49) Robin Ator. This is a very close variation based on the style of the iconographic signs found in airports, at crosswalks, and on restroom doors everywhere in the world today. Self-published deck available from the author. Closest Redrawings
Light and Shadow (24) Michael Goepferd. 1997 Destiny Books, Rochester, Vermont. Black and white deck illustrated with linoleum block printing . The court cards follow the requirements of Book "T", while most of the pip cards are reinterpretations of Waite-Smith (RWS) images, yet with elements emphasizing Golden Dawn (GD) interpretations, and astrological symbols included in the image. Light and Shadow is a bridge between RWS, Book "T" and Thoth with significant influence visible from all three. Art Twist
Londa (23) Londa Marks. 1993 US Games Systems. The style of art on this deck is quite distinctive, depicting very slim, vaguely androgenous people with long flowing hair and angular, almost feline, facial structure. Minimalist in symbolism. Art Twist
Mage: The Ascension (44) Nicky Rea and Jackie Cassada. 1995 White Wolf. Set in the near future dystopic World of Darkness role-playing game world. Theme
Melissa Townsend (Ed Teddy) (19) Melissa Townsend. 1994 The Hub. Originally drawn on the back of business cards, with very quick energetic art. Art Twist
Moon Garden (32) Karen Marie Sweikhardt. 1993 US Games Systems. Night sky, vivid colors, unicorns and ballerinas. The foliage that appears on nearly every card tends to obscure symbolic elements and makes it difficult to tell cards apart at a quick glance. Art Twist
Morgan-Greer (36) William Greer under the direction of Lloyd Morgan. 1979 Morgan Press. Incorporates BOTA coloring. Closest Redrawings
Mountain Dream (41) Bea Nettles. 1975 Self-published (Republished 2001 with some modifications). Photographic black and white, with each suit printed in a different color. This is one of the first photographic decks. Closest Redrawings
New Palladini (38) David Palladini. 1996 US Games Systems. A new interpretation by the creator of the Aquarian tarot. Closest Redrawings
Nigel Jackson (26) Nigel Jackson. 2000 Llewellyn Publications. Rereleased in 2004 as Medieval Enchantment: The Nigel Jackson Tarot. Hauntingly beautiful, ethereal, pastel-colored delicate watercolors. The images hark back to the early renaissance handpainted decks and blend elements from those older decks with scenic elements from RWS in many cases. Featured on Christopher Warnock's Renaissance Astrology site, Nigel Jackson's expertise is in the older strains of Renaissance Magick, rather than the syncretic system of the Golden Dawn. Art Twist
Original Rider Waite Recolored RWS Line Drawings Recolored
Tarot of Prague (37) Alexandr Ukolov and Karen Mahony. Self-published. A colorful photographic collage of statuary, stained glass and landscape elements from the capital of Bohemia. Closest Redrawings
Quick and Easy Universal Waite Images with Divinatory Keywords Recolored
Revelations (21) Zach Wong. 2005 Llewellyn Publictions. Has imagery for both upright and reversed positions. The art is almost psychedelic, with detailed linework and vivid colors. Art Twist
Robin Wood (47) Robin Wood. 1991 Llewellyn Publications. In this bright and expressive deck, Christian symbolism has been replaced with Wiccan. There is an detailed artist-authored companion book available. Closest Redrawings
Royal Fez Morrocan (43) Designed by the founder of MENSA, Roland Berrill, illustrated by Michael Hobdell. 1975 (posthumous to Berrill?) Based on Berrill's theory that the Tarot came from the city of Fez, Morocco.via the Romani. Closest Redrawings
Russian Tarot of St Petersburg (41) Yury Shakov. 1991 US Games Systems. Shakov is a Russian artist known for his lacquer miniatures in the Palekh style. The border around the central oval contains lots of gold filigree. Some of the elements depicted are from Russian folk and fairy tales, and the entire effect reminds one of a jeweled Faberge egg. Theme
Secret Tarots (22) Marco Nizzoli. 1998 Lo Scarabeo. This deck has a story line about a trip through the Land of Secrets including the kingdoms of Pleasure, Richness, Sorrow and Human Work. Theme
Shakespearian (17) Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki and Paul Hardy. 1993 Aquarian/Thorsons. This deck shows scenes from Shakespeare. It is especially difficult to tell the Crowns and Orbs apart and remember which is supposed to be Cups and which Coins. It is a fun puzzle to figure out the reasoning for showing a particular scene. Theme
Sharman-Caselli (41) Juliet Sharman-Burke (Author) and Giovanni Caselli (Artist). 2001 St. Martin's Griffin. This book and deck set is sold under the title Beginner's Guide to Tarot. The art tends to pastel coloration and detailed linework. Closest Redrawings
Ship of Fools (13) Brian Williams. 2002 Llewellyn. Brian's final work was the Ship of Fools Tarot, a tarot deck based on the masterpiece of German literature, Das Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools) by Sebastian Brant. Brian Williams selects images sometimes based on the topic of the chapter, and sometimes for the similarity of the image to historical tarot (especially with the Major Arcana) or with the Rider-Waite (with the Minor Arcana). Theme
Southwest Sacred Tribes (28) Violeta Monreal. 1996 US Games Systems. Done in the style of Southwestern art drawn from 57 Native American Nations, especially Apache, Pueblo, Rio Grande Pueblo and Navajo. Theme
Spiral (30) Kay Steventon. 1997 US Games Systems. Painted in a classical style, the Major Arcana show figures from Middle Eastern, Arthurian and Mediterranean myths, with a higher proportion of Goddesses than is traditional. The Minor Arcana are variations on the RWS deck, depicted in the late 1800’s. Art Twist
Stick Figure Tarot (40) Lar de Souza. 1999. Self-published, and unfortunately, no longer available from creator. Theme
Stone (31) Alison Stone, 2000 Self-published. Oil paintings with incredibly deep, rich, vibrant, intense colors. Symbolically minimalist. Art Twist
Tarot Affirmations Universal Waite Images with Affirmations by Sally Hill Recolored
Universal Tarots (51) Roberto de Angelis. 2000 Lo Scarabeo. Very close realistic comic art style interpretation, used in recent Llewellyn books instead of the RWS itself. de Angelis is known for his work in the Nathan Never comic series. Closest Redrawings
Universal Waite Recolored RWS Line Drawings by Mary Hanson-Roberts. US Games used this version for Tarot Affirmations, Epicurean Tarot and Quick and Easy Tarot. Recolored
Victoria Regina (26) Sarah Ovenall. 2002 Llewellyn. Black and white collage of Victorian-era steel and wood engravings. Theme
Wise Woman's Tarot (16) Flash Silvermoon. Self-published. Goddesses abound on this matriarchal tarot deck. Flash Silvermoon has been a part of the women's spirituality movement since since the early 1970's. Theme
Wonderland Tarot (33) Christopher and Morgana Abbey, illustrated by Morgana Abbey. 1989 US Games. Based on Alice in Wonderland. Theme
World Spirit (30) Lauren O'Leary. 2001 Llewellyn. Hand-colored linoleum block prints. A playful deck informed by both RWS, Thoth, Motherpeace and Daughters of the Moon. Art Twist
Xultun (26) Peter Balin. 1976 Arcana Publishing Co. A Mayan theme deck. All the majors join together to make one picture. Theme
Zolar's Astrological Tarot Recolored RWS Line Drawings with Majors on one side and Minors on the other side, filled out with new astrological cards (56 cards). Recolored

Other Links

See also Holly's Rider-Waite page. This link goes to the Ship of Fools page which compares a number of Fools, mostly different versions before US Games acquired copyright to the deck.

This page discusses Rider Waite Derivatives, and briefly discusses 8 such decks.

Joan Bunning compares RWS versions (Rider-Waite, Universal Waite, Albano-Waite, Original Waite, and Golden Waite). She also compares sizes of the standard Rider-Waite version.
Gina Pace compares RWS versions (Rider-Waite, Golden Rider, Universal Waite, and Albano-Waite). She also has a graphic comparison of 3 of the various sizes of Rider-Waite decks available.


See other Picture is Worth 1000 Words Pages

This site is a subsite of my main tarot site, containing mini-reviews my constantly growing deck collection.


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Copyright © 1994-2001 Joan Schraith Cole.
Updated March 19, 2002
Some graphics from Ann-S-Thesia CD, Number 76 variant A
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