Comparison Between Commonly Available Waite-Smith decks by Michele Jackson
This review compares and contrasts five Waite-Smith decks, the Rider-Waite, The Original Rider-Waite (facsimile of the original four color version), Universal Waite, Albano-Waite and The Golden Rider. All five decks use the drawings of Pamela Colman-Smith and differ primarily in coloring and details. The Rider deck is the one most commonly seen. It has good colors, but is drawn with rather thick lines and lacks details such as shading and shadow. The Original deck, which is a recent release, uses the same thick lined drawings, but is less colorful. There is no blue in this deck. Things which we are accustomed to seeing in blue in the Rider deck are green in this version.
The Universal has been redrawn using a finer line and is colored with colored pencils allowing for good shading and shadow. The details are much more defined and the deck does not look as flat as the previous two versions.
The Albano-Waite uses the original thick lined drawings, but has changed many of the colors or used deep, bright colors in place of the more muted colors seen in other versions.
The Golden Rider has redrawn the original pictures, using much less detail than the other versions. The colors used in this deck are darker than the others and there is metallic ink in either gold or bronze used as accent in many of the cards. The border of all the cards is metallic bronze.
From an artistic standpoint, the Universal is the best in my opinion. The subtle use of shading and the fineness of the lines and details enhances Ms. Coleman-Smith's original work. The Golden Rider is also very attractive. The lack of details gives the deck a simple and open look. The metallic accents often catch you by surprise when you turn a card over. The Albano-Waite is somewhat garish in appearance and the bright colors look somewhat childish. The Original Rider Waite comes with a small version of Waite's "Pictorial Key to the Tarot", without the illustrations. It is nicely boxed with the book and would make a nice gift for someone who uses the Waite-Smith deck, though it is not attractive enough to replace it in my opinion. The Universal Waite and Regular Rider-Waite are available as deck/book sets, bundled with "The Pictorial Key to the Tarot". It would be cheaper to buy them separately though. Barnes and Nobles has re-released the book and I have seen it there for $5.98 on sale, though I think the regular price is $7.98. This is for a hardcover version.
There are other Waite-Smith versions out there including the Hoi-Polloi, which is out of print, and the Deluxe, which has gold leaf edges. There are also cheaply published imitations available, some with interpretations written on the cards. For collectors, original releases are out there, but they are very expensive. There are various subtle differences in the different printings since the original was released and the price varies with the printing. I also have a "World's Tiniest Tarot" version, which is a miniature of the cheap version, 1"X2" in size ($4.98!).
Color Comparison Chart
The Fool Rider-Waite Original Universal Albano-Waite Golden Rider
Bag lt. orange dk. orange bright orange dk. orange brown
Shirt lt. black dk. black dk. blue black black
Shoes lt. yellow yellow ochre gold bright yellow bronze metallic
Tights lt. pea green beige lt. tan green brown
Water lt. blue lt. green blue lavender lt. blue
Background yellow/green ochre lt. gold bright yellow dk. gold
Card Back tarotee white flowers on lt. blue


dk. blue w/gold stars white w/gold sun metallic gold on

bronze w/pink center

See different sized Rider-Waite Decks

If you would like to buy the Rider-Waite Tarot, click here.

If you would like to buy the Original Rider-Waite Tarot, click here.

If you would like to buy the Universal Rider-Waite, click here.

If you would like to buy the Albano Rider-Waite, click here.


This page is Copyright 1997 by Michele Jackson