Radiant or Universal?

I was once perusing the forums on Aeclectic when I came across a thread that was asking which of the above versions of the RWS was the better. With almost no exception, every response was in favor of the Universal Waite, and a few of them were downright trashing the Radiant. Now, when I was reading these responses, I assumed “Universal” was referring to the Lo Scarabeo version of the RWS, which, in my opinion, is an awful rendition of these classic cards.* I was wrong, of course. They were referring to the much superior – yet similarly named – deck from US Games, but at the time, I was unaware of the existence of this version. I couldn’t understand why anyone would prefer the LS Universal RWS over the Radiant (also a US Games deck, by the way).

So I spoke up and defended the Radiant. Not long afterward, I realized my mistake, and felt a little foolish for jumping to conclusions and speaking out against a deck I’d never even seen. I didn’t really regret it, though, because I did (and still do) genuinely like the Radiant RWS.

But I can’t deny it: the Universal Waite is, overall, a nicer pack of cards.

After I figured out the difference between the Lo Scarabeo and US Games Universal decks, I decided to buy myself a copy of the latter, even though I already had one RWS in the form of the Radiant (I also have the mini rws, as well, but that’s neither here nor there). After all, the RWS is my favorite version of the Tarot, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to have an extra (normal-sized) copy in my library.

Now that I have both of them, I can compare and contrast and share my honest opinions here. They are both perfectly good RWS decks, but the Universal does ultimately beat the Radiant. That’s not to say the Radiant doesn’t have its merits, though, and I’ve made a list of some pros and cons for each below in case anyone reading this, like that poster on Aeclectic, is on the fence about which to buy.


Left to Right: Radiant, Mini (original), and Universal.

Radiant Rider-Waite


~ More vibrant colors (kind of tough to tell with the Fool, in retrospect, but I don’t feel like taking pictures of different cards, so you’ll have to take my word for it)

~ Laminated cardstock is very sturdy, yet not too stiff


~ Not the original Smith artwork, but a (faithful enough) re-drawing

~ Some of the faces look kind of weird, almost like drawings of wax figures (not that Smith’s drawings are very realistic, but some of them do look a little more natural)

~ Laminated cardstock is high-gloss and doesn’t look quite as nice

Universal Waite


~ Original Smith artwork (the only thing different about this one compared to the original RWS is the colors)

~ No glossy finish looks nicer, more organic

~ The backs of the cards are better (actually, they both have very cool starry-night designs, but of the two, the Universal is better done, I think, with the background being a darker shade and the stars having a metallic gold sheen, while the Radiant’s stars are just yellow)


~ Colors look a bit washed-out (although they are still nice, and the color is really a matter of personal preference, anyway)

~ Cardstock is less sturdy (although not terrible by any means), and no gloss means less protection

Backs from Left to Right: Radiant, Mini, Universal.


Here is my justification for having both in my own collection: the Universal, because it is nicer and has the original linework, is the pack I go to for studying and appreciating the art. I do read with it sometimes, but it never leaves my apartment. The Radiant, because it is sturdier, is my travel deck, and the one I can pass around among my friends without worry. They can be riffle-shuffled and will withstand at least some light beer-spillage (I can say so from experience), neither of which are things I would be comfortable doing with my Universal. In other words, the Radiant is my beater-pack, while I keep the Universal pretty and pristine for my collection.

Of course, if you’re still not sure which one you really want, you can always resort to the original Rider-Waite from US Games. There is really nothing wrong with that at all (although the backs of that one don’t have the stars which I find so appealing – it has the same boring pattern as the miniature version – see above photo).


In case you’re wondering, I never did go back to that forum to update my opinion on this matter. Since the Radiant was so overwhelmingly the least liked of the two, I figured I’d play Devil’s advocate and leave my positive review of it up there.

*Not to bash Lo Scarabeo as a brand. Many of their decks are beautiful (and I possess a few of them), but in my humble opinion, their “Universal” RWS is an eyesore.


2 thoughts on “Radiant or Universal?”

  1. Interesting article. I like your idea of comparing decks (I notice you have one about Etteila vs. Waite, which I want to read next). The thing is, I usually find that any re-drawing of PCS’s art doesn’t work for me, partly because I like her work, but also they usually don’t realize how deeply symbolic it is, and so change important things, or leave things out. For example, on the Magician’s table, hidden in the top of the visible leg, is the word “DIN.” This is an English spelling of the Hebrew word for Judgement (a court in Israel is called a “beth din,” house of judgement), and is the name of the left-hand column on the Tree Of Life. I don’t fault artists for not noticing this. I did not until a couple years ago, when someone pointed it out. But it raises all sorts of interesting questions. For example, why the pillar of Judgement, and not of Mercy? And since it’s on our right, his left, how does that compare with the High Priestess, where the dark column is on our left, not hers? Is the High priestess a kind of mirror, and the Magician not? And these intriguing questions are missing from re-drawn decks, because the artists (like most of us) did not notice that small detail.
    Thanks for an interesting article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fascinating. I had never noticed that, either.
      That’s a good point about the artwork. A purist should absolutely stick to the original RWS (or, if the choice HAS to be made between the Radiant or the Universal, then the Universal). I didn’t know any better when I got my Radiant – it was my first ever Tarot, and I knew absolutely nothing at the time. As a casual reading deck, I believe it works as well as any other, but for all that, I think you might as well stick to the original if you’re going to use an RWS, anyway.

      The Etteilla v Waite is actually a series that I began a couple years ago, and is still in progress (my work on it has been quite sporadic). When I began, I knew much less than I do now (about both Waite and Etteilla). Of course, my knowledge on Etteilla and his cards is still woefully inadequate, but I know enough to realize that the deck I’m using for the series (the Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot from LoS) is actually pretty far removed from Etteilla himself. I have planned three more posts to complete the series, the last of which will be a conclusion which is intended to clear up some misconceptions I had at the beginning, and examine the evolution of my thoughts on the cards. All in all, I have mixed feelings about how well I’ve handled that deck. But I did the best I could with what I had in front of me.

      Anyway. Thanks a lot for reading, and for the comment. I appreciate the insight.


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