Tarot Cards: Real or Fake?
Piracy and copyright theft is a problem that artists all over the globe are currently dealing with. From stolen designs and artwork to straight up counterfeit products, this is an ethical dilemma that reaches into many hobbies and markets. It seems nearly every week I notice another artist on TikTok complaining that some wholesale or drop ship company overseas has stolen a design and is printing clothing or bags without their permission.
So how does this affect the metaphysical world? The most common form is stolen designs (such as digital art or logos) and tarot decks. The biggest problem is obviously that individuals or companies are profiting on the work of an artist who is not receiving compensation for their time or effort. This in extremely unethical, especially since most artists thrive off the purchases that shops and small businesses make when ordering their products. The order I place for my store could help an artist afford groceries that month, or it could be enough for them to afford that paint for a new project they've been putting off. As an artist myself, I would hate to have my work stolen and mass produced without my consent and this is what drives me to ensure that I only carry legitimate artwork and tarot in my store.
When I first entered into the witchy world many years ago I had no guidance, I was alone to navigate myself and this led to some poor decisions in terms of buying and sourcing products. I had no idea that tarot decks were pirated and figured that the decks on Wish were just cheap because they were printed in bulk or something. I was horribly wrong and when I received the order I could immediately tell that something was off. I started doing research and was shocked to learn about the piracy of tarot in the market, even many of the decks on Etsy turned out to be complete fakes!
So how do we navigate and know exactly what is legitimate and what is not? The first step is to acknowledge where you are trying to buy tarot or other products from? Quick sale shopping apps are likely to be full of counterfeit products (such as Wish, Alibaba, etc.) but even Amazon and Ebay are full of them. Be mindful of where you are shopping and ask yourself if you trust the store or individual to invest in real artwork. If you are wanting a particular tarot, start at the source and see if the artist has a website or an Etsy where you can purchase directly from them. At the least you can find out what the decks should look like and what packaging they come in so you can tell what are fakes before you purchase.
Here are a few counterfeit decks so you get an idea of what to look for.
The biggest red flag is QR codes, a real tarot deck will include a well printed guidebook. Counterfeits will often say things like 'PDF' or 'downloadable' guidebook, some will even come out and say QR code on side or back for guidebook. These are not real and are always pirated copies.
Another red flag is sizing, while tarot decks are found in a variety of sizes they are often larger cards. Counterfeit decks are often very small, similar to the size of a deck of regular playing cards. If you stumble upon these decks you will quickly notice that the quality is often terrible, the images can be grainy, blurry, cut off, or not centered. The cards will seem cheap or thin when compared to those from real decks.
For example, these cards are counterfeit Occult Tarot by Travis McHenry. These fake cards measure roughly 4 inch by 2.5 inch while cards from legitimate decks measure 6 inch by 4 in, so nearly double the size. We can also take a minute to laugh about how terrible the back of this card looks, I believe that there was a
glare on the stolen work that was actually scanned in and printed because those gray marks are not present on real cards. The face images are faded a dark shade of brown instead of the normal black and gray and the image is a bit grainy looking.
It is extremely common for these decks to have cut off or crooked images due to poor printing quality. Here is a counterfeit of Light Visions Tarot by James R. Eads and it is absolutely terrible, not only is it off center but nearly every face image is either cut off or blown up too large to fit properly.
Easy enough really, if it looks cheap, feels cheap, and is cheap then chances are it's a fake. But I want to take another few minutes to dwell even deeper into this because there are companies out there coming out with really good counterfeits. I recently got to examine a counterfeit of Anima Mundi Tarot by Megan Wyreweden and it is very close to the original. If I glanced by it without much notice or did not know what the original packaging looked like I would certainly take it as an original copy.
Let's go ahead and break this one down.
Color is the first thing I noticed, the fake deck is faded in comparison and not as bold. The real deck has beautiful gold leaf lettering while the fake deck is gold paint and does not catch the light correctly. You will notice the real box displays the artists full name as well. Surprisingly, the fake box is actually slightly bigger than the real one (which is a dead give away when you open them up).
Once you get the boxes open you get to see the guidebooks, the real deck fits in the box like a glove and the lettering on the guidebook is nice and centered. I cannot say the same for the fake, it's off center and it's white instead of the creamy tan on the real book. The cards and guidebook do not fit right in the fake, they shake around and get messy. There are also notches on the sides of the original box for opening up with ease, the fake does not have these notches (I have noticed this in some good fakes so watch out for this trick).
When you get the cards out and start comparing you can quickly tell which are fakes. The fakes are a bit duller and faded in color and the blacks are more of a deep brown. The fakes also have sharper edges, where the real cards are more rounded. I was surprised though with how close they are at a glance, they even copied the cross pattern texture of the cards.
As I was photographing them I noticed that the fakes produce a strong glare when exposed to light, the real cards do not have this shiny coating and instead look beautiful in the light. You can see the paper weight difference as well in this image, the fake card bends up and produces a slight shadow beneath while the real card is heavy and sits flush with the table.
An obvious giveaway is the gold leaf edging, the real deck is subtle and the cards slide flawlessly against one another. The fake deck is not gold leaf but instead a cheap sparkle paint that creates for a chunky and sticky deck. When I first started touching this fake deck I noticed that my hands were covered in gold sparkles, I had to pry cards from one another and even after pulling them apart they will still get stuck and prevent movement.
Besides the fact that these counterfeits are stealing from artists, it is simply not worth the time and money to buy fake decks, they look terrible and will not perform correctly. In choosing to buy fakes you are supporting active harm and show that you do not value creators or the time they invest in their artwork.
There will always be thieves and those trying to profit off of others, but we need to be vigilant and ensure we are not feeding into this market of cheap counterfeits. These fakes actively hurt artists, not just from stolen profits but customers will equate quality directly to the artist whether the product is stolen or not. If I was an unsuspecting customer who had purchased the counterfeit Anima Mundi I would be upset and attribute the quality to the artist without knowing that the product I bought was a fake. We need to be doing research before we buy products, whether it be tarot, herbs, art, bones, etc. Make sure what your buying is real and isn't just lining the pockets of some mass producing factory overseas. If we support one another and share our knowledge we can prevent these sales and foster support for artists and local businesses alike.