What are the 4 types of playing cards?

There are four main types of playing cards used around the world: French suited cards, Latin suited cards, German suited cards, and Tarot cards. French suited cards, also known as the standard 52-card deck, consist of the suits of spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. Latin suited cards use cups, swords, coins, and batons while German suited cards use hearts, leaves, bells, and acorns. Tarot cards contain 78 cards divided into the 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards across four suits.

French Suited Cards

The most common playing cards used today originated in France in the 1400s. The French suited deck consists of 52 cards divided into 4 suits: hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. Each suit contains 13 ranks: Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King. The suits themselves derive from the tarot deck used for fortune telling in the late 1300s. The French suited decks were designed by card makers in Rouen, France in the late 15th century and spread across Europe rapidly (Standard 52-card deck).

France became a major exporter and manufacturer of playing cards during the 16th and 17th centuries. French card makers innovated by using single plate woodcuts which allowed for intricate designs and artwork. French decks spread widely across Europe and later to America through trade routes and colonization (French Playing Cards – France). The French suits became the standard suits used in most parts of the world. While the designs and artwork have evolved over time, the core 52-card French suited deck remains the most common deck in use.

Latin Suited Cards

Latin suited playing cards are used in Spain, Italy and Portuguese-speaking countries. They typically contain 40 cards split into 4 suits – cups, coins, clubs and swords. Each suit contains cards ranking from 1 to 10, with no face cards like jacks, queens or kings.

The suits have different symbols but the same meaning – cups represent the clergy, coins represent the merchants, clubs represent the peasantry, and swords represent the military. The pip cards are numbered 1 through 10, with the 1 card usually having a distinct image.

Latin suited decks emerged in Italy during the late 14th century, likely derived from the earlier Mamluk playing cards. They spread to Spain and Portugal through Italian trade and colonization. Today they remain popular for traditional card games in regions where Romance languages are spoken.

According to one source, “1300-1800CE: European (latin) playing cards are printed in lots of variations and symbols.” (Source)

German Suited Cards

German suited playing cards are used in central Europe and feature 32-36 cards with 4 suits – hearts, bells, leaves, and acorns. The 4 suits are thought to represent the four seasons – hearts for summer, bells for spring, leaves for fall, and acorns for winter.

Most decks contain 8 or 9 ranks, with Ober and Unter cards between the King and Jack to designate a superior and inferior man. The ace is often the highest card. Popular German suited games include Skat, Doppelkopf, Schafkopf, and Gaigel.

Some key differences of German cards compared to French suited packs are the suits, ranking system, card size, and artwork. German cards originated around 1450 making them one of the oldest suits still used today (Amazon.com).

Well-known brands of German suited decks include ASS Altenburger and Piatnik. Many regions have their own variations of the suits and cards. Overall, German suited playing cards offer a link to history and culture in central Europe.

Tarot Cards

Tarot cards originated in northern Italy in the mid-15th century. The standard tarot deck consists of 78 cards divided into the Major Arcana (22 cards) and the Minor Arcana (56 cards). The Minor Arcana is further divided into four suits: wands, cups, swords, and pentacles. Each suit contains fourteen cards: ace through 10, page, knight, queen, and king. The trump cards or Major Arcana consist of 22 cards, each with its own symbolic meaning and divination significance.

The exact origins of tarot cards are unknown, but scholarly research has confirmed tarot cards were invented in Italy as playing cards. The cards were later adopted for divination and occult purposes in 18th century France. Today tarot cards are most commonly used for fortune-telling, with each card interpreted as having a symbolic meaning and prophecy for the future. Thefour suits represent the four elements and stages of life while the Major Arcana symbolize life’s journey.




Chinese Suited Cards

Chinese suited playing cards have been used in China for centuries. They typically contain 36-52 cards divided into 4 suits – myriads (wán 萬), strings (tiao 條), coins (tongban 同板), and sticks (suǒ 棍). The suits represent the four denominations of cash coin used in ancient China. Chinese cards are longer and narrower than Western playing cards.

Some key features of Chinese suited playing cards:

  • Cards date back to the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE)
  • Suits represent ancient Chinese currency
  • Usually contain 36-52 cards
  • Longer and narrower than Western cards
  • Commonly used for gambling as well as card games

Chinese playing cards have a long history and remain popular in China today. They have distinctive suits representing elements of ancient Chinese culture and are an important part of traditional Chinese leisure activities.

Indian Suited Cards

Indian suited playing cards are a unique style of cards that originated and are primarily used in India. The earliest examples come from the Mughal era starting in the 16th century.

These decks consist of circular shaped cards called Ganjifa or Ganjapa. They contain 4-10 suits that are inspired by Indian culture, often depicting gods, heroes, and Persian poetry. Each suit has 10 to 13 cards, including court cards. The most common decks have 8 or 10 suits totaling 96 or 120 cards.[1]

Ganjifa playing cards were popular among nobility and royalty in ancient India. Beautiful handmade sets were produced using materials like ivory, turtle shell, crystals, and precious stones. They were an integral part of Indian society and used to play a variety of games.[2]

While Western suited decks have become more common, traditional Indian ganjifa cards are still used today, especially in some card games. There has been a revival of interest in the historic decks as culturally significant Indian art.[1]

Spanish Suited Cards

Spanish suited playing cards are used in Spain and consist of 48 cards divided into 4 suits – coins, cups, swords, and clubs. Each suit contains 12 ranks running from 1 to 12. The suits have distinct symbols – coins are represented by circular objects resembling coins, cups by chalices, swords by weapons, and clubs by cudgels.

Spanish playing cards originally contained 56 cards in the 15th century. However, this was reduced to 48 cards in the 16th century by removing the 8, 9 and 10 in each suit. The current 48-card Spanish deck emerged in the late 16th century. Since then, Spanish playing cards have retained their distinctive suits and ranks.

Some key games played with Spanish cards include Mus, Brisca, Tute and Ombre. Spanish suited cards are primarily used in Spain but have spread to some former Spanish colonies as well. Distinct regional patterns and designs emerged over the centuries.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish-suited_playing_cards

[2] https://nopanicspanish.com/7-secrets-about-the-spanish-playing-cards/

Custom and Novelty Cards

In addition to the standard deck types, there are many novelty and custom playing cards available. These include decks with non-standard designs, custom illustrations, and educational themes. Some novelty decks add an extra element of fun or whimsy, while others are designed to teach subjects like history, math, or science.

Novelty playing cards come in all shapes and sizes. There are square cards, circular cards, and even card decks shaped like famous characters or logos [1]. The card faces may contain anything from cartoons to photographs. Some are highly artistic while others use silly or psychedelic designs. These types of decks are popular for magic tricks, games, decoration, or collecting.

Fully custom decks allow even more creative freedom. Individuals or companies can work with a printer to design a deck from scratch. This allows the creation of themed decks for weddings, businesses, fictional worlds, and more. The card backs, faces, boxes, and other elements can all be specially designed. Popular custom decks include ones with fantasy, steampunk, or pop culture themes.

In short, novelty and custom decks provide a huge range of creative options beyond a standard 52-card deck. They allow for artistic expression, humor, education, and imagination in playing card form.


In summary, there are 4 main types of playing cards that have developed over history and across cultures:

French Suited Cards – Originating in France in the late 14th century, these 52-card decks (plus jokers) use spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs as suits. They became popular worldwide and are now the most common deck.

Latin Suited Cards – Developed in Italy in the 15th century, these 40 or 52-card decks use swords, batons/clubs, cups and coins as suits. They were widely used in Italy and Spain.

German Suited Cards – Emerging in Germany in the 15th century, these 36 or 48-card decks have suits of hearts, leaves, bells and acorns. They were adopted in central Europe and Scandinavia.

Tarot Cards – Originating in Italy in the 15th century, the 78-card tarot deck was used for games, divination and occult purposes. It contains four French suited cards and symbolic “trump” cards with unique illustrations.

While national and regional preferences emerged, playing cards evolved and spread thanks to trade, colonization and cultural diffusion. Today, various combinations and representations of suits and decks persist around the world.