How to Self- and Pre-Grade Your Sports Cards and Get the Best Results

How to Self- and Pre-Grade Your Sports Cards and Get the Best Results

Before sending your cards in to get third-party grading, it is important to understand the criteria the various grading companies use. This will help you decide which cards to send in and get the highest possible grade.

In order to check and evaluate cards for grading, it is best to have the following items:

  • Jewelers Loupe (12x magnification). Serviecable ones can be found for less than $10.
  • 6" Ruler with 1/16th of an inch increments.
  • Direct lighting (60 watts or higher).

When examining your cards, it is important to use a critical and discerning eye. You must leave any emotional, sentimental or financial involvement out of any assessment.

Self-grading allows collectors to get an idea of the general condition a card is actually in. They can then get a better estimate what grade it might receive upon submission. Corners and edges that, to the naked eye, appear sharp, may not be when viewed under magnification. This will be done by a card grader, so make sure you do it in advance. Surface wear, print dots, and minor creases all play into the final grade a card receives.

Below is a link to a list of grades and criteria from the four major grading companies that collectors can use to help in assessing their own cards.

In general, many condition characteristics carry a weighted average of importance in determining a card's final grade. While the exact weight is usually determined by the grading company and, sometimes, the grader themselves, typically the order of importance is as follows:

  • Surface Condition: paper loss, creases, print dots and other blemishes.
  • Corner Wear: soft, rounding, fuzzy.
  • Edge Wear: visible wear resulting in paper or color loss.

By thoroughly understanding the criteria used at each grade level, with practice, collectors can usually determine the grade a card should receive upon submission.

It is a good idea to self-grade all cards you are submitting and record their self-grade. That way, when you get the cards back from grading, any discrepancies can be thoroughly examined. It also allows collectors to ask specific questions, based on their understanding of the card's condition, as to why a card was returned in a certain grade.

When examining vintage cards, it is important to measure the cards using a standard 6" ruler. Starting in 1957, almost all standard sized trading cards were, and continue to be, printed with a dimension of 2 1/2" wide by 3 1/2" high. Between 1952 and 1956, cards were printed with a format of 2 3/4" wide by 3 5/8" high. 1951 Topps Baseball cards were printed smaller with a size of 2" wide by 2 5/8" high. Knowing the exact dimensions of the card for the year they were printed is important as unethical dealers and collectors have been known to trim cards to eliminate soft corners and edge wear. Trimmed cards are returned ungraded.

Discoloring is identifiable with a jewelers loupe.  Some people will attempt to mask edge wear on colored bordered cards by using a similar color Sharpie marker to cover the damaged part of the card that's visibly white part. To the naked eye, this trick may work. However, under bright light and magnification, such modifications are easy to spot.

Magnification can also detect doctoring done to remove creases. Sometimes people will apply pressure to a card, often with a spoon, to alter a card and try to remove an undesirable crease. Under light and magnification the surface will still display a slight wrinkle with a smoother, almost shinier area around the crease. While doing this may increase the card's eye-appeal, it is evidence of doctoring and, again, may result in a card being returned ungraded.

Collectors who invest the time and money to pre-grade their cards before sending them in will save time, money, and potential disappointment. Collectors will also be able to better judge whether a card should be graded and have a realistic idea of what a card should grade ahead of time.

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Rob Bertrand

E-Mail Author | 
Rob is a former member of The Cardboard Connection Writing Staff and co-host of Cardboard Connection Radio.He is an avid collector with over 20 years of active experience in the hobby.

User Comments

  1. I am 65, know nothing about grading..have a 1956#135 Mantle card in very good shape (been in hard plastic) I think..How do I know if I should get it graded or not. Had this card for 40 years or so. Since I know nothing about grading, I don’t know what it would cost.
    Thanks Randall

  2. Randall Walters » Different levels of service cost different amounts (mainly, turnaround time). Both PSA and BGS have their rates posted on their sites or you can give them a call. If your Mantle looks nice to the eye, then it may be worth sending in. All vintage Mantles are popular on the secondary market, even in less-than-perfect grades.

  3. I need some cards graded could make a couple bucks. Do not know how to grade them safely,any help?

  4. Hello, would I need to wear gloves to handle my cards when grading them? If so, what type of gloves. Thanks.

  5. I have a 1954 Mantle.I could not afford my birth year.(52)I sent it to PSA and it came back graded a 2 .5.I was shocked to say the least.The card is perfect,their reason was multiple creases.I put it under a high powered magnifying glass and ther is nothing like that anywhere on the card.What should I do?

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