Track the history and evolution of Donruss baseball card designs through the years. This simple guide includes samples from every Donruss base set so you can see how things have changed over the years.
The Donruss Company originated as a candy manufacturer in the 1950’s. By the 1960’s the company started producing entertainment themed trading cards. Rival company Fleer, sued the Topps company in the mid-seventies alleging a monopoly over the baseball card market. The court found in favor of Fleer and as a result Donruss quickly negotiated a deal in the winter of 1980 in time for the release of it’s first officially licensed MLB trading card set for the 1981 season.
Mergers and Acquisitions
No other company or brand in the history of the trading card market has changed hands more than Donruss. From 1983 to 2009, the Donruss brand was acquired by no less than four different entities. While the company name may have changed through out the years, the Donruss brand was utilized extensively in the manufacturing of baseball cards by each of the subsequent companies that had acquired Donruss’ intellectual property; Leaf, Pinnacle, Playoff, and Panini. The last of these ownership changes came in March of 2009 when Italian sticker manufacturer, Panini acquired the then Donruss Playoff L.P. company along with all of their licensing. The new company was named and continues today, to operate as Panini America.
One of the most significant contributions the Donruss brand made to the baseball card market was through the use of incorporating original art into their products. The creation of the Diamond Kings insert set utilized world-renowned sports artist Dick Perez to create full color portraits of the games top players. These prints were reproduced and randomly inserted into packs. Collectors quickly embraced this new innovation and eagerly chased every card in the quest to complete the entire set. Coinciding with this innovation was the introduction of trading card puzzle pieces that when assembled, produced a mini-poster sized depiction of legendary greats, also created by Dick Perez. Through the years, the Diamond Kings name has seen itself manifested in various forms including their own self-branded set in the early 2000’s.
Market Forces and Licensing Changes
The overproduction that plagued the entire trading card industry during the early ‘90’s contributed significantly to the company’s early growing pains. This factor coupled with the lost baseball season of 1994, resulted in a significant decrease in sales. In an attempt to help counter these market conditions and ebb the continued loss of sales revenue, Donruss acquired the rights to produce NHL trading cards. Unfortunately, the timing of the acquisition worked against Donruss as the NHL faced their own work stoppage resulting in a significantly decreased demand for hockey cards. In 1996 the Donruss brand was also used in the production of NFL trading cards. Later, in 2005, Major League Baseball made significant changes to its licensing requirements and as a result only two existing companies had those rights renewed with Donruss Playoff L.P. being left off of the list.
In 2007, despite not having a license to produce official MLB trading cards, the Donruss name was used in the release of a product called Donruss Elite Extra Edition. Donruss was able to circumvent licensing restrictions through the use of creative photography, airbrushing, and depicting players in their high school and college uniforms. Despite the desire by MLB and its player’s association to curtail the number of prospect centric products in the market, collectors eagerly pursued the newly configured brand.
When Donruss Playoff became Panini America, the company’s brand managers, across multiple sports, committed to maintain the company’s heritage and revived the Donruss name in hockey, basketball and football. Today, numerous brands bear the Donruss moniker. Only time will tell how the brand will be further utilized to create the nostalgia so coveted by collectors.
Donruss Card Sets
Browse our database of Donruss card sets, which feature product reviews, set checklists, expert analysis, price comparisons, and more.
Featuring top club and national team stars across the world, 2022-23 Donruss Soccer FIFA includes one autograph and one relic per box.
Boasting Rated Rookie cards and hard-signed Next Day Autographs, 2022-23 Donruss Basketball highlights the latest NBA rookie class.
Offering the Ultimate Fighting Championship debut for the long-running card brand, 2022 Donruss UFC features one autograph and one relic per Hobby box.
The long-running card brand hits the track once more with 2022 Donruss Racing NASCAR. Hobby boxes average three hits.
Featuring all 400 base cards, the 2022 Donruss Football Factory Complete Set format also adds Optic Rated Rookie Preview Holos.
Collect the new season of NFL Rated Rookie cards with 2022 Donruss Football. The Panini Hobby boxes include one autograph and one relic.
2022 Donruss Baseball provides another season of the MLBPA card series. Hobby boxes should contain two autographs and one relic.
Looking at the top national teams, 2021-22 Donruss Soccer Road to Qatar offers one autograph and one relic per Hobby box.
The long-running NBA card brand continues with 2021-22 Donruss Basketball. Each Hobby box averages one autograph and one relic card.
Retro-themed 2021 Donruss Racing NASCAR features the typical Donruss style along with shiny Optic cards and a variety of parallels and inserts per box.
Adding a new bonus for the Hobby format, 2021 Donruss Football Factory Complete Set is the easiest way to acquire the main 2021 Donruss NFL set.
2021 Donruss Football highlights the NFL season with a large base set featuring the popular Rated Rookie line.
2021 Donruss Baseball swings for the fences with the long-running MLBPA set. Every Hobby box averages two autographs and one relic.
A debut for the sport, 2021 Clearly Donruss Football puts the classic Donruss NFL style on acetate for the first time as a standalone set.
Collect the NBA’s stars and rookies with 2020-21 Donruss Basketball. Hobby boxes include one autograph and one relic, while Choice boxes offer two autographs.
Again offering acetate designs, 2020-21 Clearly Donruss Basketball is back for a second NBA season.
Collect the stars of the track with 2020 Donruss Racing NASCAR. The retro brand continues to combine a lot of options under one roof.
Collect the entire Donruss NFL set for 2020 with one purchase via 2020 Donruss Football Factory Complete Set.
Dig into another NFL season with Panini’s 2020 Donruss Football. Hobby boxes contain two hits.
Look for past, present and future talent in 2020 Donruss Baseball. Each Hobby box has three hits. Panini’s flagship baseball product also promises a few surprises.
The long-running card brand starts a new NBA season with 2019-20 Donruss Basketball. Each Hobby box averages one autograph and one relic.
Grab Donruss NBA designs on acetate with the all-new 2019-20 Clearly Donruss Basketball. The debuting set includes three parallels and one insert per Hobby box.
2019 Donruss WNBA Basketball offers fans the first WNBA trading cards under the Panini brand. Each Hobby box contains two autographs.
2019 Donruss NASCAR Racing revs the engine a bit more via new Optic cards to go with the three expected hits per Hobby box.
Complete the popular NFL base set in one move with 2019 Donruss Football Factory Set. Each box contains 400 cards and an exclusive memorabilia card.
An annual NFL favorite, 2019 Donruss Football ramps up for another season. Each Hobby box should have one autograph and one relic.
2019 Donruss Baseball celebrates the past, present and future in the MLBPA release. Each Hobby box is packed with hits, inserts and parallels.
2018-19 Donruss Soccer returns after a few years away with plenty of exclusive cards. Each Hobby box averages two autographs.
Big names and bold looks are waiting in 2018-19 Donruss Basketball. The revamped jumbo format averages two autographs per Hobby box.
Start your engines for the new collecting year with 2018 Donruss NASCAR Racing! Each hobby box delivers three total hits.
Loaded with rookies and inserts, 2018 Donruss Football ramps up the excitement for the new NFL season. Each Hobby box averages two hits.
Enjoy a little extra with the 2018 Donruss Baseball Wrapper Redemption program! See the details on how to obtain the exclusive cards.
An annual favorite from Panini, 2018 Donruss Baseball mixes throwback designs, established insert lines and a trio of hits per hobby box.
Applying the well-known brand to another NBA season, 2017-18 Donruss Basketball highlights top rookies, and delivers two hits per hobby box.
Debuting on the track, 2017 Donruss NASCAR Racing takes collectors on a retro-themed experience. Hobby boxes each contain an autograph and two relics.
Catering to the set collectors, 2017 Donruss Football Factory Set pairs the complete base set with an exclusive rookie relic per box.
Acting as Panini’s flagship NFL set, 2017 Donruss Football brings the popular Rated Rookie subset for the first-year players, as well as a pair of hits per hobby box.
2017 Donruss Baseball takes fans back to the 80s while also focusing on future stars of the game. Each box offers three autographs or relic cards.
Base Donruss plus chromium equals 2016-17 Donruss Optic Basketball. The new release features plenty of rookie content and Opti-Chrome parallels
Modern NBA stars with an old-school vibe, 2016-17 Donruss Basketball largely sticks with the normal features of the well-known brand. Each hobby box contains one autograph and one memorabilia card.
Only featuring signed cards, 2016 Donruss Signature Series Football returns with a deep checklist and four total autographs per hobby box.
Taking the main Donruss set on a chromium trip, 2016 Donruss Optic Football debuts for NFL collectors. Highlights include the Rated Rookie Autographs that are signed on-card.
A familiar low-end release, 2016 Donruss Football features Peyton Manning inserts and Fans of the Game inserts for notable celebs like Daisy Ridley and Al Pacino. Each hobby box includes one relic and one autograph.
Honoring the past while looking to the future, 2016 Donruss Baseball features many hobby staples in a familiar format. Boxes promise three autographs or memorabilia cards.
Still carving out its legacy, 2015-16 Donruss Basketball continues to take cues from the history of the brand. Each hobby box promises three total hits and nine numbered cards.
2015 Donruss Soccer mixes national teams and players from around the world alongside several of the game’s top professional clubs. Hobby boxes deliver one autograph and more than 30 inserts.
Featuring a mix of NFL players from the past and present, 2015 Donruss Signature Series Football is an all-autograph release that includes four signed cards per hobby box.
2015 Donruss Football offers a retro look at the current NFL. Hobby boxes average three autographs or memorabilia cards per box and a slew of inserts.
2015 Donruss Baseball brings back a mix of old brands, inserts and designs, creating a potpourri of the familiar for those who collected the various Donruss sets in the 1980s and ’90s. Hobby boxes have three total autographs and memorabilia cards.
The online-exclusive 2014 Donruss The Rookies Baseball box collects and expands upon the inserts released earlier in the season. Each set also has an exclusive autograph.
2014 Donruss Series 2 Baseball expands the early-season release with updated rookies, returning inserts and some new wrinkles. Hobby boxes have a pair of autographs and a memorabilia card.
2014 Donruss Baseball is getting the factory set treatment. The online-exclusive has all 355 main cards (including short prints) plus one exclusive autograph or memorabilia card.
Back on the diamond for the first time in nearly a decade, 2014 Donruss Baseball brings back plenty of familiar names. Hobby boxes include two autographs, a memorabilia card and lots of inserts.
2010-11 Donruss marks the return of the Rated Rookie to hockey cards for the first time since 1997-98. Early details suggest that Panini will use the Rated Rookie to counter the hobbies most popular low end rookie card series, the Upper Deck Young Guns series, both of which are seeded at a rate of 6 per box.
Panini’s Donruss Basketball will mark the first time the legendary brand makes an appearance on the hardwood as well as provide basketball card collectors with a welcome change of pace from Panini’s typical futuristic styled card offerings. Donruss will deliver 3 hits, 20 die-cut parallels, and plenty of intriguing Rated Rookies per box. 2010-11 Donruss is set to release December 22nd, 2010.
Just because there are mountains of it out there doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy 1989 Donruss Baseball and its Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.
1988 Donruss Baseball isn’t the most exciting set to look at. It’s also far from the rarest. However, it does include rookie cards of Roberto Alomar and Tom Glavine.
1987 Donruss Baseball was a good year for the brand. Besides a solid design, the set includes rookie cards of Greg Maddux, Barry Larkin and Rafael Palmeiro.
Once one of the crown jewels of 1980s baseball card sets, 1986 Donruss Baseball isn’t worth what it once was. That said, it has a strong checklist of rookies that includes Jose Canseco, Fred McGriff, Andres Galarraga and Paul O’Neill.
Notable for its tough black borders, 1985 Donruss Baseball is led by Roger Clemens and Kirby Puckett. The set features the company’s standard mix of cards, including Diamond Kings and Rated Rookie.
One of the most popular sets of the decade, 1984 Donruss Baseball includes the iconic Don Mattingly rookie card.
1983 Donruss Baseball is led by a trio of Hall of Famer rookie cards: Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs. Heavily influenced by the previous year’s design, the set also marks the second installment of the iconic Diamond Kings subset.
1982 Donruss Baseball saw the brand start to take on more of a distinct identity. The set features the debut of the Diamond Kings subset as well as puzzle inserts. The checklist is highlighted by the Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card.
It’s hard to believe that 1981 Donruss Golf is the first set of mainstream modern golf cards. The affordable set is loaded with rookies including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Curtis Strange.
While the set itself isn’t spectacular, 1981 Donruss Baseball helped usher in a new era in the hobby. The checklist is led by the Tim Raines rookie card.
1980 Donruss Dukes of Hazzard trading cards are the first of three releases based on the show. Distinguished by its blue borders, Bo, Luke, Daisy and the rest of Hazzard County’s most notable faces appear.
1978 Donruss KISS is the first set to highlight the legendary rock band. While the basic set, which is split into two series, is straightforward, there are several rare variations that make master sets difficult.
1976 Donruss Bionic Woman trading cards might not have a lot of beauty or lasting power outside of the show’s star, but the set is simple and affordable to build even today.
Although the show lasted just one season, 1966 Donruss Green Hornet trading cards remain popular thanks in part to offering some of the only cards to feature Bruce Lee. Get full details on the set, including the complete checklist.
1965 Donruss Disneyland Puzzle Back trading cards celebrate the theme park’s tenth birthday. Today, the 66-card set acts as a historical look back at the evolution of one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations.
Despite only lasting two seasons, The Addams Family remains one of the most beloved shows of all-time. On a similar note, 1964 Donruss Addams Family is still extremely popular with collectors decades later.