Comprehensive Guide to Card Grading

Comprehensive Guide to Card Grading

Comprehensive Guide to Card Grading 1Card Grading Defined

Card grading is the practice of submitting a trading card to a third-party service. The card is inspected for authenticity and ranked, usually on a 10-point scale, for the condition. The card is then assigned an overall grade, sealed in a tamper-proof holder and, finally, assigned a cataloged serial number.

The benefits of card grading include indisputable provenance of authenticity, no subjective condition assignments and an accountability system through an online database. All of these factors combine to, more often than not, increase the value of the card when compared to an ungraded card in equal or similar condition.

The Specifics of Card Grading

Before submitting anything to a card grading company, there are a few things to be aware of to get the most out of your grading submission: knowing what cards to grade, what service to use, and the logistics involved in shipping and insurance.

What to Grade

Choosing what cards to grade is a personal and subjective decision. But there are some guidelines to follow that will not only save you money, but also increase the value of your collection. For example, grading any one-of-one card makes little sense from a financial standpoint, although people continue to do so. The cost of having the card shipped, graded, insured and returned is unlikely to increase the worth of an already highly valued card enough to offset those costs. However, some collectors may like the added protection of a graded slab.

Submitting vintage cards for grading, in particular, makes for a solid investment. Player collectors, team collectors and set builders often target cards in a specific grade. Removing the subjectivity of self-assessment provides a foolproof way of making sure a card is actually in the condition the owner claims.

Even vintage commons can bring a strong return if submitted to a reputable card grading company. A mistake many collectors make with older cards is overlooking these commons. Many high-end set builders will often pay top-dollar for that graded NM or Mint backup utility infielder's card simply to complete their collection of graded cards.

Modern prospect and rookie autographs are also highly desirable in high-grade condition. The obvious reason is that, if that player attains star status, their most popular rookie cards will always be those that are signed and in Mint condition.

Grading Companies

When it comes to choosing what service to use, it is best to do your research. Ask fellow collectors, dealers and your local hobby shop owner who they use and why.

Currently, there are several reputable and well-used grading companies in the hobby: Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA), Beckett Grading Services (BGS) and Sportscard Guaranty (SGC). Each card grading company grades a variety of cards.

Fees between the companies vary so collectors are encouraged to see the pricing policies listed on their respective websites. Collectors can also pay for different levels of service.

In addition to the companies mentioned above, the marketplace has seen several other grading companies come and go over the years. Plenty of their cards still exist on the secondary market. These include Global Authenticators International (GAI), Card Collector Services (CCS), and Sports Collectors Digest (SCD), to name a few.

When grading became popular in the early- to mid-'90s, new grading companies sprouted up in unprecedented quantities. Some earned very poor reputations. While smaller, and less well-known companies exist, it is strongly advised that collectors only trust their collection to those first mentioned: PSA, BGS and SCG. Those are the companies with the best reputations in the hobby.

The Cost of Card Grading

As mentioned earlier, exact fees differ among card grading companies, however they all charge based on the following criteria:

  1. The number of cards submitted.
  2. The desired turnaround time to have your cards graded and returned.

Other factors that can determine service price are:

  • The value of the card.
  • Whether a card containing an autograph is to be authenticated as well as graded.
  • If the card is an oddball or oddly sized card.

Also, keep in mind that you are required to pay two-way shipping. When sending to the company, pay for the appropriate amount of insurance, delivery and signature confirmation. For return shipping, each company will have their own established fee structure. This usually includes insurance.

It should be noted that each major grading company regularly appears at sports card and memorabilia shows throughout the year. At these events, they often provide onsite submissions and onsite card grading services. This can save a you a lot amount of money on shipping and insurance fees. It also provides the additional security of not releasing your cards into the possession of a third-party parcel carrier.

How to Submit Cards for Grading

Before you send your cards in to be graded, you may need to pick up the following supplies:

While the practice may vary in the details from company to company, the basics are the same. They involve completing a submission form and packaging cards to send to the grading facility. Be sure to refer to each company's specific submission policy prior to starting the process. However, here are general guidelines that apply to all companies.

Once the card grading submission form is completed, prepare your cards for shipping by putting each of them in a penny sleeve and then into a semi-rigid holder like those from the popular Card Saver series. Do not use top-loaders, snap tights or screw-downs. Most grading companies will return cards back to you ungraded if they are sent in this way.

Next, place all of the cards to be submitted in between two pieces of cardboard that are larger than the cards' holders. This will make sure they don't bend.

Secure the bundle with rubber bands. Be sure that the rubber bands are not too tight. They should be just tight enough to hold the cardboard pieces together and prevent the cards from falling out. Tight rubber bands could damage your cards.

Prepare the box for shipping by filling it partially with packing peanuts, bubble wrap or newspaper. Nestle the card bundle and fill the remaining portion of the box. Insert the completed submission form and payment. Use non-clear packaging tape to completely wrap the box, not just the box edges. From there, follow the specific submission instructions from the appropriate company. Keep a copy of your card grading submission form for your records.

This is the time to think of any additional services required, such as autograph authentication. Additionally, some card grading companies allow collectors to determine a minimum acceptable grade. For example, a collector may specify that if a card receives a grade lower than an 8, that it not be encapsulated. The collector is still charged the full price for having the card processed, graded and returned.

Some companies offer an actual card grading submission kit that comes with a submission form, fee schedule and materials for packaging your order. This is a great customer service gesture and can save collectors money. Check the company's website to see if they offer this.

Receiving Your Order

Once you receive your order, carefully examine it. Cross-reference the contents to the packing slip and the copy of the original submission form. Verify that the cards have been cataloged properly by entering the number into the company's database to make sure that the grade on the label is connected to your card.

Storage, Archival and Display

There are several options for storing and displaying your graded cards. The size of an encapsulated graded card requires specially sized boxes. They vary from simple corrugated cardboard boxesComprehensive Guide to Card Grading 7 all the way up to elaborate wood and velvet-lined archival boxes. The choice is personal to taste and budget. However, regardless of what system you use, be sure your graded cards are secure from sliding into each other. The card capsules are prone to scratching. While this does not impact the card's grade and subsequent value of the card itself, it certainly diminishes its eye appeal.

Display casesComprehensive Guide to Card Grading 8 that allow you to slide cards into secured trays, display in multiple rows and can be wall-mounted make for an excellent presentation to show off any graded card collection.

Comprehensive Guide to Card Grading 9
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Rob Bertrand

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. Great piece on grading.In the many years of collecting i never submitted anything to be graded.But after reading this i might give it a try.

  2. I’m thinking of joining the PSA club, I have alot of factory sealed cases, do I have a good chance of a psa 10 card in these cases or is it too dificult to get a psa 10 for the average collector, and how can I get a card worthty of a 10 grading. I have so many cards I’m thinking of getting graded that to me look great, but how hard is it to get a high grade. thanks so much

  3. This article is extremely helpful, and I’m glad I read it, as I have old sports cards I’d like to have graded. I had hoped there would be specific recommendations regarding one getting an initial rough idea of which cards they’d like to even look into submitting. In other words, what’s the most efficient way to initially determine the more valuable cards? Is there an online database one can consult?

  4. Gene Your best bet is to check completed auctions on eBay. That way you can see what the cards are currently selling for and you can compare that against the value of the graded versions.

  5. hi, I have a M. Jordan rookie, looks good
    except that it has a crease on the side of
    the card; would it still be worth grading;
    it is the fleer 1986 going for quite a bit of money.

  6. Graded cards ruined all the fun. Suck it graded cards – creeps. Eat money.

  7. I am looking to have my original series 3 and 4 garbage pail kids collection graded, is there anywhere in the UK that offers this service?

  8. I have 9 Brett Favre rookie cards all of which were placed in a card holder(plastic Sleeve and then hard case) and bee placed in a LIGHT PROOF container and held in a cool dark place like the rest of my collection. thinking of getting them graded as they are great looking and very centered. my question is should I remove them from the plastic sleeves and holders and find a small box to ship them in? or leave them in the sleeves?

  9. I have a 61-62 Bill Russell #62 card graded 7.0 by Would it makes sense to have regarded by PSA and what are the chances of an upgrade if I leave in original slab vs remove from slab.

  10. Even if you don’t get a super high grade, I think it is a good idea to have your cards graded. It protects them and it makes them more marketable if you ever want to sell them. When I first started getting my cards graded, I got frustrated with some cards that looked near mint getting 5.5 grades, etc. However, MOST of the market uses it as a guide and not the gospel truth. It is good to use YOUR eyes in combination with the grade given by the professionals. Often times, cards with mid-grades and fantastic eye-appeal sell for an amount you would be happy with. Sure, there are some collectors that are buying the case for bragging rights but many are truly buying the card. It is amazing how many 4’s and 5’s out there that look amazing.

  11. Question
    I recently had Beckett graded a high end card and it was graded a 9.5.
    I have been restoring, and cleaning cards for about 6 years and felt I had a 10 so I cut it out and sent it back and it came back 9.5 again.
    Not satisfied I cut it out cleaned it up and hand delivered to a PSA show only to get it back as a 6. Man I was floored, not in a million years would I have expected that.

    Is PSA really that much diffrent or did I just find a guy that needs a Snickers?

  12. I’ve been collection Sports cards since 1960.
    When this “Grading” system came in the Hobby
    I felt majorly confused about why! You help me clairify the why as well as how & where! I feel I can accurately assess my cards and accurately choose the ones to be graded! Thank for your help!

  13. Good afternoon,

    I work for a company that has a very large collection of cards and memorabilia. We are located in Southern Vermont, and are looking for someone to come and grade some of the cards and signed memorabilia. How would we go about doing this?

    Thank you for your time,

  14. I am very confused. I have some cards that if graded a 6 or 7 are worth under $400. But if graded a 9 they are worth $2000-3000. I am not very good at spotting defects and have been amazed at some 7’s from BGS. So … is PSA going to give me a 9 if it should be a 9 and call me and tell me I owe them more money for my 9?

    Vice versa, if I pay them for a $2500 card and they grade it at a 6, will they refund the difference? I have searched the internet for a straight answer to this, for houus on end. To no avail.Please help, I am in desperate need of cash.

    thank you so very much i am 67 years old, this is confusing and an activity I just got “stuck with” after my bipolar son spent $35k on cards. I’m trying to recoup some of my retirement by reselling these piees of cardboard.

    Thank you, Debra

  15. I would like to get a card graded I’m going to find out how much it cost my phone number is 248-495-8971

  16. Hi Debra,

    I am a Garbage Pail Kids collector and seller for decades now. I am always looking for cards in good condition to add to my collection. Sometimes I will purposefully buy bad cards in a lot just to get to the good ones. I pay a fair price for good cards right about wholesale value generally. After all it wouldn’t make sense if we weren’t both getting something out of it right? Anyway if you even have GPK cards and would like to sell I would pay you the same day, even before the cards arrive. Contact me:

    Josh Turley
    Consider It Sold LLC.

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