Evolution of Topps Baseball Cards: 1951-2022

Evolution of Topps Baseball Cards: 1951-2022

Produced across many decades, Topps baseball cards have become an institution for fans and collectors. Not only do the players change over time, but so do the designs. The flagship gallery below compiles the primary Topps baseball design from every year so collectors can look back to see how each version stacks up.

When you've manufactured cards for as long as Topps has, you wind up with a mix of good years, bad years, so-so years, off years, on years and everything in between. And even then, it's a matter of taste and preference. What one collector might like, another collector may absolutely despise. However, given the many designs, it is safe to assume nearly any collector can find at least one style that works for them from the storied flagship line.

The best Topps baseball designs bring a personality to them that's both of the era and, in the same vein, timeless. Memorable sets also have that "x-factor" that comes in the form of a classic rookie card or something in the content that leaves a lasting impression.

In 2015, we asked collectors to decide the best sets of all-time in a bracket voting format. View the top set in our detailed voting results page.

Here's a look at all the Topps flagship baseball card designs from 1951 through 2022. Please note that this gallery only includes the year's main set design and not any inserts, special issues or related brands. A full yearly lineup up of the main Topps Baseball sets can be reviewed in our flagship database.

Got a favorite set? Let us know in the comments below.

Topps Baseball Card Designs Through the Years: 1951-2021

Click on the links below to check out detailed profiles for each set, including a checklist and series info.

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Multiple authors contributed to this article. 

Related Topics:

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User Comments

  1. I am personally partial to the 1991 set. It wasn’t particularly attractive or futuristic, but that was the year as a 9 year-old boy I fell in love with baseball and began collecting cards. Topps was always the best brand to get, for the wonderfully stale bubble gum that came in each pack, and the hopes of landing a Jose Canseco card. I still have those cards today.

  2. I think my favorite is the 1987 set. I loved the wood panel look and it is also when my Twins won their first World Series. All my friends were collecting at the time and it was a fun year to trade along with some good rookies. Least favorite is probably the 1990. Never like the design, colors, etc. Just my 2 cents.

  3. My favorite would be 2010. The reason being is this is the year that my two sons became interested in card collecting and it has been a true joy collecting with them and watching their excitement in opening packs to get thier favorite player, refractor, auto or other neat insert.
    My least favorite is the year that I started collecting, 1976. I cant explain…a close second is 1979.

  4. Very cool…fun to see all the different years of designs. I like the new 2011’s…those look sweet!
    2000 and 2002 would be favorites as well cause I remember getting some sweet Twins base cards of Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones! LOL

    Some of the older ones like 1991 and 92 are sweet too…

    Least favorite…I don’t know some of the older ones are real ugly LOL but I think 1994…just really never been a fan.

    Nice work…this is sweet

  5. My favorite is the 1973 Set. The design seems well before it’s time, sans all the ugly color combos, and with a few tweaks and come better stock could be mistaken for a modern card. My least favorite is the 1997 set. Sometimes simplicity is a good thing, but in this case it isn’t. Bad color combos and the outline/bold nameplate at the bottom just looks weird.

  6. I’ve always been a fan of the 1980 design. It’s simple, but adds just enough with the banner-style design.

    On the other hand, the 1990 set is truly one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

    Thanks for the contest!

  7. I would have to say my personal favorite is the 1982 the year the cardinals won it all or the 84 edition it just looks great and the double pic is one my favorite feature, but the the top two worst got to be the 87 and 90 I guess im not for wood panel or “comic” cards you cards that look like they should be in a comic not on a topps major league baseball card. thanks and hope the future of card collecting never dies!

  8. Personally my favorite is a toss up between 1953 and 1965, lease favorite is most of the 90’s really with 1994 the worst, just hurts the eyes to look at

  9. Best – 1987 because thats the first cards I remember opening and collecting

    Worst – 1994 the cursive hand writing for the names was just hard to read, and the design was just plain ugly

  10. Sentimental favorite is 1977, I was 7 and it was my first year collecting. I still love those cards. Favorite design, leaving sentiment out of it, would be 1953. Least favorite, the 1990 set was hideous. What were they thinking?

  11. My favorite set would have to be 1987. I love the wood grain borders and it included a great rookie crop.

    Least favorite would be 1990. I’m still unsure if Topps produced this set or if it was Crayola!

  12. Favorite would be the 1960, i just like the way they have the names of the players
    1995 would be a close secound i rember getting packs of these as a gift for doing good in school. always a favorite year of mine.
    Least would be the 2002 even though its Mauers Rookie i cant stand the gold boarder, clsoe secound would be the 87 wood paneling

  13. The Best is 2010 hands down. The refractor autos are beautiful and the colors capativating to buyers. It does Justice to baseball card collectors. The least would be 1972 topps. The card looks wayyyy to disco with the letterhead. They took a wrong turn there.

  14. I’m partial to 1971. The black border adds another dimension to the card.

  15. My favorite has to be 1981 b/c that is when I first really got into collecting. My older brother worked at a 7-11 and would bring me packs home after each shift that he worked.

    Worst? Anything produced during the strike years of the 90’s.

    Thanks for running this contest!!

  16. My favorite by far has to be the 1952 set. My Daddy would tell me story after story about those cards and how my Grandmother trashed them. I used to love trading cards at a local shop every sat. from open to close. Nothing comes close to opening up a pack of cards and not knowing what might be pulled out. I just now started collecting again and know now why I started in the first place. God bless Topps! You have given me so many memories to pass on to my own kids and hopefully their kids as well. Again, Thank you all so much. It’s been a blast. Oh yeah, as far as my least favorite year, I can’t think of a single one. They all played a part of my favorite past time. Your cards are as american as apple pie and the game itself!

  17. My favorite “vintage” 1956, 1960 and 1969. I love the design of 56 and 60. I also really like the photography from 69.

    My favorite “modern” 1989 simple classic design. Mixes vintage design with a bit of a modern twist.
    I also really like the 2011 The photography looks great and its a nice classic design in my opinion.

    My least favorites would be 1975 that green and purple border is awful. 1990 same as 75 terrible border. 1998 is pretty bad. 1954 looks like they tried to cram too much on the card but its decent. 1959 I’m not a fan of the overall design.

    Thanks for the contests you guys do. Keep up the good work.

  18. My favorite year is 1956. They’re unique in sevaral ways that make them stand out as a one of a kind design. Slightly larger in size, horizontal, close-up and action shot of each player with autograph. The “halo” around each head shot. And, who doesn’t like to read tha cartoons on the back?!
    Least favorite is 1973. That generic looking ball player in the lower corner has always bugged me

  19. I would have to say ’85 it was a fairly basic design with green backs but that was the year I started collecting baseball cards. Nice to see all the years of different designs. Hard to say which design is best…I think they mean something different to everyone who collected/collects cards.

  20. I love 1952 because it was the first year baseball cards went from plain small photos to large color photos. My least favorite year is 1988, very plain and ugley.

  21. My favorite set is 1959. When I was a kid I had the complete set.

    Least favorite would have to be the 1970, 74, and 78 set.

    The 2011 set looks promissing.

  22. Favorite is 1969 – Miracle Mets !!!!

    Least favorite is 1957 – Dodgers and Giants leave NY. and cards were terrible to look at that year.

  23. Any of the 1952 Topps (Mickey) set through 1972 (Nolan) sets are amazing ~ I could sit and stare at them all day, ha! I do appreciate the 1971 set around this time because of the fragile edges of the design. Topps 1973 seemed to introduce a more modern template but I will always cherish any set from 1976 – 1987, when life was simple–and I was still collecting! Some sets were worse than the Old White Sox uniforms, while others seemed as though we were collecting gold and silver rather than baseball cards. We have all been through the “steroid” and “mass production” era’s (as we have watched Fleer and Donruss fade away), but Topps will always be the best to me–I didn’t collect to sell them anyway. I still buy a set of Topps every year and have kept the “old” cherished collection.
    Thank you for the memories Topps…

  24. My favorite Topps design is 1959. Very colorful and vivid photography. I like the multiple player cards as well. This is the year I started collecting as a young sandlot player in Toronto Canada.

  25. The 1956 set was the last of the original size and incorporated an artsy and unique background instead of just a solid color, the tiny player in action, a signiture and an up close picture…all in one fantastic looking card The 1990 set seemed juvenile in appearance.

  26. 1969 had superior photography.
    1959 had great color and imagination.
    1965,1966,1967 were solid years as well. All years after 1975 are quite bad in production quality and investment value, altho if you enjoy them then its fine for you.

  27. My all-time favorite is the 95: It was the set that got me hooked when I was young. There’s just something about the design that caught my eye and I’ve been a fan since. Other good ones: 87, 95, 05, 09, 11

    Besides the other early 90 ones, I’m not a fan of the 2010 version. The colors just seemed way too saturated and the photos look overly Photoshopped. I’m happy to say that the past two sets have been much better. Also now a fan of the 2007 set, the imperfections show up way too easily.

  28. All the Topps cards from the 70’s are my favorites.

    90-95 are all pretty bad.

    1982 might be the worst, while 1980, 1983, 1985 and 1986 are terrific.

    I always thought 1987 was overrated. Some people see beautiful, real hardwood in the background. I see cheap paneling from a double-wide.

  29. 1955 is the coolest for me. I just decided I’m going to collect them all from that year, and it was the year my dad was born.

  30. My favorite Topps Baseball Sets , 1993 had great photography.
    2012 had great color and imagination.
    1991,1995,1999 were solid years as well. All years from 1986-1988 are quite bad in production quality and investment value, although if you enjoy them then its fine for you.

  31. My top five favorite designs are 1963, 1965, 1955, 1970, 2011

    My least are 1996, 1979, 1973, 1988, 1992

  32. 1965 is hands down the most elegant, simple, and refined card series. 1953 is a close second…
    87 gave me cavities from all of the gum i went through that year as an 11 yr old. :)

  33. I remember not liking the 1979 set when it came out because that’s the first year Topps put their logo on the front. They went back to logo-less fronts the following year, but, the year after that, the logo creep was here to stay.

  34. 1981. That’s the first baseball cards I ever saw…love that cap in the corner to this day.

  35. Favorites by decade:

    1957, 1963, 1973, 1983, 1996, 2003 and 2011

    Least favorites by decade:

    1958, 1968, 1978, 1982, 1995, 2002 and 2015

  36. Like a lot of people, I tend to look most fondly on the set from the year I first started collecting. For me that would be 1974. I was 7 during that summer, turned 8 in October that year the after game 2 of the 1974 World Series. It’s the first year I bought cards as well as the first World Series I recall watching on tv.

    I bought a great many more of the 1975 cards, but the 3 or 4 dozen cards from the 74 set I bought seem to hold a dearer spot in my memory. Plus I liked the little cartoon on the back of that set that contained a little personal bit of information about the player.

    I still have those cards in a shoebox somewhere in a closet of my house.

  37. If were talking just the top 3 designs of the 1950’s : ’52, ’56, & ’57
    1960’s : ’63, ’65, & ’67
    1970’s : ’71, ’73, & ’75
    1980’s : ’80, ’83, & ’84
    My personal sentimental set : ’87

    Love 1952-1989 Topps cards, especially the 50’s & 60’s. Not big on anything 1990 & up.

  38. Best: 1987, 2011 and 2015

    Worst: 1975 (Ugly Boarder Colors), 1988 (Boring), 1994 (Bad Design)

    First year I started collecting: 2007

  39. Favorite would have to be the 75 set with the Brett, Yount, Rice, Carter, Lynn and Hernandez Rookies and the great design. The 83 set is awesome to with the Gwynn, Boggs and Sandberg Rookies and the 2 photographs on the front of each card.

    Other years that I really liked the design of was the 72, 84 and 1980 set because it was the first year I started collecting and it had the Henderson Rookie Card.

  40. Love all the baseball cards the 50 and 60 are my youth to sports ! Great fun collecting and hear about other collectors on the cards, makes you feel good all over and you remember the kids in the neighborhood who collected, And a few friends who were K.I.A. InViet Nam!

  41. 1976 has to be my favorite. Player and team lines are color coordinated to the photos. Incredible action (see Palmer, Bench, Schmidt). A Leo the Sporting News century all-time team with Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, etc. Also 75, 73, 65, 63 as nd 57. Least favorite include 61, 68, 82, 92 and 04.

  42. Nice summary. I like all Topps baseball sets equally above everything else. Within Topps baseball, the 1987 set holds the most sentimental value. For each decade, I’d choose 1951, 1962, 1977, 1987, 1990, 2001, and 2015.

  43. All the Topps designs from the 1960’s through 1987, with one exception, 1972, are all solid, classic designs and I love all of them. The 1980 set is gorgeous and the 1987 set, though overproduced, is beautiful as well. ALL the designs in the 1990’s stunk, though not as bad as the early 90’s Fleer and Donruss designs. Other than the cool 2007 designs, Topps designs in the 2000’s were rather pedestrian until around 2014 (the 2008 set was particularly horrific, one of the worst I’ve ever seen from Topps). I really miss Upper Deck, they had some beautiful cards.

  44. Baseball cards remind me of the quote about pizza. When they’re bad, they’re still pretty good. Too many sets to choose from. My favorite has to be 1983. There are so many Hall of Famers in this set and the photos are much better than those in 1981 and 1982. I stopped collecting in 1996 and would say this was my least favorite. A lot of cards’ designs seemed to be cluttered in the mid 90s and the 440 card base set felt like they were starting to not care about the set anymore. Plus life got in the way of collecting. Seeing all the designs may make me want to catch up in collecting.

  45. My favorite is 85 set. Kinda quirky with the green and red backs. The slanted block team name on the front, it was different.

  46. My favorite Topps design is 1953. Favorite design that I collected was 1988. I like all designs from 1984-1990 when I was actively collecting. Of the newer cards, 1999 and 2013.

  47. 1984 , the year I started collecting . 1972 is my second favorite.

  48. If I had to pick my favorites by decade…
    50s – The ’52 set is a work of art. My only quibble – Topps shrank the size of the cards to what we’re used to after the ’56 season, so they feel a little… off. Runner up: 1958.

    60s – 1963, followed by 1961… Truthfully, not a great decade for design.

    70s – I get a lot of these confused when just going through my collection. Not a fan of the the 1975 colors. I think 1973 is best.

    80s – I’ll forever be partial to 1987, because that’s when I got my first set of baseball cards. I do think the 1988 design looks the best, though.

    90s – 1996 is sweet. It was the second year they added the gold to the cards. I do like the 1990 version as well.

    00s – I *hated* the 2008 design when it first came out, but it has aged really well. 2000 & 2003 also look good.

    10s – Nothing really stands out about 10; I always get 11 and 09 confused. 12 & 14 are fine – 13 is nice, but so many of the photos look like they have filters on them.
    I really liked 2015 when it came out – but it looks so dated now. 2016, on the other hand, is flat-out gorgeous. The full-photo card design is such a welcome innovation.
    2017 didn’t revolutionize the wheel. 2018 is probably the prettiest of the bunch – but it wasn’t as groundbreaking as 2016. I’m currently meh on 2019.

  49. Discovered this site while looking for 2019 info. Love all Topps 1952 thru 2015. 2016 thru 2018 don’t stand out as cards of individual players, just random action shots of random players. Hopefully, returning the borders in 2019 will somewhat correct this problem.

  50. THANK YOU TOPPS -(/:⚾️)
    Happy Birthday Baseball
    Love The Game
    Bravo !!!

  51. I’ve been collecting Topps for about 25 years. This years sets- 2019- was absolutely the worst ever. I even wrote the company and couldn’t even get a response.

  52. The 96 set has aged very well. Simple beautiful cards

  53. 1975 mostly due to me collecting hard that summer. I delivered papers to earn money for baseball cards. 1991 is particularly special as well. Topps 40th Anniversary set and I pulled 1968 Topps card #177 (Ryan Rookie) in the form of a redemption card.

  54. Never warmed up to the 2014. Just recently bought the factory set because it’s full of rookies and to my shock., The set as a whole is gorgeous. Most of the horizontal cards are striking.

  55. 1962 is the worst design, topps made up for that with 1987 design. pennant flags in 1965 don’t care for easy to do. 1982 is hockey design. 1990’s is lazy design decade. 2007 don’t need 4 colored squares in each corner, just a big squares or strip. borderless look don’t like at all. my favorites are 1963, 69 thru 72, 78, 2001 & 08. topps should bring back older designs with changes to front & back of cards, also no funky colors like in 1975 or the 1980’s.

  56. 96 was last half decent set. 2015 was cool. Tops died in the 80s

  57. And for me that is 1967. But those are great looking cards!

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