Comprehensive Guide to Sports Card Grading for Collectors

The Art of Getting Your Cards Graded: A Guide for Novice Collectors

As a seasoned collector running Cullman Sportscards & Fun Shop, I often find myself fielding numerous queries from newcomers about the process and significance of grading their cards. With the rise in popularity of graded cards, colloquially known as “slabs,” and the potential increase in value that comes with higher grades, it becomes crucial to make informed decisions regarding which cards to grade and which grading service to opt for. In this article, I will share the advice I offer my customers, shedding light on the key considerations when venturing into the world of card grading.

The Importance of Value

It is essential to assess the value of your cards before considering grading them. Recently, a customer messaged us on our store’s Facebook account, seeking advice on the value of their card collection. After evaluating the collection, I appraised it to be worth approximately $25. The customer then inquired about which cards should be graded. I promptly clarified that unless they simply had a personal inclination to get a few of their favorite cards slabbed, it would be impractical to invest in grading fees. Current market rates for grading can range from $10 and upwards, making it financially unviable to grade inexpensive base cards that were previously sent for grading when fees were lower.

The Power of Close Examination

Graders evaluate cards based on four crucial factors: centering, corners, edges, and surface condition. While centering can be discerned at a glance, a more thorough assessment is required to evaluate corners and edges. In fact, a magnifying glass can prove invaluable in identifying even the slightest flaws that may determine the difference between a near mint, mint, or gem mint grade. Surface flaws, on the other hand, can be elusive and necessitate tilting the card to catch the light and reveal potential scratches or other issues that may impact the final grade.

Trusting Established Grading Companies

Over the years, as I have acquired collections for my store, I have encountered slabs from various companies that have since faded into obscurity, with even their supposedly “gem mint” graded cards failing to command significantly higher prices than their ungraded counterparts. When selecting a grading company, it is crucial to prioritize those with a proven track record. While newer companies may offer attractive features, such as color coding on their labels, it becomes a gamble if they lack staying power in the industry. One such example is HGA, which gained popularity for its color matching labels but has seen a decline in favor, prompting a temporary halt in new submissions.

For reliable grading services, consider these four established companies: Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), Beckett Grading Service (BGS), Sportscard Guaranty Corporation (SGC), and Certified Sports Guaranty (CSG). PSA, BGS, and SGC have stood the test of time, having been trusted names in the industry for decades, while CSG, although newer, benefits from the expertise of a company with a rich heritage in grading coins and comics.

Grading Costs and Options

It is important to be aware that grading costs have surged due to the soaring popularity of slabs. A backlog of millions of cards has led PSA to temporarily suspend its low-tiered services, resulting in a steep fee of $100 per card for most grading options. Therefore, it is advisable to reserve such a hefty expenditure for only the most exceptional cards in your collection. As an alternative, CSG currently offers a more affordable option at $20 per card or a discounted rate of $12 per card for orders comprising a minimum of 50 cards.


Grading cards can be an exciting venture for collectors seeking to enhance the value and authenticity of their cherished pieces. However, it is crucial to exercise discretion when selecting cards for grading and opt for reputable grading companies that have stood the test of time. Remember to evaluate the value of your cards, closely inspect their condition, and consider the cost implications before embarking on the grading journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I grade any type of card?

Yes, you can grade various types of cards, including sports cards, trading cards, and even collectible card games. However, it is important to consider the value and demand for a particular card before opting for grading.

2. Are graded cards more valuable?

Graded cards often command higher prices due to the enhanced assurance of their condition, authenticity, and level of preservation. However, it is crucial to assess the grading fees and potential resale value of a card before investing in grading.

3. Are there any risks associated with grading cards?

While grading provides several benefits, including increased value and protection, there are inherent risks. These include the potential for subjective grading opinions, damage during the grading process, and the possibility of a lower grade than anticipated, which may impact the card’s value.

4. Can I crack open a graded card?

Once a card is encapsulated in a slab, it is typically sealed for protection. However, it is possible to “crack” open the slab, removing the card from its case. This step should be undertaken with caution, as it may irreversibly damage the card or diminish its value.

5. Should I grade all the cards in my collection?

Grading can be a costly process, so it is essential to carefully select the cards that are worthy of grading. Factors such as rarity, age, condition, and demand should be considered when deciding which cards to submit for grading.

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

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