The Ultimate Sports Card Grading Guide: Everything You Need To Know

Collectible cards are clearly getting hotter right now and growing hugely in popularity. Just look at the year soccer cards had in 2020 for example!

With all this growing hype, plenty of new collectors or enthusiasts are looking to grade their rare cards… and there’s plenty of reasons why that’s a good idea – it protects and preserves the card but also massively increases the value in most cases. 

So here is everything you need to know about sports card grading for beginners.

What Is Card Grading?

Card grading is the process of having a ‘raw’ trading card inspected by a professional/expert grader who typically gives it a score from 1-10 based on its condition. The card will then be carefully encased in a hard plastic cover with its details and grade at the top.

PSA graded 2003 Panini Mega Craques Cristiano Ronaldo soccer card

The card’s condition is judged on a few different areas:

  • The surface is assessed for coloring and any scratches, scuffs, dents, lines or tears.
  • The corners and edging are looked at for any whitening, discoloration and scuffs as well as the corner symmetry.
  • Centering of the card’s artwork is evaluated as well – the symmetry of the edges is measured on the front and back.

What Is A Raw Card?

A ‘raw’ card is essentially a non-graded card. They’re usually lower in value because the condition of the card hasn’t been professionally evaluated… the described condition would be the opinion or prediction of the cardholder.

Who Grades Sports Cards?

There’s 2 main players when it comes to grading cards. PSA and Beckett. 

There are alternatives that you can use, but these two are the most recognized graders currently.

Their grading systems are slightly different – PSA has a simple 1 – 10 which ranges from ‘poor’ to ‘gem mint’. 

Beckett has a more detailed scale – it ranges from 1 ‘poor’ to 10 ‘pristine’ with 9.5 being PSA’s ‘gem mint’ equivalent. They also have sub-grades based on surface, corners, edges and centering with a ‘black label pristine 10’ being awarded to cards that score 10 in all 4 sub-grades. 

How Do You Get Sports Cards Graded?

So if you have some cards you would like to get graded, how do you go about doing that?

Well first it’s a case of picking the grading company you want to go with… as I’ve said above, the typical choices are PSA and Beckett.

Once you’ve decided who to go with, visit their website and start the submission process.

For PSA it can be started here and for Beckett it’s here.

There are different services to choose from based on the value of the card and the time it takes to grade, for example PSA offers 6 different options: value, economy, regular, express, super-express and walk-through – details and pricing are made clear during the submission process.

You also need to prepare the card for submission. I’d recommend putting the card carefully into a card sleeve and then a semi-rigid card holder – it’s a good idea to stick an index tag to the card sleeve before putting it into the card holder so it can be removed for grading much easier! I’ve published a full article on how to safely ship your cards in the mail.

How Long Will It Take To Grade Cards?

The wait to get cards graded is dependent on demand. It’s been a crazy 12 months for collectible cards and wait times have got significantly longer. 

The demand for card grading right now means you’re looking at 6-12 months minimum to complete the process if picking the standard service, at the time of writing. There’s usually an updated turnaround time estimate you can check on the grading websites.

The current wait times are crazy, I know… but grading companies are working on increasing resources to reduce wait times. The wait time shouldn’t be an issue either way, the value of your cards are likely to increase while you wait anyway!

If turnaround time is important to you, then there’s grading service options that will be a lot faster than PSA, for example, but the grade probably won’t hold the same weight or value that a PSA grading does, so consider that factor when looking at the alternative grading companies.

Should I Get My Sports Card Graded?

The cost of grading a sport card seems to be increasing quite regularly recently due to the sheer volume of submissions – PSA almost doubled prices for all their card grading services recently.

Graded cards are generally worth more than raw cards as their condition has been analyzed and authenticated by an expert, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should get every trading card you own graded.

As I’ve just mentioned, grading isn’t getting any cheaper… it costs money. If you’re a collector who wants specific graded cards in your collection, then sure, go ahead and get them graded – But if you’re grading sports cards because you want to add value to then sell them for profit, you have to decide whether it’s worth it.

Firstly, try and estimate what you’d expect the card to be graded at based on the areas I mentioned above – I’d always recommend to be conservative when estimating a card’s grade as It’s likely you’ll be over generous.

Once you have a rough estimate, search the current population report of that graded card – if there’s a huge supply of it already, then it’s less likely to hold value. I would then check the current value of the card in the grade you’re expecting (I’d also check one grade up and one grade down) using eBay’s completed and sold items filter or PSA auction prices.

Once you’ve done that research, you can consider if the cost of grading (as well as the wait time) is worth it… in other words, does grading the card you own increase the value enough to make it worthwhile?

Can You Get A Sports Card Graded In-Person?

You can get cards graded in person, but it’s worth noting it can be very expensive. It also depends on where you live in the US.

PSA, for example, offers a ‘walk-through’ service which starts at $600 per card (at the time of writing this – check PSA’s current prices here).

They also host occasional shows where in-person grading can be done. 

There’s obviously the benefit of getting your card graded a lot quicker with walk-ins… and you don’t need to worry about any issues with the card being shipped.

It’s worth contacting your chosen grading company’s customer service team as a first step if you need a card graded in-person.

How To Grade Cards In Europe

The biggest and most popular grading services are all based in the US, so it’s not as easy to get your cards graded if you live in Europe.

However, you can still submit your cards to PSA, BGS or any of the other major companies, as you would if you lived in the US – you just have to expect longer turnaround times, because you’ll need to ship the cards over.

At the moment, the major grading companies haven’t really expanded overseas and so there’s not currently the option for collectors based in Europe to ship locally.

It’s important to correctly protect your cards if you’re shipping overseas to avoid damage, and I would also recommend spending a little extra to ensure your cards are tracked and insured when you ship them.