Sport Card Grading For Beginners

Looking to learn in ins and out of sport card grading, why grading is important and how you can get your cards graded?

If you’re new (or you’ve come back) to card collecting, you’ve probably seen card grades mentioned a bunch.

If you want to get the ultimate value for your cards, then you’ll need to get your cards graded. Just check this rookie Gary Payton card out. As a card it’s nothing special – it’s junk wax and an early 90s card, which means is pretty common and not that valuable.

Still, the card sells for over $50 when it’s graded. Not bad for a common card.

But, check out the prices on the same card without grading.


In this article, you’ll learn:

  1. What card grading is
  2. How to get your cards graded (and by who)
  3. When you should get your cards graded

Note: There’s a lot of advanced questions when it comes to card grading – but we’ll avoid them in this article. Instead, we’ll give a guide for beginners.

What is Sport Card Grading?

Sports card grading is when an external company looks at your cards and gives them a score on a relative scale from one to 10. This score dictates the quality of an individual card – the higher the number, the better the quality. 

  1. Centering
  2. Corners
  3. Edges
  4. Surfaces
  5. Autographs (if needed)

Once a card is graded, they’re given a serial number, a one-of-a-kind label, and put in a protective case.

Why Do Sports Cards Get Graded?

Back in the days before grading companies, there was a lot of alteration of cards. People would trim and re-color cards. This was especially common in the 70s and 80s.

Let’s explain it further with an example. Take Roger here…

*Actually, it was in the 70s – so let’s give Roger some sick bell-bottom pants. 


Guys like Roger could trim cards, touch-up cards, re-color cards, or even create counterfeit cards. He’d then try to pass these cards off as mint condition and original.

When Roger would go to card shows to sell cards, he could put a huge price-tag on fake cards and there was no way to officially tell if the card is fake or not. It would be up to the buyer to spot the difference.

Basically, it was super-easy for card collectors to be fooled – some would think the fake cards are legit and spend premium prices.

Roger, on the other hand, made enough quick cash to buy himslef a nice gold chain and get away before anyone notices.

So, with the rise in the popularity of cards, there became a need to create a standard of what warranted a good card. 

PSA were probably the first major player in the (we’ll talk more about different card grading companies later on) in the card-grading game.

The grading companies look for things like re-coloring, trimmed edges, and everytihng else that a scammer might to do make a few quick dollars.

This way, collectors can feel safer when they’re buying a car to know that it’s authentic and hasn’t has been altered.

Where to Get Sports Cards Graded

Like we mentioned above, PSA are one of the biggest card grading companies out there. Beckett Grading Services (BGS) and PSA are probably the “big two” and easily the most recognizable. Although. SGC are also somwhat popular.

Having said that though, if you’re buying graded cards, or looking to get your cards graded, BGS and PSA are the main companies.

What Are The Differences?

To be honest, there’s really no main difference between the two companies. They both rate the same things; Centering, Corners, Edges, and Surface. Each company grading gives you a good idea on your card’s value.

All the main companies give a rating of a scale from 1-10 too, which is handy.

However, BSG grades their scale with .5 grades, where PSA grades in whole numbers only. SGC use a 1-100 scale, but they use that to give a 1-10 rating anyway.

However, there is something important to know about gradings. 

The numbers don’t really line up equally. A Beckett 9.5 is usually on par with a PSA 10 when it comes to quality. 

A 10 in BSG is listed as PRISTINE, and is the white whale of card collecting. To get a PRISTINE 10 is super-rare and only a small percentage of cards make the cut. If your card gts a 10 it’s worth a whole lot more than a PSA 10 or a BSG 9.5.

Here is a list that has a breakdown of card grading scales:

  • Pristine = PRISTINE 10
  • Gem Mint = GEM-MT 9.5
  • Mint = MINT 9
  • NearMint/Mint + = NM-MT + 8.5
  • Near Mint/Mint = NM-MT 8
  • Near Mint + = NM + 7.5
  • Near Mint = NM 7
  • Excellent Mint + = EX-MT + 6.5
  • Excellent Mint = EX-MT 6
  • Excellent + = EX + 5.5
  • Excellent = EX 5
  • Very Good/Excellent + = VG-EX + 4.5
  • Very Good/Excellent = VG-EX 4
  • Very Good + = VG + 3.5
  • Very Good = VG 3
  • Good/Very Good = G-VG 2.5
  • Good = GOOD 2
  • Fair = FAIR 1.5
  • Poor = POOR 1

As you can see, both scales are similar – but with some key differences.

Which Company Should I Send My Card To?

This is really a matter of opinion. But it’s important to know these three things when making a decision:

  1. A PSA 10 is usually worth more than a BSG 9.5
  2. A BSG 10 is worth a lot more than a PSA 10
  3. A BSG 10 is incredibly hard to get

So, you need to ask yourself if it’s woth putting all your chips in hoping to get a PRISTINE 10.

See the source image

If your card makes the cut, it’ll be worth a bunch – if it doesn’t your card more likely be worth less than if it’s a PSA 10.

I’m a PSA guy, but there’s no real wrong anwer here – it depends on you and your cards.

How to Get Cards Graded

There are three ways you can get your cards graded:

  • Deal direct to the grading company
  • Use a supplier who wil send it for you
  • Get your cards graded in-person at shows

Here, we’ll go through all three ways.

Work Directly With the Company

The most common way to get your cards sent to work directly with the grading company. The big companies let you do most of it on thier website.

For example, if you’re going with PSA, head across to their submission page and make an account.


From there, all you’ll need to do is follow the prompts.

It’s very staightforward, and each company will have their own requirements when it comes to packaging and shipping your cards.

Working with a Card Store/Distibution Company

More oftan than not, you’ll find local card shops in your city can do a lot of the work for you. They can’t grade your cards, but they can do an awful lot more.

First, because card stores get thousands and thousands of cards graded every year, they have some negotiation power with the grading companies. This means that you’ll usually get a way better price and much quicker turnaround time. 

Some card stores will even do a pre-grading for you for free and see which cards of yours are woth grading and which ones aren’t. This is incredibly valuable as you don’t want to waste time and money just to get a crappy rating back from the grading company.

So, check local card stores in your area and see if they organize grading.

Getting Your Cards Graded in Person

The third and final main way to get your cards graded is to do it in-person at some card-shows.

The bigger card shows will have representatives from major grading companies and can get it done almost instantly. So, rather than waiting months for your cards to come back to you, you can get your rating on the same-day.

Although, there are a few downsides to getting your cards rated in person:

  1. It’s super-expensive to get your cards graded in-person
  2. The lines are long, so prepare to wait

Personally, the only reason I’d get cards graded in-person is if you need a rating ASAP. For example, if you have a card of a player who is doing incredibly well, but you think their price has hit it’s peak – it might be worth getting the grading done so you can flip it at the card show. 

How Much Does Sport Card Grading Cost?

Like most things when it comes to card grading, pricing can be pretty complicated depending on what you’re getting graded.

Most of the time though, the price you pay to get your cards graded will depend on these few things:

  1. How many cards you’re getting graded
  2. Who is grading your cards
  3. The desired turnaround time for card grading

Also, PSA has a pricing structure that relies on the value of your card.

This is different to Beckett, where the value of the card is irrelevant. The only thing that makes a difference with Beckett prices is the turnaround time.

Some prefer Beckett because of their pricing, because, as you can see, grading can be pretty expensive with PSA if you have expensive cards.

However, you’ll often make that money back (and then some) with the re-sale price. Besides, if you have a card that’s worth over $100k, you can probably afford the 5k to get it graded.

Then, you’ll need to add any shipping costs along with your order (most of the time, you pay shipping both ways).

And like we mentioned before, your price can be different if you work with a card store, or get your cards priced in person.

Should You Get Your Cards Graded?

So, now you know why it’s important to grade your cards, and you know how to do it. Now let’s look at what cards you should get graded.

Obviously, the cards you get graded is completely personal preference. Some like to get pretty much all of their cards graded so they know the card’s value. Others won’t get any graded.

Most will get a small percentage of their collection graded.

Here is a few important factors you might want to consider.

First thing is to only grade cards that you know will grade well. If you send a card away and it comes back as a PSA 8 or PSA 9, it’ll probably be worth the same amount as it would un-graded. So you’ll end up spending good money (and a lot of time) to get a card that’s worth no more, and sometimes even less, than it did before you sent. it.

Here are some basic checks to do on your cards to see how well you think they’ll grade:

  • Centering: Check the boarders of your card and make sure everything is printed in the center.
  • Corners: Arguably the most important thing is the corners of the card. Check front and back to make sure the color goes all the way to the edge and all corners are sharp.
  • Edges: In a similar way, double check all edges (front and back) to make sure they’re sharp. Some brands are pretty terrible with their edges and they’ll come out of the box looking less than average.
  • Surfaces: Are the scratches? Miss-prints? Is the color fading? Are their folds or creases? The surface of your card plays a huge role in the grade it’ll get back.

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider. And, there’s no guarentee that a brand-new out-of-the-box card will score a PSA 10. 

And as we mentioned above, some card stores will help you with checking your cards before sending them off to grading – if you’re only learning, that is a pretty solid strategy.

Bonus Tip: Looking to Buy a Graded Card? Try This Trick to See if Your Card is Legit

Remember how we mentioned at the start of this article that when your card gets graded it’ll recieve an ID number?

One cool bonus with buying graded cards is that you can double check databases to verify your card.

Take this RJ Barrett rookie card for example. It’s PSA 10 graded.

When PSA grade your card they give it a special label and serial number. This number will appear in the bottom right-hand corner of your card. 

You can go to the PSA website and there’s a form where you can enter the serial number and verify the number.

All you need to do is type that number in and click ‘verify’ and the information relating to that number will show up. 

As you can see, the corresponding information is for the RJ Barrett card I showed you!

This is a quick and effective way to make sure you’re not getting scammed by someone when shopping on ebay or other online marketplaces. 

Final Thoughts

Sports card grading is an important thing to know when you’re getting into collecting.

However, you’ll more than likely be able to get by knowing the basics mentioned in this post. Then, as you get more experience, you’ll pick up other little tips and tricks.



  • Vince

    I'm a big time sports nerd, with soccer being my first true love. I've been collecting sports cards since I was a little kid, and now... well, not much has changed, but I write about it... and I have facial hair.

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