How to Grade Your Sports Cards

The condition of a card has a huge impact on what it’s worth. A card that has been professionally graded at a 10 is worth many times more than a graded card at 3.5. Some imperfections in the card may be obvious, a rounded corner or a crease in the card. Other issues take a years of experience and a trained eye to pick up on. This article covers the basics… centering, corners, surface, and edges. 

It’s important to have a common grading scale so buyers and sellers are on the same page in terms of what condition the card is in. Unfortunately there is not a common standard for grading cards, but most people choose the PSA 1-10 scale. I’ll cover the PSA grading scale in this article.

What to look for when grading a card

Creases
If you bend a card too much,  it’ll fold and cause permanent damage to the cardboard. The damage from a crease can vary. In best cases, they are an undetectable faint line. On the other hand, creases can be so heavy that they cause some of the card’s image to flake off. The heavier the crease, the less it’s worth. Creases in modern cards affect the value more than with vintage cards, but not much.

Rounded or Fuzzy Corners
Ideally the corners of a card will be perfectly sharp with no damage whatsoever. From there, it ranges from fuzzy corners to completely rounded corners. The more rounded the corners, the less it’s worth.

Centering
Cards are printed in sheets and then cut into individual cards. Because of this, they’re not always cut perfectly in between the cards. This results in the image being slightly off-center. Sometimes the cards are so badly cut that the border is completely missing and the image is cut off. This is called a mis-cut. The more off-center the card is, the less it’s worth.

Diagram showing card offsets

Surface Damage
There’s a wide variety of surface damage that can affect a cards value. Some of these defects can be hard to detect unless you have the right lighting and look at the card at the right angle. Surface damage can take the form of scuffing of the surface, indentations marks, scratches, gum marks, stains, pencil marks or anything else that compromises the surface of the card.

Edges
The edges on a mint card are sharp. There’s no fuzziness, no marks or indentations, and no chipping or surface imperfections along the edge.

Size
Dishonest card dealers have been known to cut the sides of the cards down a bit in an effort to eliminate imperfections like bad edges, bad corners, or bad centering. A card cut down a few millimeters might not be noticeable to the average collector, but a grading service will catch such imperfections, and with a good eye, you can too. Compare the card size to other cards from that year’s set, they should be identical in size.  Also, look for differences in edge quality which might indicate one or two sides have been trimmed and look “fresher” than the other sides.

The PSA Scale

GEM-MT 10 (Gem Mint)
CenteringMust be at least 55/45 to 60/40 on the front, 75/25 on the back
Corners4 perfectly sharp corners
CreasesNone
PicturePerfect color
SurfaceFull gloss, no stains
MINT 9 (Mint)
CenteringMust be at least 60/40 to 65/35 on the front, 90/10 on the back
Corners4 perfectly sharp corners
CreasesNone
PictureSlightly off-white borders.
SurfaceVery slight wax stain on the back, minor printing imperfection.
NM-MT 8 (Near Mint-Mint)
CenteringMust be at least 65/35 to 70/30 on the front, 90/10 on the back
CornersSlight fraying on one or two corners
CreasesNone
PictureSlightly off-white borders.
SurfaceVery slight wax stain on the back, minor printing imperfection.
NM 7 (Near Mint)
CenteringMust be at least 70/30 to 75/25 on the front, 90/10 on the back
CornersSlight fraying on some corners
CreasesNone
PictureMay be slightly out of register
SurfaceSlight surface damage, minor printing blemish, slight wax stain on the back, most of the gloss is still there
EX-MT 6 (Excellent-Mint)
CenteringMust be at least 80/20 on the front, 90/10 on the back
CornersSlight fraying on some corners
CreasesNone
PictureMay be slightly out of register. May have borders that are off-white.
SurfaceVisible surface wear or printing defect. A very light scratch. Some loss of gloss. Minor wax stains on back. May have slight notching on edges.
EX 5 (Excellent)
CenteringMust be at least 85/15 on the front, 90/10 on the back
CornersMinor rounding
CreasesNone
PictureMay be slightly out of register. May have borders that are off-white.
SurfaceVisible surface wear or printing defects are visible. Minor chipping on edges. Loss of gloss is apparent. Several light scratches visible upon close inspection.
VG-EX 4 (Very Good-Excellent)
CenteringMust be at least 85/15 on the front, 90/10 on the back
CornersSlightly rounded
CreasesNone
PictureMay be slightly out of register. May have borders that are off-white.
SurfaceWear noticeable but modest. Light scuffing or light scratches. Some gloss left on the card. Light crease may be visible.
VG 3 (Very Good)
CenteringMust be at least 90/10 on front and back.
CornersSome rounding, but not extreme.
CreasesMay have a visible crease.
PictureMay be slightly out of register. Borders may be yellowed or discolored.
SurfaceWear will be apparent. Light scuffing or light scratches. Focus slightly off-register. Edges may have noticeable wear. Much of the gloss is gone. Printing defects are possible. May have a slight stain. May have a wax stain on reverse.
GOOD 2 (Good)
CenteringMust be at least 90/10 on the front and back.
CornersAccelerated rounding.
CreasesMay have a visible crease.
PictureShows considerable discoloration.
SurfaceWear is obvious. May have scratching, scuffing, light staining, or chipping. May have several creases. Gloss may be absent.
FR 1.5 (Fair)
CenteringMust be at least 90/10 on the front and back.
CornersShow extreme wear, possibly effecting framing of the picture, but can’t be missing a piece of the corner.
CreasesMay have one or more heavy creases, but can’t be missing any pieces of the card.
PictureQuite out of register, borders may be brown or dirty.
SurfaceShows scuffing, scratching, pitting, chipping, and staining.
PR 1 (Poor)
CenteringMust be at least 90/10 on the front and back.
CornersShows extreme wear, possibly effecting framing of the picture, possibly missing a piece of the corner.
CreasesMajor creasing that nearly breaks through all layers of the cardboard. Noticeable warping or other destructive defect.
PictureExtreme discoloration or dirtiness throughout.
SurfaceMay be missing one or two small pieces.

5 thoughts on “How to Grade Your Sports Cards”

  1. We have a box from leaf distrubutors of we believe to be 1990 baseball cards. Unopened. Don’t know what is in it.

  2. Hi Danny! You should try searching for your cards using Mavin. Go to our homepage and search for your card in the search bar. Use the checkboxes to pick the cards most like yours and we give you the average price! Let us know how it works for you!

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