How to Grade Cards: A Reseller's Guide

And why it's worth doing

How to Grade Cards Reseller

Key Points

  • Grading is an integral part of card collecting and reselling

  • Getting a 10 can dramatically boost the value of your cards

  • If you plan to sell cards for a profit, you’ll need to get familiar with grading

If you’re even slightly familiar with card collecting, you’ve probably heard of grading. It’s a way for collectors and sellers to have an understanding of a card’s value and rarity, and has been common practice for years. If you’re not sure when or why you should be sending cards to be graded, or you want to learn some tips and tricks when it comes to card grading, sit tight. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Card Grading?

Before we go any further, let’s cover the basics. When we say “grading” we’re referring to the practice of submitting your cards to a professional grading house to receive a grade.

Grading is an objective process. Card graders follow specific guidelines when evaluating cards, and assign them a score based on how they adhere to these metrics. Almost all cards are graded along a 10 point scale, with 10 being the highest.

Cards are graded on their centering, corners, edges, and surface. Centering refers to how well the image on the card is centered on its margins, while corners and edges refer to the condition of the respective parts. Damage, nicks, creases, and folds will all be counted here.

Card Centering Guidelines

These numbers are percentages. 50/50 would be a perfectly centered card

Surface refers to how the card’s material surface is applied. All cards have a surface, from the standard clear to rarer examples like a holographic or foil treatment. Uneven surface applications, damage, or discolorations can affect a card’s surface grade.

For collectors and resellers, most sales worth talking about will be cards graded at 10, 9, or 8. There are examples of cards with a worse grade selling for notable amounts, but for new and undamaged cards, it’s the ones at the top of the scale that will be setting record prices.

It also costs money to have a card graded. This usually isn’t an incredible sum and there ware ways to reduce the cost, but you have to factor in the shipping and handling fees as well as the grading fee when sending in a card to be graded.

Where should I send my cards for grading?

When you’re choosing between grading houses, you’ll probably be choosing between either Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) or Beckett Collectibles. Both companies are popular choices for grading a wide variety of collectible cards, from baseball to Pokemon.

The main difference between PSA and Beckett is their approach to grading. Beckett is a bit tougher to impress, and they also offer subgrades for the four characteristics of card quality. Beckett also offers a “black label” treatment for cards that receive a perfect 10 on all four subgrades. Black label Becketts are exceedingly rare, and can be very valuable.

Beckett Black Label Card

PSA and Beckett have fairly similar pricing. The key difference is that PSA pricing will scale according to the declared value of cards, with more expensive cards costing more to be graded. Both services offer bulk grading, with PSA’s bulk price of $15 per card beating out Beckett’s $18.

Why Should I Grade a Card?

Great question. Maybe you’re a casual collector who just wants to keep your cards on your shelf. Maybe you just want to sell a card, and don’t know why you it’s your responsibility to have it graded.

The main reason to have card graded is that it establishes its value. When selling a card, especially online, buyers have limited information to evaluate the card. They can look at the pictures, but how can they be certain about the card’s quality?

When they see that your card has been graded as a 10 or a 9 or whatever you get for it, they know exactly what that means, and they can get a pretty good idea of what it’s worth. They can check what the market is for that card and how much they should expect to pay, and the seller knows what they can reasonably ask for it.

Having your cards graded can dramatically raise their value. For certain cards, a 10 can resell for hundreds, even thousands of dollars more than a 9. An ungraded, or “raw” card will almost never sell for a significant amount.

PSA 10 Price Comparison

Check the differences in value between PSA 10, 9.5, and ungraded cards

If you want to sell your cards for any serious amount of money, you’re going to need to get familiar with grading. There ae situations where it’s possible to sell raw cards for a profit (we’ll get to those in a bit), but almost all sales will be a graded card.

How Can I Tell a Card is Worth Grading?

Another great question. The answer is both pretty simple and pretty complicated. If you’re a reseller, you should be sending cards to get graded if you think they’ll get a good grade. What that typically boils down to is giving the card a good eyeball and checking for defects.

Both PSA and Beckett publish their grading guidelines, and you should generally be giving those a look before sending anything in to a professional. You can even buy a centering tool to give you an idea of how your card will be graded.

PSA’s website publishes their exact criteria for grading cards

These grading houses also publish population statistics for all the cards that they grade. These stats include the number of cards submitted and the grades they’ve received. You can use this information to gauge the market for a particular card.

Every card run is unique, and there’s a ton of idiosyncrasies. Printings vary wildly in quality, with some runs being uniformly perfect and others being full of errors and misprints. Generally newer prints have pretty good quality control, but there are always exceptions.

Let’s take the 2016 Pokemon XY Evolutions set. According to PSA’s population report, around 40% or so of all cards submitted for grading would receive a 10, and many more would get 9s.

However, the holographic Charizard cards from this set had serious QC issues. Out of the 19,116 cards submitted since 2016, just 496 have received a PSA 10 grade. That’s under 3% of the total cards sent in.

Why You Should Grade Cards

As a result, PSA 10 holographic Charizard cards commanded a massive premium in price. We showed these earlier, and it’s a great example of how grading can impact a card’s value.

There’s a ton of different factors that can impact the value of card. Holographic or foil treatments, print quality, collector interest, and scarcity are things you should consider. You’ll want to give your cards a good examination before sending them in to be graded. While collectors are still wiling to pay for 9s, 8s, and even a few 7s, you’ll want to focus on your best cards.

When should I sell raw cards?

With all this talk about grading, you might be wondering if there are ever times where it’s worth skipping the process entirely and just selling the cards raw.

Generally if a card is worth selling, it’s worth grading, but there are exceptions. You’ll almost always be relying on hype for these types of cards. New releases, sold out cards, and lots of buyers fighting for a card.

One great example of raw cards reselling was the recent Van Gogh Pikachu cards. We covered these in an article of their own, but the TL;DR is that these cards were a promotion for the Van Gogh X Pokemon exhibit in Amsterdam.

The cards were massively popular, and eBay was flooded with listings for them. Resellers that snagged them were able to flip them for hundreds of dollars quite easily.

Those are ungraded cards selling for $500

People wanted these cards, and they wanted them fast. Resellers were actually better off skipping the lengthy grading process and listing them ASAP to capitalize on the wave of hype.

There are other examples where this kind of strategy can work, but it will almost always rely on some sort of limited release with a ton of demand around it. For almost all other cards, patience and getting them graded is the path to the most profit.

That’s all for today. If you want to learn more about reselling, and get the latest tips on what’s worth flipping, subscribe to our newsletter! No matter what you’re interested in, from cars to cards, we’ve got you covered.

Get posts like these in your inbox.

Monthly digest of the best of Resell Calendar.

Pounce on resell opportunities before they sell out.

Get the details

Subscribe to Newsletter

A monthly digest of the best of Resell Calendar.