The 2023 State of Card Grading Report
We surveyed hundreds of card collectors and dealers to find out what they think about the art and business of card grading.
In case you're new to card grading, we'll start off by explaining how card grading works. If you're already familiar, feel free to jump to the survey results.
What is card grading?
Card grading is the process of examining various types of collectible cards to assess their authenticity and condition. Grading is most commonly performed on trading cards like sports cards (e.g., baseball, basketball, football, hockey), trading card games (e.g., Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!), and non-sports cards (e.g., movie or pop culture cards). The end purpose of card grading is to assess and assign a numerical grade or rating, typically 1-10, to a card's condition, which can significantly affect its value in the collector's market.
How are cards graded?
Card grading is a meticulous process carried out by professional grading companies or organizations specializing in the evaluation of collectible cards. While the exact details of the grading process can vary slightly between grading companies, the general steps involved in grading a card are as follows:
- Submission: Collectors or card owners send their cards to the grading company. Typically, this involves filling out a submission form, providing details about the cards, paying a fee for each card being graded, and finally shipping the cards themselves to the grading company.
- Authentication: The first step in the grading process is to ensure that the card is genuine and not a counterfeit or reproduction. Graders check for authenticity using various methods, such as comparing the card to known authentic examples, examining security features (e.g., holograms or watermarks), and scrutinizing printing details.
Visual Examination: Trained and certified graders (and in some cases artificial intelligence) carefully inspect the card's physical condition. They look for various factors that can affect the card's overall grade, including:
- Centering Graders evaluate how well the image on the card is centered within the borders.
- Corners The condition of the card's corners is assessed for signs of wear, bending, or damage.
- Edges The edges of the card are checked for any chipping, roughness, or imperfections.
- Autographs Cards with an autograph receive an extra level of inspection to verify the authenticity, legibility, line consistency, and ink quality of the signature.
- Surface Quality The front and back of the card are examined for scratches, creases, print defects, stains, or any other blemishes.
- Print Quality Any printing flaws or irregularities, such as off-centering in the print or ink smudges, are noted.
- Color and Gloss The quality and consistency of the card's colors and glossiness are assessed.
- Assigning a Grade: Based on the examination, the grader assigns a numerical grade to the card using a standardized grading scale. As mentioned earlier, the grading scale typically ranges from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest grade (e.g., Gem Mint). The assigned grade reflects the card's overall condition and is meant to provide a consistent and objective assessment.
- Encapsulation: After grading, the card is sealed within a protective, typically tamper-evident plastic case or holder. This process preserves the card's condition and prevents further deterioration. The case also includes a label that displays the card's grade, certification number, and other relevant information.
- Certification: The grading company provides a certification number and documentation for the graded card. This information is recorded in the company's database and can be used by collectors and buyers to verify the card's authenticity and grade.
- Return: Once the grading process is complete, the card is returned to the owner, who can choose to keep it in the graded holder or sell it. Highly-graded cards often command premium prices in the collector's market due to the assurance of their condition.
How much does card grading cost?
The cost of card grading varies between companies and is typically based on a number of factors including desired turnaround time and estimated card value. The base grading fee ranges from around $10 to $39 per card for standard service. However, for high-value cards or expedited services, the fee can be significantly higher.
- Value-Based Fees: Some grading companies adjust their fees based on the estimated value of the card. For example, if you submit a card that is expected to be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, you might pay a higher grading fee as a percentage of the card's value.
- Service Levels: Grading companies often offer different service levels with varying turnaround times. Faster services, such as "express" or "super express," usually cost more than standard or economy services. Prices for expedited services can range from $50 to several hundred dollars or more per card.
- Additional Services: Some grading companies offer optional services, such as reholdering, crossover grading (if you want to have a card regraded by a different company), or autograph authentication. Each of these services may come with its own fee.
- Membership: Some grading companies offer membership programs that can provide discounts on grading fees, priority submission, and other benefits. These memberships typically require an annual fee.
Who are the most trusted card grading companies?
There are currently over 25 card grading companies in the United States alone. The 10 widely regarded as the most trusted based on grading accuracy are Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), Sportscard Guaranty Corporation (SGC), Beckett Grading Services (BGS), Certified Sports Guaranty (CSG), Hybrid Grading Approach (HGA), International Sports Authentication (ISA), Technical Authentication & Grading (TAG), Arena Club, Rare Edition, and Edge Grading.
Does having cards graded add value?
Having trading cards graded by a reputable grading company can potentially add value to the cards, but it depends on several factors, including the card's rarity, condition, and the grading company's reputation. There are many examples of Gem Mint-graded cards that have sold for over 10x the value of an identical ungraded (raw) card.
Most Collected Sport:
# of cards graded in past 2 years:
Vintage grading (-1980):
Takeaways: It's very interesting to see the growth of TCG over the past few years. In fact, the largest grading company, PSA, now grades more TCG cards per month than all sports combined!