Blog

How to Grade Sports Cards Before Sending to BGS, PSA, SGC for Grading

Sports Card Grading – How to Grade Sports Cards Before Sending to BGS, PSA, SGC for Grading

I will start off and say to NOT send in a bunch of cards for grading without first reading this guide, the sites of the grading companies, and ebay completed sports card sales.

Types of Cards to Grade – I would limit modern card grading to rookie cards of star players. Preferably higher value rookie cards. You will lose money grading a card for $15 that is only worth $15 in gem mint conditon. Modern cards generall need to receive a gem mint 9.5/10 grade ot increase the value. It is assumed that most modern cards come out of the pack in mint 9 condition. Higher end cards may have a slight premium in mint 9 conditon. Many vintage cards can be graded  as even low grade commons from some sets can have value. Vintage cards in grade 1 can even have value as the grading provides assurance that the card is authentic and not altered/cut/trimmed. The easiest indicator of value is to check complete ebay auction listings for the card in the same or similar condition.

Cost of Grading – The cost of grading can be a significant factor in grading your cards. Generally the cost to grade will be somewhere between $15-$25 per card when including grading fees, shipping, and insurance. Grading companies often go to card shows which can reduce this cost or speed up the processing time. Grading very expensive cards will cost significantly more than the typical $15-$25.

Reviewing Your Cards Before Submission – You should grade your cards based on the grading standards befoee you submit them. Check the centering, corners, edges, and surface before submission. You should have a good idea of the cards condition before you send it in. Look up the value of the card in that condition and analyze the cost of grading before sending the card in. A sports cards biggest flaw will have significant influence on its final grade. Grading companies review 4 major parts of the card for condition – centering, corners, edges, and surface. An explanation of the grading standards and comparisons on each element of a cards overall grade is described below.

Grading Standards

Centering – Centering is the only grading standard that has a mathematical value to it. It is the percentage of the border on each side (e.g left side vs. right side). For example a 60/40 card could be 60% of the border on the top and 40% of the border on the bottom. Centering is something you can clearly see on an online scan.  Generally cards that are off center are valued less than those off center. BGS has higher minimum requirements for certaining at the higher grade levels. PSA is more lenient on centering for high grade cards. PSA also has an off center qualifier for cards that have all charactestics of a higher grade card except for centering. These are marked as “OC” (e.g. PSA 8 OC). Comparison of the two companies centering guidelines is below. A more detailed description and analysis of PSA and BGS centering standards can be found below.

BGS vs PSA Centering

BGS Grade BGS Comment PSA Grade PSA Comment
9.5 – GEM MINT Centering must be approximately 50/50 one way, 55/45 other way on front 60/40 on back. 10 – GEM MINT 60/40 percent on the front, 75/25 on back
9 – MINT Centering must be approximately 55/45 on front; 70/30 on back. 9 – MINT Centering must be approximately 65/35 on front 90/10 on back
8 – NMT-MT Centering must be approximately 60/40 on front; 80/20 on back. 8 – NMT-MT Centering must be approximately 70/30 on front, 90/10 on back
7  -NMT Centering must be approximately 65/35 on front; 90/10 on back. 7  -NMT Centering  75/25 on the front 90/10 on the back.
6 – EX-MT Centering must be approximately 70/30 on front; 90/10 on back 6 – EX-MT Centering of 80/20 on front, 90/10 on back
5 – EX Centering must be approximately 75/25 on front; 95/5 on back 5 – EX Centering of 85/15 on front, 90/10 on back for both grades. A very off centered card.
4 – VG-EX Centering must be approximately 80/20 on front; any centering on back 4 – VG-EX Centering of 85/15 on front, 90/10 on back for both grades. A very off centered card.
3 – VG Centering must be approximately 85/15 on front; any centering on back. 3 – VG Centering of 90/10 or better for both grades. This is an extremely off centered card.
2 – G Centering must be approximately 90/10 on front; any centering on back 2 – G Centering of 90/10 or better for both grades. This is an extremely off centered card.
1 – P The lowest grade for an unaltered authentic card. Any centering is allowed 1 – P The lowest grade for an unaltered authentic card. Any centering is allowed

Corners -Four sharp corners is the general mint standard for sports cards. A slight imperfection on one corner moves you down the grading scale. Multiple corner problems or more sever corner damage moves you even further down. Lower graded cards will have rounded corners in increasing severities. A more detailed description and analysis of PSA and BGS corners standards can be found below.

BGS vs PSA Grading Analysis of Corners

BGS Grade BGS Comment PSA Grade PSA Comment
9.5 – GEM MINT Sharp corners to naked eye, slight imperfection under magnification 10 4 Perfectly sharp corners
9 – MINT Mint to naked eye. Speck of corner wear under intense scrutiny. 9 – MINT Sharp corners
8 – NMT-MT Slight imperfection under close examination. 8 – NMT-MT Slight fraying of corner.
7  -NMT Minor wear on 2 or 3 corners. 7  -NMT Slight fraying of multiple corners
6 – EX-MT Fuzzy corners. 6 – EX-MT Graduating fraying.
5 – EX 4 Fuzzy corners. Touch of notching or minor ding. 5 – EX Minor rounding of corners
4 – VG-EX Moderate dings. Slight notching/layering. 4 – VG-EX Slightly rounded corners
3 – VG Slightly rounded/notched corners. Noticeable notching/layering. 3 – VG Rounding of corners
2 – G Noticeable rounded corners. Moderate layering. 2 – G Accelerated rounding
1 – P Heavily rounded corners. Noticeable layering. 1 – P Extreme wear possibly impacting frame of picture

Edges – The edges or border of a card can be another problem area. Mint edges should be smooth with no chipping. Slightly off-white borders or very slight specks of chipping are the next level down. Lower graded cards show an increase in the amount of chipping, layering, and discoloring of borders/edges. The printing process of older cards often cause the cards to have some chipping. Lower graded cards will have these problems in increasing numbers and severities. A more detailed description and analysis of PSA and BGS edges standards can be found below.

BGS vs PSA Comparison of Edges

BGS Grade BGS Comment PSA Grade PSA Comment
9.5 – GEM MINT Mint to naked eye. Speck of wear under intense scrutiny. 10 Mint edges
9 – MINT Mint to naked eye. Unobtrusive chipping on borders 9 – MINT Slightly off white borders
8 – NMT-MT Smooth borders. Visible specks of chipping. 8 – NMT-MT Nothing noted. Assume slightly worse edges than grade 9
7  -NMT Slight roughness, minor chipping. 7  -NMT Nothing noted. Assume slightly worse edges than grade 8
6 – EX-MT Moderate roughness, chipping. 6 – EX-MT Slightly notching, off-white borders
5 – EX Noticeable roughness. Very slight notching or noticeable chipping. 5 – EX Minor chipping, off-white borders.
4 – VG-EX Readily chipped/notched and/or slightly layered. 4 – VG-EX Borders slightly off-white
3 – VG Heavy chipping, notching, moderate layering. 3 – VG Yellow or discolored borders.
2 – G Severely chipped, notched, or layered. 2 – G Considerable discoloration
1 – P Destructive chipping, notching, or layering. 1 – P Extreme discoloration

 

Surface – Surface is perhaps the most overlooked part of reviewing a card’s condition. Surface is also the most difficult thing to see in an online scan. Sometimes imperfections can only be seen under different angles and lighting conditions.  Surface flaws can be from the printing process itself, from the wax pack seal, or collector abuse. Both BGS and PSA provide detail descriptions on what to look for in regards to surface. You can encouter manufacturing print defects such as print dots, metallic print lines (chrome cards), wax or gum stains, and color and focus imperfections. The surface can also have scratches, slight scuffing, creases. Lower graded cards will have these problems in increasing numbers and severities. PSA also has a print dot or mark qualifier for cards that have all charactestics of a higher grade card except for surface. These are marked as “MK” or “PD” (e.g. PSA 8 MK). A more detailed description and analysis of PSA and BGS surface standards can be found below.

BGS vs PSA Grading Comparison of Surface

 

BGS Grade BGS Comment PSA Grade PSA Comment
9.5 – GEM MINT Extremely minor print spots, under intense scrutiny. Deep color, devoid of registration or focus imperfections. Perfect gloss, devoid of scratches and metallic print lines 10 Sharp focus and full original gloss. No staining. Slight printing imperfection, if it doesn’t impair the overall appeal of the card.

 

9 – MINT A handful of printing specks or one minor spot. Very minor focus or color imperfections. Clean gloss with one or two tiny scratches barely noticeable to the naked eye. One faint, unobtrusive metallic print line is allowed. 9 – MINT Very slight wax stain on reverse, a minor printing imperfection.
8 – NMT-MT A few minor print spots. Very minor color or focus imperfections. Solid gloss with very minor scratches detectable only upon close inspection. Or a subtle metallic print line.

 

8 – NMT-MT Very slight wax stain on reverse, a minor printing imperfection
7  -NMT A few noticeable print spots or minor speckling is allowed. Minor color or focus imperfections. Very minor border discoloration. A very minor wax stain on back. Solid gloss with a few minor scratches detectable upon close inspection. A few metallic print lines.

 

7  -NMT Picture focus may be slightly out-of-register. A minor printing blemish is acceptable. Slight wax staining is acceptable on the back of the card only. Most of the original gloss is retained.

 

6 – EX-MT Noticeable print spots. Minor color or focus imperfections. Minor border discoloration and color or focus imperfections. Minor wax stains or extremely subtle ink marks. Relatively solid gloss with minor scratches, but devoid of scuffing. Noticeable metallic print lines.

 

6 – EX-MT Visible surface wear or a printing defect which does not detract from its overall appeal.

Surface – A very light scratch may be detected only upon close inspection. Corners may have slightly graduated fraying. Picture focus may be slightly out-of-register. Card may show some loss of original gloss, may have minor wax stain on reverse,

 

5 – EX Surface: Noticeable print spots. Minor color or focus imperfections. Minor border discoloration. Minor wax stains or very light ink mark. Some gloss lost from surface with minor scratches, but devoid of scuffing.

 

5 – EX Surface wear or printing defects are more visible. Loss of original gloss will be more apparent. Focus of picture may be slightly out-of-register. Several light scratches may be visible upon close inspection, but do not detract from the appeal of the card.

 

 

4 – VG-EX Heavy print spots. Hairline creases. Moderate color or focus imperfections. Moderate border discoloration. Moderate wax stains. Very light ink mark or tape stain. A good deal of gloss lost from surface. Very minor scuffing or an extremely subtle tear in the form of a touch of broken surface paper. 4 – VG-EX Surface wear is noticeable but modest. The card may have light scuffing or light scratches. Some original gloss will be retained. A light crease may be visible.

 

3 – VG Heavy print spots. Very minor creases. Noticeable color or focus imperfections. Noticeable border discoloration. Noticeable wax stains. Light ink mark or tape stain. Very little surface gloss. Minor scuffing or a very minor tear.

 

3 – VG Some surface wear will be apparent, along with possible light scuffing or light scratches. Focus may be somewhat off-register and edges may exhibit noticeable wear. Much, but not all, of the card’s original gloss will be lost. A crease may be visible. Printing defects are possible. Slight stain may show on obverse and wax staining on reverse may be more prominent.

 

2 – G Severe print spots. Noticeable creases. Noticeable color or focus imperfections. Noticeable border discoloration. Heavy wax stains. Moderate ink mark or tape stain. A surface devoid of gloss. Noticeable scuffing or a noticeable tear.

 

2 – G Surface – surface wear is starting to become obvious. A good card may have scratching, scuffing, light staining, or chipping of enamel on obverse. There may be several creases. Original gloss may be completely absent. Card may show considerable discoloration.

 

1 – P Severe print spots. Heavy creases. Severe color or focus imperfections. Heavy border discoloration. Severe stains. No original gloss. Heavy scuffing or a severe tear. 1 – P The surface of the card will show advanced stages of wear, including scuffing, scratching, pitting, chipping and staining. The picture will possibly be quite out-of-register and the borders may have become brown and dirty. The card may have one or more heavy creases. In order to achieve a Fair grade, a card must be fully intact. Even though the card may be heavily worn, it cannot achieve this grade if it is missing solid pieces of the card as a result of a major tear, etc. This would include damage such as the removal of the back layer of the card or an entire corner.

 

 

 

Which companies grade sports cards BGS, PSA, SGC?

Sports Card Grading Companies – Which companies grade sports cards including vintage basketball cards?

You may see graded cards encased in plastic holders from several different companies on sites like Ebay. There are many companies out there but the lesser known companies add little (if any) value to your cards. I would recommend only submitting your cards to BGS/BVG, PSA, or SGC. These are the big three grading companies. They are well respected in the industry and grades from these companies can increase the value of your cards exponentially if they are in high grades such as mint or gem mint condition. Further details about the grading companies can be found below.

Beckett Grading Services (BGS) or Beckett Vintage Grading (BVG)

The name Beckett is deeply connected to the sports card hobby. Dr. James Beckett was a university statistics professor who’s magazine went on to become the authority for sports card prices beginning with the first issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly in 1984. Beckett magazines contained condition guidlines along with pricing data. Beckett established card grading services for modern (BGS) and (BVG) (pre-1980’s vintage cards). BGS is unique from the other companies in that it provides a 4-scale report card (centering, corners, edges, surface) along with the final grade. This gives you more information about the card and why it received the grade.

Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA)

PSA is the market leader in grading vintage cards and they have a sizable percentage of the modern sports card grading market. PSA is known for its set registry which lists how many of each card has been grade a particular grade. Some collectors compete in the set registry to have the highest grade collection or set. For example, a collect can have a compelete set of 1986-87 Fleer in PSA 8 form and log it in the set registry. High grade vintage PSA graded sports cards tend to return the highest prices at auction and it is believed that this is partly due to the set registry that PSA maintains.

Sportscard Guarantee Corp. (SGC)

SGC is a distant third in terms of market share for the sports card grading market but they are respected by collectors for high standards and quality grading. Unfortunatly, the resale of SGC graded cards is often less than those of BGS and PSA of the same grade. There are some SGC graded modern cards out there but most SGC graded cards seem to be vintage cards. SGC grades do add value to your cards but they would probably hold more value if they receive the same grade in a PSA or BGS holder. I would not completely shy away from purchasing these cards as you can find good values and there is a possibility of crossing it over into a PSA or BGS holder.

Grading Scales Comparison

BGS PSA SGC
GRADE DESCRIPTION GRADE DESCRIPTION GRADE DESCRIPTION
10 PRISTINE n/a 100 PRISTINE
9.5 GEM MINT 10 GEM-MT 98 GEM 10
9 MINT 9 9 MINT 96 MINT 9
8.5 NEAR MINT-MINT+ 8.5 NM-MT+ 92 NM/MT+ 8.5
8 NEAR MINT-MINT 8 NM-MT 88 NM.MT 8
7.5 NEAR MINT+ 7.5 NM+ 86 NM+ 7.5
7 NEAR MINT 7 NM 84 NRMT 7
6.5 EXCELLENT-MINT+ 6.5 EX-MT+ 82 EX/NM+ 6.5
6 EXCELLENT-MINT 6 EX-MT 80 EX/NM 6
5.5 EXCELLENT+ 5.5 EX+ 70 EX+ 5.5
5 EXCELLENT 5 EX 60 EX 5
4.5 VERY GOOD-EXCELLENT+ 4.5 VG-EX+ 55 VG/EX+ 4.5
4 VERY GOOD-EXCELLENT 4 VG-EX 50 VG/EX 4
3.5 VERY GOOD+ 3.5 VG+ 45 VG+ 3.5
3 VERY GOOD 3 VG 40 VG 3
2.5 GOOD+ 2.5 GOOD+ 35 GOOD+ 2.5
2 GOOD 2 GOOD 30 GOOD 2
1.5 FAIR 1.5 FR 20 FAIR 1.5
1 POOR 1 PR 10 POOR 1

Note that PSA does not have a grade equivalent to pristine. PSA 10 cards could be considered gem mint or pristine under the BGS and SGC scales depending on the specific condition of the card.