The best way to prepare a card for grading is to protect it from the moment it is acquired. There is no amount of preparation that can fix frayed edges and printing marks. That being said, collectors know the difference between a card receiving a grade 9 and grade 10 is subtle. Therefore, it’s important to understand the factors that determine how a card is graded.
Card grading companies utilize a range of tools, including a microscope, magnifying lamp, measuring tools and UV light. The final grade a card is given is a weighted combination of the most important factors: the card’s surface, centering, corners and edges.
With these factors in mind, a card can more easily be inspected before being submitted for a grade. This allows collectors to carefully consider which cards to send. It also provides them with a reasonable expectation of what grade each card will receive.
For this article, we’re going to discuss the grading process in full. This will give you a clear picture of how trading cards are graded and how to prepare your cards to receive the highest grade possible. The inevitable next step after preparing cards to be graded is safely packaging them to be mailed. We’ll discuss the best method for this vital final step, as well as what qualifies a trading card to receive a “Pristine” grade 10.
Card Factors That Determine the Grade
When a card is graded, there are four factors that are given a score. The grading service considers the card’s:
Each of these factors receives a “subgrade.” The grading service weighs these subgrades to determine a final grade. Each grading service will have a different formula for this. When choosing a grading service, it’s important to understand its grading process.
For example, Premier Card Grading’s process includes multiple quality checkpoints, both before and after the card is sealed in its official case. The card is inspected with a magnifying lamp under a white UV lamp and centering tool. Each factor is observed individually, starting with centering, then moving on to corners and edges, and concluding with a surface inspection.
How to Prepare a Card for Grading
The process of grading trading cards is meticulously consistent. Customers trust the added value a grade provides. This is a large responsibility for grading companies. Therefore, be sure that you take the appropriate steps to ensure your cards arrive safely.
When preparing a card to be graded, focus on carefully reviewing your collection. You may find minor blemishes that can be removed with a microfiber cloth, or you might discover cards to submit that you wouldn’t have otherwise. If nothing else, reviewing your cards will give you a better idea of what grade to expect.
It’s also wise to review the grading scale of the company to which you’re submitting your trading cards for grading. In general, a grade 5 is “Excellent” and a grade 10 is either “Pristine” or “Gem-Mint”, with a range of grades in between.
1. Inspect Card with a Magnifying Lamp (& Other Tools)
Grading services inspect cards using magnifying lamps and a number of other tools. These tools allow the graders to closely observe even the faintest scuffs and scratches. Trading card collectors can invest in a couple low-cost tools to do the same:
Magnifying Lamp. These are available in a wide range of options, both in quality and price. For most collector’s purposes, a low-cost magnifying lamp like this one from Brightech is perfectly sufficient.
Jeweler’s Loupe. The most common magnification for a jeweler’s loupe is 10X. This is more than enough magnification to inspect cards closely. Here’s one example of a low-cost loupe.
UV Light. UV lights are important tools in authenticating trading cards. This type of light is also able to identify restoration attempts wherein the item has been altered with glue, tape, paint or another material.
Sunlight. This free tool is highly recommended in areas with sunshine. Using all of the tools above is the best way to inspect a card. But sunlight always manages to reveal what other light sources cannot.
2. Inspect Trading Cards with Centering Tool
Reliable grading services have a strict set of centering guidelines for its graders to follow. These guidelines are essential to ensuring the process is objective. When it comes to determining the centering of a card, a centering tool ensures the same result every time.
The centering tool is a clear piece of hard plastic that can be purchased for less than $10. It is one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re receiving a grade in alignment with what you anticipated.
Alternatively, people often use a ruler to determine if their cards are centered enough for submission. A centering grade of 60/40 or better will usually result in a 9 subgrade or higher.
3. How to Clean a Card for Grading
Put the paper towel down and step away. Instead, use a microfiber cloth. This is the same material used to clean glasses and camera lenses. A microfiber cloth will allow you to remove fingerprints, dust, and any removable gunk without scuffing to scratching either the surface or edges of the card.
Don’t Wait to Submit Cards for Grading
It’s nearly impossible to predict how much value a card will have in 10 years time. But if you plan to keep a card for the long-term investment, it is best to get it graded—regardless of its current value. Why is this?
First of all, you’re more likely to get a stellar deal on the grading service. Cards that have less value can be graded for a lower price with nearly every grading service. Second: when a card is graded, it is sealed in a hard-shell case. As long as graded cards are protected from the sun and other elements thereafter, its grade is not going to change.
For investors who have a growing collection of graded cards, it’s wise to invest in storage boxes made for graded cards. These cardboard boxes from BCW are a great, low-cost option; however, there is also this heavy-duty option, with customizable foam inserts, as well.
How to Package Cards for Mailing
Mailing trading cards to the grading service company is an important step. This is the only part of the process where an otherwise perfect card can become damaged. Because of this, trading card collectors have long-debated over the best method for mailing cards. The overall consensus has landed on the following strategy for ensuring your cards safely make the transit:
- Penny Sleeve. Tried and true, the first thing a valuable card needs is a penny sleeve. If your card has been wearing the same penny sleeve since you pulled it from a pack, consider putting on a new one for submission. It’s also wise to put the card in upside down; this will protect it even better as it enters the card saver. Take your time sleeving your cards—rushed sleeving can result in edge and corner wear.
- Post-It Flag. At the top of the card, place a Post-It Flag on the penny sleeve. There are plenty of alternatives to using a Post-It Flag. However, they have become the most popular option because they work great and are easy to peel off. Once the card has been put in the Card Saver, the Post-It Flag should stick out. This makes removing the card from a card saver or top loader much smoother.
- Card Saver. These semi-rigid plastic card holders are ideal for sending trading cards in the mail. Card Savers keep cards flat and are the safest holder to place your card in. Card Savers protect cards from bending when adding additional padding around a group of them.
- Team Bag + Bubble Wrap. A team bag keeps out any dust or moisture that the Card Saver might come in contact with. These are larger, resealable bags designed to accommodate various forms of rigid card holders. Once your cards are in a team bag (or multiple team bags for larger orders), wrap the group of cards with bubble wrap or place them in a bubble mailer.
- Shipping Box. The final step in the protective packaging process is using a cardboard box to ship your cards to the grading company. Place your bubble wrapped team bags inside of the cardboard box with plenty of additional bubble wrap or packing foam.
It is best to avoid having your bundles of cards against any part of the cardboard box. If the box is dropped, this padding will prevent the cards from being damaged.
This is a very important step; therefore, using a larger box and more packaging material is better than trying to fit more cards into a small box. The less cards are able to move around inside the box, the better. Packages are inevitably jostled about in transit, but a snug fit will ensure the cards stay safe.
- Shipping Insurance. When mailing a package, you have the option to purchase shipping insurance. Shipping insurance covers the value of a package’s contents should it be lost, damaged, or go missing. The price of shipping insurance is based on the declared value of the contents.
For example: if you’re shipping three trading cards with a total estimated value of $2,000, the cost of the shipping insurance will be based on the declared value ($2,000). USPS allows patrons to purchase up to $5,000 in shipping insurance for a single package. UPS and FedEx offer insurance coverage as high as $50,000.
How Do You Get a “Pristine” 10 Grade?
Depending on the grading company, a grade 10 may be considered Pristine or Gem Mint. Either way, this grade means you’ve got a nearly perfect card on your hands. You’d be hard-pressed to find a card that’s value isn’t significantly improved by receiving a grade 10. So what does it take to secure a “Pristine” grade 10?
A grading service is only as good as it is consistent. Premier Card Grading trains each grader to properly use the required tools, follow a strict grading process and adhere to the final grading formula. Once graded, each card is sealed in a hard-shell slab with a PCG custom sleeve and grading label.
High Grade Cards Have the Following:
- Zero visible imperfections, scratches, or scuffs
- The surface maintains full gloss
- No whitening or defects at corners and edges
- The front and back are nearly perfectly centered
The more these factors begin to slip, the lower an overall grade will be. A card that is perfect in every way except the slightly off-center front, will still likely fetch a 9.5 or 10 grade. A completely perfect card is rare. However, Premier Card Grading provides a special gold label for cards that are not just “Pristine” but flawless—receiving a 10 for all four subgrades.
How to Submit Cards for Grading
Submitting grades has never been easier. Through Premier Card Grading, there are five quick steps to complete the process:
- Create an account (if you don’t already have one!)
- Select your chosen service (dependent on card value and desired turn around time).
- Add cards and card details to your order.
- Add optional return insurance (just as you can pay for shipping insurance, this option allows you to pay to have the cards insured for the return trip. This is highly recommended).
- Place your order & mail in your cards!
Once submitted, you can track the status of your order in the Submission Tracker.
Premier Card Grading is still a new kid on the block, but we’re excited to prove our reliability as a top-tier grading service for all TCGs within our scope. The assurance of value to collectors is our number one priority. With competitive pricing and expedited turnaround times, it’s easy to support PCG in becoming one of the top grading companies in the world. Start a submission now.