Overall the Sports card world is booming with graded sports cards being at the front of the pack. From novice sports card collectors to big time investors who entered the sports card world to make a profit, graded sports cards lead the pack. With that said many sports card collectors or newbies to the hobby, have no idea what Sports Card Grading is. In addition to knowing what sports card grading is, the need to know the big three third-party grading companies as well as tips and tools is vital. This is where our Sports Card Grading Guide is here to help you along the way.
To answer the question what Sports Grading is; the simple answer to make it easy is a value asserted to a card submitted to a third-party grading service based on the characteristics of the card (corners, surface, centering and edges) In this Sports Card Grading Guide, we will discuss in detail sports card grading, look at the top third-party sports card grading companies and some other tips and information.
Along with the Sports Card Grading Guide, our Beginners Guide to Sports Card is a great starting point for any new sports card collector.
Top Sports Card Grading Companies
Beckett’s Grading Services (BGS & BVG)
One of the Top Sports Card Grading Companies in the hobby, Beckett’s Grading Services (BGS) is held to one of the highest standards in the industry. Grading since 1999, Beckett offers both modern sports cards grading as well as vintage card grading with their Beckett Vintage Grading (BVG) service. BGS grading is for sports cards from 1981 to new sports cards. BVG grading is for sports cards that date before 1980.
In addition, Beckett also offers Raw Card reviews on-site at various card shot events in which they grade the card in hard sleeve based on what they believe it would deserve, then you would submit for full-service encapsulation.
Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA)
Another one of the Top Sports Card Grading Companies in the hobby, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) is a leader in the sports card grading landscape and have been around since 1991 while also offering sports card autograph authentication. Along with offering top tier grading that brings some of the highest values to sports card sales, PSA offers an extensive population report for all cards graded while allowing sports card collectors an opportunity to see how many cards of a specific player had been submitted and graded.
Sportscard Guaranty Company (SGC)
A third company that is among the Top Sports Card Grading Companies in the hobby, Sportscard Guaranty Company (SGC) is among one of the most recognized sports card grading services in the industry and a leader in sports card vintage grading has been around since 1998. As SGC is a leader, collectors typically lean to SGC for vintage card grading which tend to bring more value then both PSA or Beckett.
CSG Grading (Certified Sports Guaranty)
Fourth company among the Top Sports Card Grading Companies in the hobby, Certified Sports Guaranty (CSG) ranks as one of the best in the industry. CSG continues to become more popular among the sports card hobby while ranking fourth among the big five in amount of submissions on a monthly basis. One of the newer third-party grading companies, CSG continues to grow while making revamped upgrades to the label to impress collectors.
GMA Grading (Grading & Authentication)
Last of the recognized and Top Sports Card Grading Companies in the hobby, GMA Grading is lesser known or at the quality level of the other three (BGS, PSA or SGC). Despite being lower tier, GMA offers solid sports card grading service at a lower-price and faster turnaround since the sports card grading boom in 2021.
Characteristics of Sports Card Grading
Characteristics of sports card grading consists of the corners, centering, surfaces, edges as well as quality of autograph (if card is autographed). For the most part the four key characteristics directly impact how the third-party grading services will grade the card in terms of their sports card grading scale. On cards graded by Beckett Grading Services, a physical grade will be displayed on the encapsulated case for each of the following Corners, Centering, Surfaces and Edges, as well as an overall grade of the card (and autograph if the card has an autograph).
Meanwhile, PSA and SGC, do not display individual grades for characteristic on the card but value it into their overall grade.
When it comes to “Corners” it is talking about the four corners on most cards as well as additional corners on Die-Cut cards. A perfectly sharp corner is required to land a perfect score or a Gem MT rating. Sports card grading services use high-definition magnification tools to examine each corner from both the front and back of the card. Any ding, imperfection or what looks to not be a perfect sharp corner will see a reduction in grading. Rounded corners and bent corners will result in either fair or poor sports card grades.
Sports card centering means that the actual border of the card on all four sides measure the same from the edge of the border to the edge of the sports card. If the card does not have the same margin on all four sides, the card will be graded lower depending on the actual grading company. Off-Center cards or cards that land an OC qualifier will have lower grades.
One sports card grading characteristic that gets overlooked is the actual surface of the card. However, this is a key component that is inspected by any of the top grading companies. Issues on surfaces that can impact grades could include debris or dirt that is in the card during printing, fingerprints (chrome, metallic and refractor cards mostly), as well as any scratches or flaws that might be present.
Edges of the card are the outside border of the sports card that connects to each corner. Much like the corners, edges are examined for potential dings, chips or separation within the cardboard that is applied together.
Sports Card Grading Scales
Sports Card Grading grades are the definitive collaborated score assigned by the designated grading company for that specific card based on the characteristics. While these grades vary based on companies, not all sports card grading companies are the same and not all sports card grading experts have the same grading scale. Based on this, each Sports Card Grading Grades vary based on the company. Here are the sports card grading scales for each of the top grading companies:
Beckett Grading Services Grading Scale
BGS uses a grading scale of 1-10 with ½ point increments (8.5, 9.5, etc.), with BGS 9.5 landing a Gem Mint rating and a BGS 10 receiving a Pristine rating, or what is now referred to as a BGS Black rating which is assigned to modern cards only with graded scores of 10 on all four sub grades (characteristics). Beckett also uses other labels to go along with the black label, such as a gold label for cards 9.5 or 10 (Vintage), as well as silver labels for graded cards ranging from an 8.5 to 9 and a white label for cards grading below an 8.5.
For a lesser price tag, BGS does offer single grade similar to both PSA and SGC, that has only the overall value of the card and not the report card for each characteristic. BGS grading scale is as follows: Poor (1), Good (2), VG (3), VG-EX (4), EX (5), EX-Mint (6), Near-Mint (7), Near Mint-Mint (8), Mint (9), Gem Mint (9.5), True Gem (All 9.5 sub grades), Pristine Gold Label (10) and Black Label (10).
PSA Grading Scale
PSA uses the standard 1-10 grading scale with only ½ point increments being assigned to cards between a grade of 2 and 9. PSA grading scale is as follows: Poor (PR 1), Fair (FR 1.5), Good (Good 2), Very Good (VG 3), Very Good-Excellent (VG-EX 4), Excellent (EX 5), Excellent-Mint (EX-MT 6), Near Mint (NM 7), Near Mint-Mint (NM-MT 8), Mint (Mint 9) and Gem Mint (GEM-MT 10). PSA also has options to designate qualifiers to the card which also impacts the card grade. PSA Qualifiers include:
OC – Off-Center
ST – Staining
PD – Print Defect
OF – Out of Focus
MK – Marks
MC – Miscut
SGC Grading Scale
SGC the leader in vintage card grading has used two different grading scales over the years with the original grading scale being assigned zero to 100 while recently electing to move to the standard 1-10 grading scale with ½ point increments (1.5, 2.5, etc.). SGC grading scale is as follows: Poor (1), Fair (1.5), Good (2), Good+ (2.5), VG (3), VG+ (3.5), VG/EX (4), VG/EX+(4.5), EX (5), EX+ (5.5), EX/NM (6), Ex/NM+ (6.5), NRMT (7), NM+ (7.5), NM/MT (8), NM/MT+ (8.5), Mint (9), Mint+ (9.5), GEM (10 GM), and Pristine (10 PRI).
CSG Grading Scale
CSG one of the newest sports card grading services uses a standard 1-10 grading scale with 1/2 point increments (1.5, 2.5, etc.). CSG grading scale is as follows: Poor (1), Fair (1.5), Good (2), Good+ (2.5), Very Good (3), Very Good+ (3.5), VG/Ex (4), VG/Ex+ (4.5), Excellent (5), Excellent+ (5.5), Ex/Nm (6), Ex/Nm+ (6.5), Near Mint (7), Near Mint+ (7.5), NM/Mint (8), NM/Mint+ (8.5), Mint (9), Mint+ (9.5), Gem Mint (10) and Perfect (10).
GMA Grading Scale
GMA the last of the grading card services looked at uses the standard 1-10 scale like the other top sports card grading services without assigning 9.5 (1.5, 2.5, etc. are included up to 9.5). GMA grading scale is as follows: Fair (1), Fair+ (1.5), Good (2), Good+ (2.5), VG (3), VG+ (3.5), VG/EX (4), VG-EX+ (4.5), EX (5), EX+ (5.5), EX/NM (6), EX-NM+ (6.5), NM (7), NM+ (7.5), NM-MT (8), NM-MT+ (8.5), Mint (9), GEM-MT (10).
Costs of Sports Card Grading
Beckett Card Grading Prices
Premium – No Sub Grades $125
Express – No Sub Grades $100
Standard – No Sub Grades $30
PSA Card Grading Prices
Economy (Value of card Less than $999) $50
Regular (Value of card less than $1499) $100
Express (Value of card less than $2499) $150
Super Express (Value of card less than $4999) $300
Walk Through (Value of card less than $9999) $600
Premium 1 (Value of card less than $24999) $1000
Premium 2 (Value of card less than $49999) $2000
Premium 3 (Value of card less than $99999) $3000
Premium 5 (Value of card less than $249999) $5000
Premium 10 (Value of card higher than $25000) $10000
SGC Card Grading Prices
Value <$1500 $30
Value <$3500 $85
Value <$7500 $250
Value <$20000 $500
Value <$50000 $1000
Value <$100000 $2000
Value >$100000 $3750
*For each $10000 in value on cards over $100000 value, a $375 fee will be added to the $2000 base fee.
CSG Card Grading Prices
Bulk Submission (50 Cards/Max Value $250). $12
Economy Service (Max Value $500). $20
Standard Service (Max Value $1000) $30
Express Service (Max Value $10000) $60
WalkThrough (Max Value ($50000) $125
Unlimited Walk Through (Max Value Unlimited). $125 + 1% FMV
GMA Card Grading Prices
Economy Service (20 Card Minimum Submission) $10
Standard Service (10 Card Minimum Submission) $15
Gold Express Service (5 Card Minimum Submission) $20
Bulk Grading Economy (100+ Card Submission) $8
Bulk Grading Standard (100+ Card Submission) $12
Bulk Grading Gold Express (100+ Card Submission) $18
How to Submit Sports Cards for Grading
Each company has their own submission policy and standards. Review the following submission websites for each of the four companies:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Sports Card Grading: What is it?
A new aspect to sports card grading is through new Artificial Intelligence (A) sports card grading. If you are asking yourself what is AI grading, it is a grading service that is offered through new technology that can use artificial intelligence to determine the actual grade of the card once submitted through a scanning device or smart phone app. The AI grading will then scan and analyze the card and return a graded score. Some AI grading companies will also provide you with a printable label to attach to your hard sleeve.
One company that will be hitting the market that is available for AI-grading is Break Stuff which will have a smart phone app and a future potential to create a NFT the card graded.
What Sports Card Third-Party Grading Service to use?
A big debate among the sports card hobby is which of the top sports card grading companies is the best to use. The debate can compare BGS VS PSA or PSA VS SGC or BGS VS PSA VS SGC. In addition new debates over BGS VS CSG or PSA VS CSG can be argued.
Price can be a big factor in the decision to use a specific company while actual selling price of cards graded by that specific company is the priority deciding factor. For example, let’s take a look at a Luka Doncic 2018-19 Panini Prizm Base Card #280 to help you understand the difference in selling price.
PSA Gem Mint 10 $404
PSA Mint 9. $167.50
PSA NM-MT 8 $157.50 & $121.50
BGS Gem Mint 10 (Gold Label) $1275
BGS Gem Mint 10 (Black Label) N/A
BGS Gem Mint 9.5 $256
BGS Mint 9. $170.50
BGS NM-MT 8 $102.50
SGC Gem Mint 10 $166.63
CSG NM/Mint+ 8.5 $127.50
GMA Gem Mint 10 N/A
(Based on comp eBay sale price, No higher value of CSG sold recent. No GMA found sold recent)
As a result based on these numbers, it is easy to see that for higher resale value, investing in BGS graded card bring higher values but cost more money. One tip to help you decide on what cards to submit is to pre grade a few of your submissions for each company.
However CSG is showing strong sales potential. CSG and SGC may both be solid sports card investments on the secondary market with potential for growth.
Once returned then evaluate the results and compare actual grades to your pre rankings. If your grades are similar, this should help you decide which cards to have graded and which cards not to. With the cost of grading at a premium, find ways to reduce costs and risks of getting lower grades.
Sports Card Grading Tools & Card Supplies Required
When it comes to sports card grading tools/items nothing is necessary needed outside of your smart phone and sports card supplies. Sports card supplies include items such as penny sleeves or soft card savers, top loaders, bubble wrap, painters’ tape and bubble mailer or card box. Need help with various sports card terminology, check out our Sports Cards Glossary and Terminology article.
Smartphone – most smartphones have a magnifier including the iPhone magnifier, use this to examine corners, surfaces, and edges. In addition, smart phones have lights to help you examine the card in lower lighting situations.
Magnification Loupe – used by jewelers to examine jewels, magnification loupes are inexpensive and a key tool to examine cards.
Grademaster Card Centering Tool – a tool created to help you determine centering percentages. Additional centering tools have been created as well.
Penny sleeves/Soft Card Savers – soft plastic sleeve used prior to placing card into hard top loader.
Hard Top Loader – hard sleeve used to protect card form getting damaged.
Painter’s tape – used to seal top of hard top loader, protects card from falling out of loader.
Bubble wrap – used to wrap cards packaged for shipping. Can also wrap painter’s tape around bubble wrap to ensure wrap remains in place.
Bubble Mailer – used to ship cards to third-party grading services.
Card Box – basic sports card storage box for storage but also used to ship multiple sports cards for grading submission.
Microfiber Cloth – used to clean surfaces of the cards (use carefully).