Types of Sports Cards Explained

July 26, 2022

Are you new to the hobby of sports cards? If so, navigating the landscape of the sports card hobby can be difficult and frustrating when you are first starting out. There is so much to learn and understand in the hobby such as what is hobby boxes or retail packs or what are the types of sports cards available. Whether you are new to the hobby, an avid sports card collector, a sports card investor, and even a young kid getting in the hobby, understanding the different types of sports cards is a must.

Types of Sports Cards

As you navigate your way through the sports card hobby, feel free to look at our beginner’s guide to sports cards. Sports cards come in a wide variety of products from lower end sports card products such as Topps Baseball and Upper Deck Hockey to Panini National Treasures Football and Panini Flawless Basketball. While the list of products continues to grow, so does the different types of sports cards available.

In addition to those types of cards, most if not all sports cards are available in hobby versions while some also are offered in retail. Don’t know what the differences is? Read our hobby vs retail article to learn more. Continue reading on to learn more about the types of sports cards available and what the difference between low/high end sports cards. Lastly, learn more about whether you should get your sports cards graded and what types are worth spending money on.

What are sports cards?

Sports cards are a product that is offered to sports cards collectors to allow them to collect their favorite sets, sports, and even favorite players. Sports cards are cardboard that features an image of a player, team, and/or mascot on one side. On the other side facts, history, and/or statistics are displayed. In addition, over the years with the growth of technology, digital sports cards have also entered the sports card hobby.

What types of sports cards brands are available?

Over the years since the start of the sports card hobby, many different sports card brands have entered the market. While many of those top brands are available today, other sports card companies have failed. The list of sports card brands includes Topps, Panini, Upper Deck, Leaf, and Wild Card. Other sports card brands are available based on what type of sports card product you are looking for.

Types of Sports Cards: Retail Vs Hobby

Sports cards are available in two different types: hobby sports cards and retails sports cards. We will leave this short and simple. Hobby sports cards are products designed for hobby shops such as your local sports card store. These products are available through local sports card stores as well as on sports card websites and other sports card marketplaces. Retail sports cards are products designed to be sold by retail stores such as Walmart, Target, and Dollar General.

Types of Sports Cards: Low End Products VS High End Products

The sports card hobby can be a very expensive hobby depending on the type of sports cards you are looking to collect. However, this doesn’t mean the entire hobby is expensive as sports card collectors have the option to buy low end sports cards and high end sports cards. In addition, collectors also have access to single sports cards through sports card marketplaces such as eBay and Check Out My Cards (COMC).

That said, low end sports cards are available in both hobby and retail products while costing as few as $3-5 dollars per pack and $30-$150 per box. Meanwhile high end sports cards are mostly only available in hobby versions with packs running from $8 per pack upwards of $1,000 plus dollars per box. Low end sports card products include Topps Baseball, Score Football, Upper Deck Hockey, Panini Hoops Basketball, and Topps Chrome Soccer.

How many types of sports card products are available?

The number of types of sports card products available per sport per year varies based on the sports card brands. For example, Topps releases a long list of baseball products each year to include Topps Baseball, Topps Heritage, Topps Tier One, and Bowman Baseball. However, these are just four products they release each year with as many as 20-30 additional products released just for baseball. The same can be said for Upper Deck with hockey sports cards, and Panini with football sports cards and basketball sports cards.

Different Types of Sports Cards

When it comes to the different types of sports cards available within the various types of sports card products, you have 11 different types available. These types include the base card that makes up the base set which also includes rookie cards and subsets. Additional types include insert cards, parallels, autograph cards, relic cards, autograph relic cards, and short prints. Meanwhile, Digital Sports Cards are also available from a variety of sports card companies.

Base Card

The base card is the main card that makes up the base set of the type of sports card product you are buying. In theory, when you buy a pack of sports card no matter the type of sport, majority of the cards within the pack are base cards. For example, the 2022 Topps Baseball set features 660 base cards whereas 2022-23 Upper Deck Hockey Series 1 base set features 200 cards. The lower end sports card products such as Topps Baseball will have higher count base card sets. The higher end sports card products such as Panini National Treasures offers a 100 base card set (all cards are numbered out of 99).

Here is a look at a few base cards:

Types of Sports Cards Types of Sports Cards

Rookie Cards

A type of base card that is one of the most popular within the sports card hobby is the rookie card. Typically, rookie cards can be part of the base set as well as within the various subsets, short prints, relic cards, inserts, autograph cards, and relic cards. Rookie cards are sports cards of a player that makes their debut at the professional level within that calendar year or in some cases the next season if they make their debut to late within the sports schedule. Rookie cards also feature an emblem or logo to indicate it is a rookie such as RC.

Rookie cards are typically highly sought after and can have the highest resale value in comparison to base cards of veterans. In addition, rookie cards are also very popular among collectors and investors looking to have sports cards graded.

Here is a look at popular rookie cards:

Undervalued Raw Sports Cards

Prospect Card

Prospect cards and rookie cards can often be mistaken for the same card however, they are not the same. Rookie cards are cards of players after they make it to the majors. Prospect cards are cards created for a player before they make their professional debut. That said, most prospect cards are for baseball cards when players are located within the minors. Over the years prospect cards are located within products such as Bowman Baseball and Topps Pro Debut.

Like rookie cards, prospect cards are extremely popular among the sports card hobby. This includes the top tier prospects over the years such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Adley Rutschman to name a few. In addition, these types are also available in autographed versions that are even more collectible.

Here is a look at popular prospect cards:

Types of Sports CardsBGS VS CSG Grading Guide


Short Print Cards (SP), Super Short Print Cards (SSP) & Variations

Short Print (SP), Super Short Print (SSP) and Variation cards are part of typically part of the master set but are more difficult to find. Short Prints, Super Short Prints and Variation Cards are typically difficult to find. SP, SSP and variations could include nick names, a different jersey and image variations, as well as error cards.

For instance, the 2022 Topps Heritage set is based off the original 1973 Topps set that had various historic error cards. 2022 Topps Heritage baseball features five error short prints. As far as the other SP and SSP, these cards will vary from the base card. For example, a player is wearing their normal jersey in the base set, but the SP or SSP may have them in a retro jersey or an alternate jersey. Other SP over the year have included historical presidents such as George Washington being featured within the stands.

Here is a look at popular Short Prints, Super Short Print, and Variation cards:

Types of Sports CardsTypes of Sports Cards


Like short prints, and rookie cards, subset cards are also part of the numbered base set but are often labeled or titled something different. For example, with Upper Deck Hockey the veterans make up the first set number of cards for example 100 cards, while the rookies make up the Young Guns portion of set start at card number 101. Subset sports cards and insert sports cards often get mistaken for one another. However, the two are not the same as insert cards are not part of the base set.

Here is a look at popular sports card subsets:

Types of Sports Cards

Insert Cards

Throughout the history of sports cards, insert cards have become more and more popular. Insert cards are a different designed card design and a different theme compared to the base set. Most sports card products offer multiple insert card sets within each sports card product on the market. Over the years many different insert sets have been featured including Bowman Scouts Top 100, Greatest Hits, and various Die Cut inserts.

Here is a look at popular sports card insert cards:

Types of Sports CardsTypes of Sports Cards


A newer tradition to the sports card hobby is the parallel card which is designed around the base card but has been changed. Parallel cards feature different borders and materials to change the color of the card from the base card. For example, within Topps Baseball, parallel cards include Father’s Day powder blue border, Mother’s Day hot pink border, Memorial Day camo border, and gold border to name just a few. Meanwhile Panini offers Prizm parallels in variations to include Blue Wave, Purple Ice, and Black Shimmer. Then you have Bowman Baseball that also offers the SuperFractor parallel numbered 1/1.

Here is a look at popular sports card parallel cards:

Types of Sports Cards

Autograph Card

Autograph cards are another type of insert card inserted within sports card products that are often difficult to obtain. Most hobby products may offer 1 autograph per box with some higher end sports card products offering upwards of 10 autographs per box. Retail products may not offer a guarantee autograph but sports card odds of finding an autograph within the product. Autograph cards started in the early 90’s with Upper Deck featuring Nolan Ryan and Reggie Jackson as well as dual autographs of Ken Griffey Jr and Mickey Mantle.

These autograph cards can be hand signed by the professional sports star, or sometimes applied to the card on a piece of tape that the company had the player sign. In addition, autograph cards also include cut autograph cards of famous celebrities and sports stars that can not sign no longer such as deceased stars. The cut autographs could come from an old autograph photo or a signed check, that is cut and then inserted within the baseball card.

Here is a look at popular sports card autograph cards:

History of Baseball CardsTypes of Sports Cards

Relic Card & Memorabilia Cards

Relic Cards and Memorabilia Cards are also very popular inserts that feature a piece of either a game used relic such as a jersey, bat, or cleat or a piece of memorabilia. Relic cards can contain a piece of a game used jersey or a game use hat to a piece of an event used jersey such as a rookie premiere football jersey. Memorabilia cards can contain a piece of a stadium set or a piece of the stadium floor. Relic cards have evolved over the year to now include relic book cards and bat knob cards.

Here is a look at popular sports card relic cards:

Types of Sports Cards

Autograph Relic Cards

Autograph Relic Cards combines autograph cards and relic cards into one card with the autograph sometimes being introduced on to the same designed cards. In addition, various sports card products now offer autograph relic booklet cards.

Here is a look at popular sports card autograph relic cards:

Types of Sports CardsTypes of Sports Cards

Types of Sports Cards: Digital Sports Cards

Another type of sports card that is becoming more and more popular are digital sports cards that are offered by a variety of sports card companies such as Topps and Panini. Topps and Panini offer digital sports card trading apps of various sports, that can be downloaded within your smartphone. Once downloaded, sports card collectors can obtain daily free coins to purchase cards with and even buy digital sports card packs and boxes with cash. All cards are digital and are stored within the digital sports card app. Through the app, sports card collectors can also trade with other digital sports card collectors.

Digital Sports Card products include Topps Bunt, Topps Skate, Topps Huddle, Topps Kick, Panini NFL Blitz, Panini FIFA World Cup, and Panini Dunk Digital Sports Cards.

Types of Sports Cards Types of Sports Cards Types of Sports Cards Types of Sports Cards

What types of sports cards are worth getting graded?

When it comes to sports card grading so many questions could be asked such which grading company is better? BGS VS PSA, PSA VS SGC, BGS VS CSG and vice versa. However, one question that is extremely important is knowing which sports cards are worth getting graded. This can be difficult but with modern technology at your fingertips, all it takes is some research as well as your own preference.

The most popular sports cards to get graded include rookie cards, highly sought-after inserts, low numbered inserts, autograph prospect cards and autograph rookie cards. As a collector you may also consider putting together a full set of graded 10’s for each year which would make those cards worth getting graded.

From a sports card investor view, consider using sites like eBay to see what graded cards are selling and what they are selling for. Then figure out the fees to have the cards graded and subtract from potential sale price. If the card net’s you a profit the card is worth having graded. Read our sports card grading guide for more details. In addition, currently the hot football rookie cards and hot basketball rookie cards are also worth having graded.










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