Grading: Who to Grade With And Why

Grading has essentially become the “Gold Standard” of the card industry (and honestly, it had already been that way in other collectible markets for some time.) Now however, with any popular idea, new major players have emerged in the grading realm. These companies offer different slabs (the holder for the graded card) or labels (that give details about the graded card) and can potentially increase or decrease the value of your card. At the time of writing this, there are no less than FIVE choices of companies to submit your card to for grading.

The biggest reason these many companies have a leg to stand on is due to turnaround times (the length of time it takes to process a submission) and counterfeit slabs (fake slabs created to con unsuspecting buyers.) These two concerns have given room for new competitors to enter the market… but are they worth it?

Let’s first talk about the grading process. (If you are familiar with grading and are just looking for information about different grading companies you can skip to the end of the article.)

What Is The Importance Of Grading

Grading has become an important piece of the card collecting hobby as it helps provide an extra level of security for the owner/buyer. Here are the main reasons to get a card graded:

  • It verifies the card is authentic (not counterfeit)
  • It confirms the autograph (if any) is authentic (and not a forgery)
  • It has a professional confirm the “grade” (condition) of the card for consistency

Now the first two points above are fairly understandable, but the third can be more subjective. Let’s make sure you understand why.

At one point in time your baseball card and my baseball card were the values we deemed them to be and along with that they were the condition we deemed them to be. In today’s fast moving card market however grading adds a bit more fairness to that. Essentially a third party professional uses a grading scale to rank your card. Typically this is a 10-point scale (10 being the highest and 1 the lowest.) In coins, which set the standard for grading collectibles many years ago it’s a little different as they have a different scale all together, but most collectibles and grading companies work on this scale.

The condition of the card can vary (obviously) because of corner wear, edge wear, indentions in the surface, fading, or any range of both printing and secondary defects on the card. When a grading company takes a look, they put a professional and unbiased eye on the card to determine where it is on the 10-point scale. When selling or trading a card you can feel secure knowing that my grade 8 card is probably the same or at least close in condition to your grade 8 card. (Now values are a whole different article so we won’t get into that here.)

Now that we have covered what grading is, let’s talk about grading company choices.

What Companies Grade Trading Cards

There are a several choices for you when it comes to grading cards. Here we go through an alphabetical list of those companies and a brief description of each. We also link to their website.
(PLEASE NOTE: We do not endorse any one company over another. We will however give you our opinions on reasons some may be a better choice for you than others that you can use in your search of information about which company is best for you.)

Beckett was once considered the prize grading service in the industry. Over time, other companies have entered the yard which contributed to BGS losing ground. In today’s market BGS is still considered a top grader, but have the most concerns about counterfeit slabs of any company in the industry. While their slab is nicer looking than many others, unfortunately it has not been updated regularly with the same types of anti-counterfeit measures that other companies have put in place. Have no fear however, BGS is still a very reputable grader and they still have an upside over most grading companies when it comes to values.

The upside here is reputation in general for grading. CSG is part of a grading group that has graded collectibles longer than any other company out there. While grading sportscards is relatively new for them on a large scale, they were one of the industry leaders in coin grading and comic grading for years prior. Their slabs are refined, and like Beckett come with outlined details on the four specific grades that comprise the final overall grade. At the time of writing this (3/20/21) their turnaround times are some of the better in the industry for returning cards to you as well.

So far GMA is still behind the times in grading, but is trying to get up to speed quickly. They offer quick turn around times however their grading does not offer increased value to cards like many other grading companies do. GMA has also struggled with their slabs not fitting certain types of cards and the cards moving around inside said slab. As a last note, their slabs are not considered one of the more aesthetically pleasing of all options. Their price is one of the better in the industry and the turnaround to get your items back is faster than most as the upside.

HGA is the newest player in the realm of grading cards. They are also the one we are most excited about. They are one of the first to use digital imaging to grade aspects like surface quality and centering which takes a lot of the subjectivity out of the process and makes it more consistent and refined. They also have the most ‘Modern’ looking slabs on the market that offer options such as color matching the case to the card. While the downside is that (at the time of writing) they only accept a limited amount of submissions per week, the upside is, they guarantee their fast turnaround times. While the jury is still out on how this company will hold up in the court of card values, in every other aspect they are beating the competition.

The industry king is PSA. The company is widely considered “The Bar” for grading standards and most importantly for card values. The biggest increase you can get from sending here over other companies is the jump in value a high PSA grade gives over ANY other company. Now, lets get to the downside… You have to pay extremely high premium prices to get cards back in a timely manner (and even then you are waiting longer than any posted turnaround times.) They have raised pricing to be the most expensive in the market and if you submit on the affordable levels, you can expect wait times on your cards to return in the 8-12 months. Yep! You read that right. The biggest reason the other grading companies have a leg to stand on is because PSA has failed to “keep up” with the increasing market, and with card prices changing daily, your expensive cards could be worth a lot more or a lot less by the time the cards return. That expensive rookie you submitted may turn out to be a dud in the season before they ever even come back to your doorstep. This is the company you want to grade with (at the time of writing) but know what you are getting before submitting so as not to be surprised.
*We suggest finding a local card store or online card shop that has a business account with PSA. Make sure they are reputable first, but use their submission process. They will help evaluate your card and typically get much faster turn around times.*

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