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How to Select Cards for Grading: Assessing Condition and Profitability

This post is part of a larger series called How To Grade Sports Cards – The Best Step-By-Step Guide. Be sure to check out the entire guide!

What’s your motivation?

Collectors can be motivated to grade their cards for different reasons.

Some simply want to encapsulate their favorite cards in a protective slab.

Others want 3rd party proof of the authenticity of their cards.

But, by far, the most popular reason for grading cards is to later sell them for a profit.

For that last set of collectors, the goal would be to have your card receive the coveted Gem Mint 10 or Pristine 10 grade. And for ultra modern cards, receiving any grade less than this is usually a disappointment.

But for your card to “Gem” or to get a “10” as we often say in the hobby, it really means that your card has to be flawless. And for that reason, it’s crucial that you examine your cards carefully before submitting. Cards that have flaws, even subtle flaws, may not make sense to grade, if ultimately your goal is to sell the card afterwards. (Alternatively, if you simply want to encapsulate the card and keep it in your collection for years to come, the grade might not matter at all.)

Calculating the potential ROI (Return on Investment) of grading a card

Here’s the quick and dirty way to calculate the potential ROI of grading a card.

Step 1: Calculate the total cost to get your card graded

Sum up the following:

  1. The price you paid to acquire the card raw, including taxes and shipping.
  2. The cost to get the card graded.
  3. Any shipping and insurance costs to send the card to the grading company and for them to ship it back.

This is the total all-in costs of getting the card graded.

Step 2: Calculate the potential revenue from selling your card

(Not that you have to sell the card, of course. It’s just an exercise.)

  1. Using 130point or eBay (or whatever your favorite app is to determine comps), look up the card you intend to grade and note down the resale values of PSA 10, PSA 9 and PSA 8 graded cards.
  2. Critically examine your card and estimate the odds (out of 100%) that your card will get each of those potential grades.
  3. For each potential grade, multiply the resale value with the odds you estimated.
  4. Sum up all values. We call the total sum the expected value.

You might consider filling out a table like this:

An example table you can use to calculate the expected value of grading a sports card.

Step 3: Calculate the potential profit

Compare the costs (calculated in Step 1) with the potential revenue (calculated in Step 2).

If the potential revenue is higher than the costs, then it PROBABLY makes financial sense for you to grade card. But keep in mind, we’re using a lot of assumptions here and assumptions can be wrong.

Examining the condition of your cards

TODO: Elaborate on this

So, let’s talk about the various criteria that card grading companies consider when evaluating your card: centering, surface, edges, and corners. If even one of these criteria is less than flawless, then you may very likely get a 9 grade or less. (There’s a little wiggle room here, depending on the set of grades you get across the other criteria, but its fair to assume that the lowest grade will receive more weighting in calculating the overall grade for the card.)


Centering is one of the most important factors considered when assigning a final grade to an authenticated card. It refers to the uniformity of the borders on the card, both the front and back. Sports cards with uniform borders have better eye appeal and for that reason are more valuable to collectors.

There are 4 centering measurements used to assess your card, each expressed as a percentage:

  • Front of card: Left-to-Right centering
  • Front of card: Top-to-Bottom centering
  • Back of card: Left-to-Right centering
  • Back of card: Top-to-Bottom centering

Left-to-Right centering compares the width of the border on the left side of the card with the width of the border on the right side of the card. Example:

  • Left border: 3mm width
  • Right border: 2mm width
  • Left-to-Right centering measurement: 60% (3mm of 5mm total width) to 40% (2mm of 5mm total width) (or 60/40 for short)

Top-to-Bottom centering compares the width of the border on the top of the card with the width of the border on the bottom of the card. Example:

  • Top border: 2mm width
  • Bottom border: 2mm width
  • Top-to-Bottom centering measurement: 50% (2mm of 4mm total width) to 50% (2mm of 4mm total width) (or 50/50 for short)

From the 4 measurements, the card grader will calculate the overall centeredness score. You should assume they’ll take the worst of the 4 measurements, so when assessing how well centered your card is, be sure to look carefully at both the front and back of the card.

Tip: While I tend to judge how centered a card is by the naked eye, many collectors use centering tools which can be found on eBay for cheap.


The Surface criteria refers to the card’s outermost surface on both the front and back of the card. The card grader will look for imperfections such as dimples, scratches, dirt/scuff marks, and creases. (See below for a detailed description of each of these types of defects.)

Even a single scratch or dimple can knock you down a grade, resulting in a Mint 9 grade instead of a Gem Mint 10 grade. More severe surface imperfections such as a large crease can ding you multiple grade values.

Since the surface is judged on both the front and back of the card, be sure to examine the back, too!

Tip: My recommended way to do this is to hold the card in the light such that when you rotate the card back and forth, the light reflecting off the surface of the card will illuminate anything non-smooth on the surface of the card, like scratches.


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A quick note about patch cards and autographs

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Wow, you made it all the way to the bottom.

Next, move onto Chapter 2: How to Prepare Your Cards For Grading.

Rory Hansen

Rory Hansen is a San Diego-based sports card collector and social media influencer. Considered an expert in the process of grading sports cards, he regularly advises other collectors on how to assess, prepare and submit cards for grading. Originally from Canada and now living in the US, Rory collects both hockey cards and baseball cards. His personal collection focuses on Shohei Ohtani, Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish, Pavel Bure, Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Roberto Luongo.