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What are ‘Refractors’ – Definition – The Sports Card Glossary

Refractor sports cards are a type of sports trading card that features a special reflective finish that gives the cards a shiny and sometimes colorful, rainbow-like appearance. Refractor cards are most commonly found in the realm of sports trading cards, such as baseball, basketball, football, and hockey cards. The refractor finish on these sports cards make them more appealing and collectible when compared to standard sports cards.

Topps introduced the refractor in the 1993 Topps Finest Baseball product. Pictured is the Rickey Henderson refractor from that set.

The term “refractor” was introduced by Topps in 1993 with their Topps Finest Baseball product. Refractor cards are known for their rainbow or prism-like effect, which changes when viewed from different angles in the light. This refractor finish not only enhances the visual appeal of the card but also typically increases its value among collectors, and, over the years a multitude of types of refractor cards have been produced.

Some commonly seen types of refractor sports cards include:

  • Refractor: The standard type of refractor that has a rainbow reflective finish.
  • Prism Refractors: Prism refractors have a prismatic effect with a more intricate pattern than the standard refractor.
  • Atomic Refractors: Atomic refractors produce a “cracked ice” pattern over the reflective surface.
  • Superfractors: The most sought after refractor, Superfractors are very rare refractors and have a distinctive gold shimmer. These cards are typically numbered 1 of 1.

Many other types of refractors exist including x-fractors, shimmer refractors, night vision refractors, wave refractors, etc.

Collectors value refractor cards for their aesthetic qualities and rarity and because production numbers for refractor cards are usually lower than those for standard cards, they are more sought-after in the collecting community.

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.