Sports card grading is a way to determine the authenticity and condition of a card.  The better the condition a sports card is in the harder it is to find. The better the condition the more the card is typically worth.

One of the most common questions we receive at GMA Grading is how do we determine the grade of a sports card.  Here are a few helpful steps that can help you learn how to grade your cards before you submit them in for grading.

Step 1- Determine the Authenticity of the Card

The first step in the grading process is determining if a card is authentic.  Counterfeit cards have become a common problem in the hobby. To make this determination our graders go through the process of checking specific factors that help determine a cards authenticity.

When a card is counterfeited it typically loses 20% to 30% of its picture quality.  This occurs when a card is scanned from an original card.

Because the original image used by the card manufacturer that made the card is un-available, counterfeiters must take a high quality scan of the card.  This causes a loss of image quality, which helps our graders determine if a card is real or fake.



When a counterfeit card is made it must be printed.  Because in most cases the printer used by the forger is not the same at the printer used by the card manufacturer, the dot matrix on the card is normally not the same.

GMA graders use cutting-edge technology and use high magnification lenses, to help them determine if a card has been re-printed.  GMA Grading also has an extensive library of original cards produced by the card manufacturers which graders use for comparison.


Card Stock

Another important factor in determining a cards authenticity is the card stock itself.  In most cases counterfeiters don’t have access to the exact card stock used in the original printing of the card.

Graders can easily check the card thickness, surface, and quality of a card by using calipers and some other handy tools that can show the inaccuracies of a fake.


Size is another determining factor used by our graders to help determine if a card is real or counterfeit. It is also a way for us to determine of a card has been altered or trimmed in some way.

Cards are measured and edges are checked to make sure that they meet size requirements before they are sent to the next stage of grading.  This step can be a little tricky has some cards are poorly cut directly from the factory as shown in the example below.

Step 2 – Alterations

Once a card has been authenticated a GMA grader then determines if a card has been altered to receive a better grade.  Cards can be altered to give the appearance that it is in better condition than it actually is.


Coloring of edges or borders is one of those common practices. Cards can be colored using markers or other ink substitutes can hide corner flaws or ruffled edges.

Some of the most common cards that are colored are the 1971 Topps baseball cards and 1975 Topps cards.  One of the easiest ways to determine if a sports card has been colored is by checking the edges of the card.

Cards that have been colored by markers or ink will normally bleed into the edges of a card.  This is very easy to see when the card is turned on its side. The picture below shows a great example of a card that has been colored.



Bad corners mean low grades and that makes trimming the most common practice for altering a card.  Cards are frequently submitted that have been cut or trimmed to give the card sharper corners.

This is why sizing of the card is a key element in detecting trimmed cards.  There are also a few other ways to check if a card has been trimmed but checking the cards size is the easiest and most efficient way.

Pressed Creases

Older cards have normal wear tear from years of handling.  Due to age or mishandling of these cards surface creases can form.  Creases are surface flaws that show a card has been bent or folded.  Much like a folded piece of paper, card stock can easily get a crease if they are mishandled.  If a card is creased it dramatically affects the grade it receives.

To alter creases card are typically pressed.  This process is completed by applying moisture to crease on the card and/or applying heat and extreme pressure on the crease.  It is almost impossible to completely remove a crease from a card and GMA graders have found cards that have been pressed and not easily detected without the use of our sophisticated equipment.


Step 3 – Corners, Centering, Edges

Most cards have four corners.  The corner of a card is one of the most common flaws that a card has. The degree of sharpness a card has greatly affects the grade a card receives when graded.  Sharp corners get the highest grade while rounded corners have some of the most severe deductions.

The goal of the grader is to determine how bad a corner is.  Each level of corner damage will carry with it a different deduction in grade value.  The picture below shows examples of different corner wear.

As you can see by the example given above the more the corner is damaged the lower the grade it will receive.  Each corner of a card is carefully evaluated, and then an overall grade is given to the corners of each card.


The centering of a card is another key factor when determining an overall grade of a card.  The better the card is centered the better grade the card will receive.  So what is centering?  Centering is how well the image of the card is placed compared to the border size that surrounds the overall image.  A card can be off-center by different degrees of variance.  Graders determine how off center a card is by measuring the degree of variance from one border to the other.

Some of the most common terms used in the grading industry are how many degrees off-center a card is in. 50/50 Centering is if a card is dead center in the middle of the card.  This determination is from left to right and from top to bottom.60/40 centering is when a card is off-center from one side to another. Its center image is leaning more to one side of a card than the other which makes the border of the card appear to be smaller on that given side.

Cards can be off centered in various increments from 50/50 centering to 90/10.  In some cases are card is so poorly cut from the factory there is absolutely no border on one side of the card.

The more a card is off-center the more of a deduction it receives.  Each grader must evaluate the centering of a sports card on the front and back side and then give an overall grade for centering.  This grade will later be used and averaged in the final grade the card receives.


The edges of a card are some of the most commonly overlooked flaws a card has. Cards with white borders tend to blend more easily which makes them harder to detect.  When cards are graded people normally tend to look at the corners and centering first, but edges are just as important in the overall grade a card receives.

Bad edges can come from dull blades when a card is cut to poor handling when it is taken out of a pack.  Each edge of a card is checked and given an overall grade to be factored in in the final grade evaluation.

Final Grade and Analysis

After each side of the card and area of grading is completed an overall grade is given.  The overall grade is an average of each grade the card received for centering, corners, edges and surface.  A card that receives an overall grade of 9.5 or higher can receive a Gem MT 10 evaluation.  Each number value is rounded to the nearest value with half grade increments.

Below we have included an example of an actual card evaluation sheet that GMA graders use when grading.  You can use this sheet to better help you pre-grade your cards before submitting them in for grading.

filled-out-grading sheet

Alan Karpuch

Owner of GMA Grading Inc. Over 20 years experience in the sports card industry.

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