How to Grade Sports Cards Yourself

Published: Dec 19, 2023
How to Grade Baseball Cards Yourself

Over time experienced collectors develop an eye how to grade sports cards. But how do the pros grade sports cards? Well, good news,  every collector can do it themself! In this how to article, we'll dive into the nitty-gritty of how to grade sports cards yourself, perfect for those of us who love the thrill of the hunt and want to have a baseline opinion of what we've got in our hands. So, grab your favorite cards, a magnifying glass, and let's get grading!

Understanding the Importance of Card Grading

The Quest for Perfection

Picture this, you stumble upon a vintage Michael Jordan card at a flea market. Your heart races, palms sweaty,  is this the find of a lifetime? Of course the most critical thing to do is determine if the card is authentic.  Let's say you believe the card is real as it passes all of the typicall checks, so what's next?  Assessing a trading card condition or perceived grade is the second most critical part when buying a card, you need to determine the condition which leads to determining a card value of your prized find. Trust me; it's a game-changer.

Standardizing the Game

Why does grading sports cards matter? It sets a standard to access an accurate value. Sports cards value can differ significantly when comparing a gem mint card to a poor quality card.

The Basics of Card Grading

Grading Scale and Criteria

Ever wondered what Gem Mint, Near Mint, or Poor really mean? The grading scale is your roadmap. Gem Mint (10) is the holy grail, its a flawless card. Near Mint (8) is excellent, but not quite perfect. Poor (1)? Well, let's just say it's seen better days. 

Expand for a quick reference grading scale:

Tools of the Trade

A magnifying glass, ruler, and good lighting are your best tools. When you find youself  at a flea market, card show, or card shop use a cellphone to take a photo.  Zoom in on corners, take a photo with flash to look for surface flaws and scratches, take a close look at corners, edges, etc. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Grading Sports Cards

The first step is a close inspection. Hold the card up to the light, scrutinize every corner, and channel your inner detective. I remember finding a vintage Mickey Mantle card that looked pristine until I spotted a tiny crease that was hard to see unless looking at the card from an angel and in good lighting. Remember it's all in the details.

Centering is crucial. A well-centered card is a thing of beauty. Use a ruler if possible to measure borders.  If not, train your eye by looking at perfectly centered cards.  You'll soon master the art of spotting the perfectly centered card.

GEM-MT (10) Centering - 55/45

GEM-MT (10) Centering - 55/45

NM (7) Centering - 70/30

NM (7) Centering - 70/30

Corners and edges tell tales of a card's journey. Little dings or frays can make a big difference in grading. I once thought I had a gem until I noticed a slightly bent corner. It's a learning curve, but each mistake is a lesson.

NM (7) Corners

NM (7) Corners

EX-MT (6) Corners/Edges

EX-MT (6) Corners/Edges

EX (5) Corners  

EX (5) Corners

EX (5) Corners/Edges

EX (5) Corners/Edges

Surface conditions matter. Scratches, print defects, cleanliness – these factors play into the final grade. That Mickey Mantle mishap, taught me the importance of protective sleeves.

Bring it all together. Consistency is key. Don't be disheartened if you don't nail it on the first try. I sure didn't. It takes time and practice.

Grading Challenges and Solutions

Common Challenges

We've all been there staring at a card, unsure if that tiny imperfection is a deal-breaker. Don't sweat it; it's part of the journey. I once struggled with print defects until I sought advice from seasoned collectors. Community support is invaluable, so if possible get a second opinion from someone other than the dealer.

Seeking Expert Opinions

When in doubt, don't hesitate to seek expert opinions. Join collector forums, connect with experienced collectors, and learn from their insights. I've found a wealth of knowledge in the collector community, and they're always ready to lend a helping hand.

Practice Makes Perfect

Embrace the Learning Process

Card grading is an art and a science. Embrace the learning process. Enjoy the journey of turning a raw card into a graded masterpiece. My early attempts weren't perfect, but with each card, I learned more, refined my skills, and developed an appreciation for the craft.


How much does it cost to grade cards? Professional card grading services typically range from $18 per card up to $600.  Sports card grading companies may increase their prices depending on the final value of the card after its been assigned a grade.  When grading in bulk card grading cost can reduce. The most important thing is to find a grading company you trust.

How do I know if my card is worth grading? Determine if value of the card in an ungraded or raw condition.  Then compare that price with the value graded card to your similar condition.  

What grading company should I use? Check out our recent article,  Lowdown on SGC and PSA Grading where we do in to detail about the grading companies. 


In the world of sports card and collectibles, knowledge is power. Learning how to grade cards yourself is like unlocking a new level of collecting mastery. So, fellow collectors, learn to dive into the details, and empower your collecting journey. Happy grading!

We hope you enjoyed this article. If so, check out The Denver Sports Card Scene in 2024