Grading Your Cards? Here Are Your Options.
Of the many grading options available, PSA, BGS, and CGC are three of the best and most reputable, but which is better, and what are the differences between the three?
The modern card market is dominated by marvels like online auctions and virtual collections, but the process of getting an item graded is the same as ever.
You’ll need to send over the cards you want to be appraised, and wait for a period of time while they certify the authenticity and quality of your items. Especially now, their has been a massive influx in demand as well as complications due to Covid-19. So with all that, many options are 4 to 6 times the typical time requirement.
Services like Beckett, PSA, and CGC grew to be popular as cards became more and more valuable. CGC has a reputation for being used on Comic Books, the first C in CBC, but in recent years has begun making the transition over to playing and collectable cards.
Buying a graded card is a great way to avoid being stung by a counterfeit card, and it’s increasingly important online where many collectibles are traded sight unseen.
It might not be worth it if the card isn’t especially rare, but its almost always worth the price on older, expensive cards. When grading cards you can send in newer cards though of course! It can bear great fruit later on. With it being pack fresh you greatly increase your chances of getting higher grades as well as getting a better price with the card still being low in value, as that is apart of the price calculation.
Another important reason for getting cards graded is to avoid potential counterfeits.
PSA, BGS, and CGC check everything from the size to the coloring to ensure the legitimacy of an item, so you won’t have to sweat if you’re thinking about adding an expensive card to your collection. Especially within the Pokémon market and baseball cards of the 80’s and 90’s, counterfeiting has run rampant, so getting a graded and authenticated card will make a collector and buyer very confident!
Here’s an in-depth guide with everything you could possibly want to know about CGC, PSA, and BGS, including pros and cons, which should help you to decide which is better for your collection when grading cards.
Who is PSA?
Arguably the best known of the two, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) is a US-based third-party grading and authentication company.
Since 1991, they’ve processed over 30m cards and collectibles with a cumulative value of over a billion dollars, including some of the most expensive cards ever sold at auction.
For example, the famous T206 Honus Wagner card owned by Wayne Gretzky went for $2.8m at auction in 2007, just six months after it was bought for $2.35m. It was graded by PSA, earning an 8.
It’s easy to understand why they’re seen as the premier option for vintage cards considering the prices they’ve sold for in the past, and they’ve positioned themselves as the clear choice for grading cards.
PSA uses a simple rating system, grading cards from anywhere between 1 and 10 depending on a variety of factors.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many collectors seek PSA for their collections as they do have the lion’s share of cards on the market. As well as being known for being slightly easier to obtain a PSA 10 vs. a Beckett 10. Something you will now often see is ” Beckett 9.5, PSA 10?” this alludes to the well known fact that PSA has a slightly easier scale than Beckett. CGC is also known for grading a bit easier.
- PR 1 (Poor)
- FR 1.5 (Fair)
- Good 2 (Good)
- VG 3 (Very Good)
- VG-EX 4 (Very Good-Excellent)
- EX 5 (Excellent)
- EX-MT 6 (Excellent-Mint)
- NM 7 (Near Mint)
- NM-MT 8 (Near Mint-Mint)
- Mint 9 (Mint)
- GEM-MT 10 (Gem Mint)
PSA used to exclusively grade using whole numbers but changed to allow for half grades for more precision in February 2008. It’s especially important for high-end cards. They clarified that; “In order for a card to be considered for the half-point increase, it must exhibit qualities that separate it from the average card within the particular grade.
In general, the centering may be the most important factor in achieving the half-point increase with eye appeal being so crucial in the grader evaluation. Since centering is so important and clearly visible to most collectors, the strength or weakness of the centering will have a significant impact on the final outcome.”
It’s a welcome decision, especially considering the potential difference in price between a 7 and an 8 grade. However, they only issue half-point grades for anything between PSA Good 2 and PSA Mint 9.
It’s annoying if you think a Mint 9 should be good enough to get a 10, if not for the slightest imperceptible flaw. The lack of a 9.5 rating can cause some disparity in pricing between 9 and 10 grades, but high-rated PSA cards are always sought after.
PSA also has a range of qualifiers to give the buyer a better idea of the general look and feel of the card. This is especially important if you’re bidding online or you’re unable to see the card in person.
After all, nobody wants a nasty surprise if they’ve spent a wad of cash on a sub-par item. The PSA qualifiers are as follows:
Off Center (OC) – They give some leeway depending on “eye appeal”, but an OC card always lowers the asking price. Centering is a driving factor in a 9 or 10, it is in regards to Pokemon cards specifically almost the only factor not in the openers control. This is because most other print defects are considered error cards and can still pull a 10. But the Centering being off is never considered an error, only an imperfection!
Staining (ST) – Staining will also diminish value, and it’s more prevalent with vintage cards.
Print Defect (PD) – Generally this comes in the form of a small white dot, which is often known as “fish-eye” or “snow”.
As you might expect, the slightest defect will stop cards from getting the highest grades.
Out of Focus (OF) – Thankfully OF cards are rarely seen in new packs, as you’ll get a headache if you stare at one for too long.
This will vastly lower the price.
Marks (MK) – This could take the form of a signature which was added at a later date, but any card with “writing, ink marks, pencil marks, or evidence of the impression left from the act of writing” will ensure a card gets the MK designation.
Miscut (MC) – A miscut focuses on the card itself rather than the image. If a portion is missing, or the card is oversized, it’s designated MC. Often though you will see MC’s labeled as errors and still able to get a 10.
The same is true if portions of more than one card are visible. They’re seen as the best choice for many older cards, in part because of the work they’ve done in the past.
After all, if it’s good enough for a T206 Wagner card, it’s probably good enough for the vintage cards in your collection. PSA is a great choice, with an extensive list of criteria for grading so you know exactly what you’re getting.
However, that doesn’t mean that BGS/SGC isn’t worth looking in to for grading cards!
Who is BGS?
The Beckett Grading Service (BGS) has been around since 1999. Carving out a niche as a solid choice for getting cards appraised.
It was formed by the founder of Beckett Publications, which has been at the forefront of collectible news since 1984. In the here and now, the Beckett Grading Service (BGS) is a leading name when it comes to card business.
It’s less subjective than heading into your local hobby store, and the BGS grade will give you a better idea of how much your prized cards are worth. BGS focus on four main subgrades when grading cards, which are: Centering, Surface, Edges & Corners.
Centering – The centering considers how the image fits the card, and how it aligns with the border. Many older cards are poorly centered, so it’s one to look out for! This is judged by measuring the angle, and 50/50 centering is when the image is directly in the middle of the card.
Surface – The quality of the surface. Wear and tear can cause creases and flaws, which are noted here.
Edging – How well the edges of the cards align. White borders can blend more easily, making it slightly harder to detect any flaws. While edging is often seen as the least important factor, it still has a major impact on the overall rating.
Corners – Some cards can be trimmed in an attempt to artificially boost the value, and it’s a common method of alteration. Sharper corners are more desirable, as they’re the most susceptible to wear and tear over the years.
*Bill Maestro confessed to trimming the famous T206 card formerly owned by Wayne Gretzky as part of a plea deal, using a paper trimmer to give the card a better rating. These subgrades are always considered when giving the card an overall rating, which is the Final Grade. A card that receives an overall grade of 9.5 or higher can receive a Gem MT 10 evaluation, which is the very best grade available via BGS. Gen mint cards get a special Black Label tag, this is widely considered the most valuable you can get a card to, superior to PSA or CGS 10’s by a decent ammount!
**It is important to note that for an extra fee you can now get sub-grades on PSA as well**
You’d expect the overall rating to match the average score, but BGS has explained that: “The overall numerical grade is not a simple average of the four subgrades.
BGS uses an algorithm that determines the final grade using the four subgrades on the front label of the cardholder. The lowest overall grade is the first category to observe because it is the most obvious defect, and the lowest grade is the most heavily weighted in determining the overall grade.”
As for the grading system, it’s similar to the PSA scale in terms of descriptors and numbers, but they have a number of extra grades for each of the half-points…
- 1 – Poor 1.5 Fair
- 2 – G (Good)
- 2.5 –G+
- 3 – VG (Very Good)
- 3.5 – VG+
- 4 – VG-EX (Very Good-Excellent)
- 4.5 VG-EX+
- 5 – EX (Excellent)
- 5.5 – EX +
- 6 – EX-NM (Excellent-Near Mint)
- 6.5 – EX-NM+
- 7 – Near Mint
- 7.5 – Near Mint +
- 8 – Near Mint-Mint
- 8.5 – Near Mint-Mint +
- 9 – Mint
- 9.5 – Gem Mint
- 10 – Pristine It’s reasonably extensive, and you’ll arguably have a better idea of the overall quality of the card compared to a PSA graded version
They’re not seen as the best option for older cards with PSA often being preferred, but they do have a vintage service (BVS) for older cards. A recent example would be a rare Babe Ruth rookie card which was found in a $25 dollar piano. It was given a 2.5 grade and went on to sell for just over $130,000 at auction.
The point is, Beckett is a viable option if you’re thinking about selling pre-war cards, and the same goes for investing. Beckett’s top-graded cards are identifiable at a glance thanks to premium-colored labels.
A gold/black label on the front of the cardholder signifies the highest graded cards (9.5-10), while a silver label can be found on cards graded from 8.5 to 9.
Research into Beckett’s Black Box algorithm suggests that;
“In summary: Corners are punished hardest, Centering next, Surface/Edges the least. How much the overall grade is higher than the worst subgrade depends on which subgrade is the worst, and also depends on how much the other three subgrades are better than the worst subgrade, measured by (the differential in subgrades).”
Lastly, Beckett is seen as a great option for newer cards, likely due to their methodological approach to grading.
Beckett Raw Card Review
“Beckett on-site review services allow our customers to find out what grades their cards deserve before they submit them to BGS or BVG.”
These cards won’t be slabbed, but it’s a good way to get a sense of what grade your items could get if they were sent off to BVG or BGS for a proper look over.
Raw card reviews are useful if you’re not sure whether you can be bothered to go through with the process of getting your cards graded, but there’s no real point if you’re planning to use BVG or BGS anyway as you’ll be charged twice. On-site reviews are a decent option, especially if Beckett is paying a visit to a city near you.
Who is CGC
Popular: Comic Books
CGC – The biggest player in the Comic Book grading business has been in the grading game for an extremely long period of time
They also seem to be more simplistic than the other 2 shops… one of our Facebook followers described the holder as a “beautiful black tuxedo slab”… we tend to agree.
CGC Grading Scale
- 10 PR: A “virtually flawless” card. 50/50 centering, crisp focus, four sharp corners*, free of stains, no breaks in surface gloss, no print or refractor lines, and no visible wear under magnification.
- 10 MT
- 5: 80/20 or better centering, minor rounding or fuzzing of corners, roughness or chipping along the edge (no layering), one VERY slight surface or “spider” crease may exist on one side of the card, the gloss may be lost from the surface with some scratching that does not detract from the aesthetics of the card.
- 1: This card usually exhibits many of these characteristics: heavy print spots, heavy crease(s), pinhole(s), color or focus imperfections or discoloration, surface scuffing or tears, rounded and/or fraying corners, ink or pencil marking(s), and lack of all or some original gloss, small portions of the card may be missing.
Pros and Cons
Pros and Cons of PSA
We’ve come up with a list of some of the common pros and cons you’ll find with PSA when grading cards.
- PSA is seen as the experts when it comes to older cards, especially for anything pre-1970’s. This has caused the price of older PSA cards to exceed their BGS counterparts, even if they have a similar overall rating.
- PSA can be trusted with the handling of high ticket items, and they’re often faster in terms of appraising cards.
- They’re tougher on corners, especially for Gem Mint cards.
- They offer the PSA Set Registry, which enables you to track your inventory, costs, and populations, build and update sets, enjoy competition with others, meet collectors who share common interests, create a photo album of your collection, and share your sets with others. In addition, you can perform “What If?” scenarios to see how the addition of new items will change your set ratings. It’s great if you want a little recognition for your hard work. Or if you want to keep track of your progress while collecting a set.
- PSA has processed over 30 million cards and collectibles with a cumulative declared value of over a billion dollars, so they know what they’re doing.
- Joining the PSA collectors club will give you access to bulk rates when selling cards.
- A lack of a PSA 9.5 rating isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s painful if you think it should be a 10. However, it does raise the price of PSA 10 rated cards, and they’re highly sought after.
- The slab isn’t really eye-catching as they’ve opted for a plain sticker listing the relevant information. It doesn’t compare to Beckett’s options, especially if it’s a 10 grade.
- In some cases, the card isn’t secure inside the case and can move around if dropped or damaged. However, it’s unlikely to damage the card itself, which is good news.
- You won’t be able to add non-PSA rated cards to the PSA Set Registry.
- In the past, they were seen as leaders in authenticating, although their grading system has vastly improved in the last decade.
Pros and Cons of BGS (i.e. Beckett)
There are a number of reasons why BGS could be a better option than PSA for grading cards.
Of course, Beckett card grading has a range of cons that are also worth considering, so here’s everything you need to know.
- Beckett’s labeling is generally preferred, and it’s easy to see why when you compare their offerings to the PSA equivalents.
- They’ve seen a great option for newer cards, and they’re often
- BGS is tougher on centering, especially for Gem Mint cards.
- They decided to release the Beckett Graded Registry in 2013, hoping to match up to PSA’s service with many similar features. You can compare cards with others, sort through your collection. And there’s also the chance to win prizes by competing against others in upload and set completion contests.
- Extensive subgrades allow the buyer and seller to have a better idea of the item. Detailing everything from the value to any flaws clearly and concisely.
- The BVG service is ideal if you’d like to get a vintage collection valued.
- The Beckett grading population report is pretty easy to navigate and use
- Beckett cardholders are larger than the PSA equivalent. This isn’t ideal if space is an issue, and it gets worse if you have a large collection.
- Some feel the grading system is too complex. While it’s great to have a lot of info about a card. There are so many variables that go into the BGS grading system. If you have a duo of 9.5s with slightly different grading stats. It’s not surprising if the price differs depending on what collectors value more.
- The special labels are a great touch. But they do have an unintended consequence. They make the silver tabs look second-rate in comparison. And you don’t want people making that connection while they’re looking at your cards.
- They grade autographs on a sliding scale. Many feel the player’s autograph should have only two options; real or fake.
- Collectors seek out PSA more than Beckett, so this should be a factor in your decision on grading cards.
Pros and Cons of CGC
Despite being the smallest of the trio, CGC runs a tight ship and were seen as the go-to service during the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak. There have been a few growing pains along the way, but the pros easily outweigh the cons now that they appear to have ironed things out.
- Typically the cheapest service for grading cards
- Simple design with great slabs
- Good customer service, offering quick responses and no-nonsense
- Speedy card grading thanks to new changes to their pricing system
- They’ve recently changed their pricing system to a two-tier package, which ups the price significantly for grading cards
- Some users were left waiting for significant periods after they were overwhelmed midway through 2020
As you can see there are a lot of pros and not a lot of cons when it comes to CGC Grading.
The only problems are one of the cons is a big one. No one likes to get less money for their cards when they are around the same grade vs the other shops. BUT we are monitoring this closely as we expect CGC to narrow the gap over the upcoming year as they gain more popularity with collectors.
PSA Grading Reviews
“PSA can take a lot longer than Beckett does and other options, CGC for example but can quite often be worth the wait as PSA 10 consistently sells for more than BGS 9.5 or CGC 10’s. Sometimes I use PSA, sometimes I use BGS, sometimes I use CGC, it just depends on the card” – Mike L. Miami, FL
“I have a signed baseball with the likes of Mickey Cochrane, Rogers Hornsby, Bill McGowan, dizzy dean, and others. It’s PSA authenticated but my problem with it is they rushed the authentication. They stated the ball is mid 40’s and it was actually 10 years older. On the card, they didn’t even list all of the Hall of Fame autographs on it. How can you not list Goose Goslin, Schoolboy Rowe, and Tommy bridges? Other than that I haven’t had any other problems with either of the two.” Rolland W.
“PSA cards grade higher than BGS which we like BUT they take FOREVER (especially if the card is a patch/autograph. Just depends on the cards that we are getting graded” Miles H. Boston, MA
“I prefer to use PSA. I just received my latest package back in late February. Many like the eye appeal over the other companies. So, I like they are a trusted name once someone like me wants to resale. Not the cheapest or quickest turn around times. But I know that going into it. Just look at the Lucky 7’s T206 owner. People use PSA because it’s a trusted source with the highest return on investment.” – Joe K. Norwalk, IA
“I prefer BGS due to subgrades. Plus as was mentioned in another comment, PSA will give a 10 to a card that’s really not a 10. You get truer grading with BGS although there’s definite objectivity in the grading which leads to some inconsistency.” – Sean R. Julian, PA
“I was big on BGS, but the more I’ve gotten back into the hobby, I prefer PSA. The smaller slabs make the cards easier to store. And I like that a 10 is a 10. You don’t have a 10 with different subgrades that make it a more or less valuable 10.” – Drake M. Ft. Smith, AR
Beckett Grading Reviews
“Becket Authentication offers a great combination of speed and reasonable prices. We have received a few Black Labels! We love the look of the Black Label 10s!” – Miles K. Miami, FL
“The Beckett grading in-person option was available at an event I attended… the line was long but went quick. The in-person grading process only took a few minutes from the time they got my card. Pretty cool option… Beckett should look into having this option at local card shows in major cities.” Mike S. – Kansas City, MO
“I would rate Beckett grading services a solid 9 out of 10. We use Beckett on the majority of our cards we get graded. Cheers!” Steve C. New Orleans, LA
“The only thing I dislike about BGS grading is if your card grades a 9.5 auto, 9 people look at the card like it’s a crappy auto. But really it’s not. Now PSA 10 equal to BGS there isn’t an auto-grade.” Chris G. – Westfield, Massachusetts
SGC Grading Reviews
“I actually prefer CGC to both the big boys. They’re cheaper and turn-times are quicker. They have really stepped up their game too.” – Mark Y. Clearwater, FL
“Quick and cost less vs PSA/BGS… what’s not to like here?” – Chris G. Denver, CO
PSA Grading Cost vs BGS Grading Cost vs CGC Grading Cost
Below are images from the PSACard and Beckett websites showing their basic cost of the service of grading cards (as you can see this is not a cheap hobby!).
PSA Grading Prices
Beckett Grading Prices
CGC Grading Pricing
SGC has updated their grading service as of July 2020, ‘simplifying’ it with two separate payment tiers.
The basic level of service is called, “I Can Wait.” There’s no guaranteed turnaround time for graded cards, and the service offers no specific time frame. Priced at a minimum of $10 per card, it matches the amount SGC has charged most customers for years.
The new premium tier is called; “Need Them Now.” This tier is priced at a minimum of $100 per card, which is a significant outlay if you were hoping to get your collection graded as quickly as possible. However, neither tier offers a flat fee for grading per card, and it’ll also depend on the value of your items.
As such, pricing begins at $10 for cards valued under $250, but that goes up to $85 if the declared value is $3,500 or over. SGC is still the most affordable of the three grading companies, although not as much as it once was. You can find out more about their pricing here.
Quick flips require low wait times, although every service has suffered in recent months due to Covid-19.
CGC saw more submissions after PSA and Beckett Grading were forced to briefly shut down operations early in 2020 due to government orders. However, CGC ended up backlogged, unable to deal with the combined customer base of Beckett and PSA.
No one likes to wait! Especially if you have a $25,000 Michael Jordan rookie card you’re waiting to get back! Here are the estimated wait times for the three stores in question.
Current PSA Grading Wait Time
PSA tends to take ages at the best of times. While they recently released the following statement on their website: “PSA is experiencing a high volume of submissions, and as a result, submission processing times have been impacted. PSA is currently experiencing extensive delays, from the time of delivery to the time of order processing entry.”
Current Beckett Grading Wait Time
BGS does not offer an updated turn around time for grading card services. Other than what is listed on the BGS grading form of course. Plus Their drop-off service! which at the time of writing this is still operating offers roughly a 1 week turn around for grading cards!
- 2-day service level
- 5-day service level
- 10-day service level
- 30-day service level
Current CGC Wait Times
Wait times will differ depending on which grading tier you choose. I Can Wait has no set deadline.
According to CGC, the Need Them Now service will take approximately three to five business days. They admit that this is an estimate, but they say that “customers should not expect to wait far past the five business day mark. At least to see that their orders have been marked shipped and are on their way back to them.”
Final Review (who is best?)
Card grading is far from an exact science, despite what SGC, BGS, and PSA would like you to believe.
After all, you could send the same 8 grade over multiple times if you’re hoping for an extra half-point, and it does work. (of course, this could also lead to lower grades, and they get their fees regardless.) The point is, different collectors will have a variety of experiences and preferences. So the honest answer to the question ‘who is the best grading service’ is that it depends.
Education: Best Time to Buy and Sell Baseball Cards
It’s worth remembering that some collectors prefer ungraded cards, while others view the practice as a bit of a scam. Considering the massive market for forgeries and doctored cards, we think that it’s better to be sure if you’re looking at rare options. Or attempting to sell one yourself grading cards is the way to go.
For example, in 2019, the PWCC auction house was subpoenaed by the FBI, causing their attorney Jeffrey Lichtman to release the following statement: “There has been some evidence that cards sold at PWCC auctions have been altered. While there are questions of what constitutes an improper alteration. I can say that PWCC is among those who have sold altered cards. PWCC has sold hundreds of thousands of cards and the problematic ones are in the hundreds — or less than 1%.”
Less than 1% is still a significant amount if you happen to find an altered card in your collection. The story highlights exactly why it’s best to go for a graded option when possible.
Overall, a PSA 10 is going to be better and sold for more than a BGS 9.5 or CGC 10. Although it becomes more subjective when you get to lower grades when grading cards.
You don’t have to stick with one over the other when grading cards. But they do attempt to force you to via loyalty schemes and the respective Registry services. It’s a big deal for some collectors, but the majority are more concerned with turnaround times and pricing. It’s little wonder that SGC continues to grow in popularity.
You’ll have to decide for yourself, and in many cases, there’s no right or wrong answer. Everything from the era of the cards you collect to your preferred slab should have an impact on your personal preference. Some people use one, and others use a combination of all three grading services.
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