Self Grading Trading Cards

Self Grading Your Star Wars Trading Cards

Under most circumstances, you will be pulling cards fresh from a sealed pack. Under these conditions, most of your cards will be in Mint or Near Mint (M/NM) condition. Most collectors wont settle for anything less than M or NM and cards of lesser quality are primarily used as filler cards to complete a set. However, if you're opening sealed packs from an older pack that's been sitting around for a while then it's possible to open damaged packs as a result of someone having previously dropped or stored a box poorly. A sealed box certainly increases your chances of receiving cards in better condition, but it's still no guarantee.

Vintage Star Wars cards from 1977-1980 shipped in wax packs and included bubble gum. After 40 years of storage, many of what's left of these sealed packs have endured much and opening a fresh pack can be disappointing. Even under excellent storage conditions, a large number of the vintage cards are still in less than M/NM condition due to the fact that the print quality in 1977 wasn't the same as it is today and there were more production flaws back then, but modern day cards can also ship with production flaws. The biggest problem you will find with these older cards is an OC (off center) print.

So whether you are opening new packs, or examining cards that you've already had in your collection for a while, this guide is intended to help you grade your own cards. When trading with others, look out for card descriptions that don't fit the standard model. For example, if someone describes their cards as real nice then the purchase or trade is a gamble because you don't know what the sender means by "real nice".

All graded cards, whether they are self graded or not, are still graded based on personal inspection and are therefore vulnerable to bias. But at the very least, every collector should be on the same page when it comes to standards of grading cards. If you're dealing with a collector that isn't on the same page, then send them the link to this one.

Getting Started

Since your not certifying your cards, you don't need any special items to grade your collection. But for a more accurate grade, you might want to consider grabbing a few inexpensive tools first.

What to look for

There are 4 elements of each card that you will be evaluating: 1) centering of the print, 2) the corners, 3) the edges, and 4) the card surface.

Centering
Most Star Wars trading cards have borders around the outer edge of the card. The border distance from the edge of the card should be equal on all sides. Most of the time, a careful look with the naked eye is all that's needed to determine whether or not a card is off center or OC.

Corners
You want a card with 4 sharp corners. Be sure to study the corners from both the front and back of the card. Look for any "white" spots at the corner; this can indicate a slightly bent corner that can't be seen with the naked eye, but changes the reflection of light in a way that gives that corner a slight white look. Pay close attention to the card design too, sometimes the design of the card includes a bit of white in the corner so don't let your eyes play tricks on you. Also watch for any peeling at the corners, some cards ship with two layers and have a print layer over the card layer. Continuously inserting a card into and out of a protective sleeve can sometimes lead to a weak corner in which the print layer peels back revealing the card layer beneath; for many collectors this is a death sentence for the card.

Edges
After years of collecting Topps Star Wars cards, I've found that some sets have very poor cuts leading to incorrect sizes and rough edges. For example, the 2012 release of the Star Wars Galactic Files had very poor edges and for this reason I don't collect this set. In another example, the Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones set had a lot of uneven cuts, but the edges were still generally clean. Under most circumstances you will be looking for any damage to the edge that occurred after opening a new pack, but it's important to understand that the production value plays heavily into the condition of the edge too. The edges of a card are not nearly as important as the corners simply due to the fact that minor flaws are less noticeable. That said, all 4 edges should be sharp, the color should be constant, and the edges should be free of dents.

Surface
Sets of various types will have issues that differ from other sets. For example, scratches on a glossy card will be more noticeable than on a flat non glossy card, but a glossy card will also resist moisture better. A chrome card will be stronger and able to resist higher pressures that might otherwise bend a non-chrome card. Autographed cards tend to boost the value of any card, but the ink tends to be the first bit to fade as well. Foil cards are nice, but sometimes bits of the foil peel off exposing the card beneath. All of these unique conditions must be considered when grading the surface of your card. That said, cards should be free of marks and surface dents, as well as creases and bends. Bubble gum stains on the Star Wars vintage cards are kind of fun, but they do in fact reduce the value of the card. Look for any warping too, a sign of previous water or moisture damage and smell the card for any signs of past mildew.

Grades

Now that you know what to look for, it's time to grade your cards.

Mint (MT): A perfect card. Well-centered with parallel borders which appear equal to the naked eye. Four sharp, square corners. No creases, edge dents, surface scratches, paper flaws, loss of luster, yellowing or fading, regardless of age. No imperfectly printed cards – out of register, badly cut or ink flawed or card stained by contact with gum, wax or other substances can be considered truly Mint, even if new out of the pack. Generally, to be considered in Mint condition, a card’s borders must exist in a ratio of 60/40 side to side and top to bottom.

Near Mint (NM): A nearly perfect card. At first glance, the card appears perfect; upon closer examination, however, a minor flaw will be discovered. On well-centered cards, three of the four corners must be perfectly sharp; only one corner shows a minor imperfection upon close inspection. A slightly off-center card with one or more borders being noticeably unequal but no worse than in a ratio of 70/30. Yellowing or fading would turn an otherwise mint card into NM.

Excellent (EX): Corners are still fairly sharp with only moderate wear. Card borders may be off center as much as 80/20. No creases. May have very minor gum, wax or product stains, front or back. Surfaces may show slight loss of luster from rubbing across other cards. Dark bordered cards may have one or two small nicks.

Very Good (VG): Shows obvious handling, but still looks nice. Corners may be rounded or perhaps showing minor creases. No major creases on a VG card. Surfaces may exhibit loss of luster, but the printing is intact. May show major gum, wax or other packaging stains. No major creases, tape marks or extraneous markings or writing. All four borders visible, though the ratio may be as poor as 95/5. Exhibits honest wear.

Good (G): A well-worn card, but exhibits no intentional damage or abuse. May have major or multiple creases, however, creases are not so deep as to show the underlying paper. This card is completely readable, has not been written on, and has no tape marks or holes. Corner rounding may extend well beyond the border.

Fair (F): Shows excessive wear, along with damage or abuse. Will show all the wear characteristics of a Good card, along with such damage as thumb tack holes in or near margins, evidence of having been taped or pasted, perhaps small tears around the edges or creases so heavily as to break the cardboard. Backs may show minor added pen or pencil writing, or be missing small bits of paper. Still basically a complete card.

Poor (P): A card that has been tortured to death. Corners or other areas may be torn off. Card may have been trimmed, show holes from a paper punch or have been used for BB gun practice. Front may have extraneous pen or pencil writing, or other defacement. Major portions of front or back design may be missing. Not a pretty sight.


As you can see, a good card is not really as good as one might think. Even an excellent card is in a condition that most collectors would not accept for anything other than filling the spot of an otherwise missing card. Collectors generally accept M/NM cards only and anyone sending in their cards to a professional grading service will only send Mint cards, anything less than that is pointless for most collectors, especially when considering the costs associated with the getting the card professionally graded.

One final thing, although this guide is intended to assist those that collect and trade Star Wars cards, the guide in general is the same guide that would apply to other types of trading cards too (other than CCG's) both sports and non-sports.