Pokémon Card Grading 101

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Daniel Clarke

9 minute read

Looking to get your Pokémon Cards graded, but don’t know where to start? We got you covered!

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Looking to get your Pokémon Cards graded, but don’t know where to start? We got you covered!

Before we begin, please keep in mind that I work for Ambr Grading but I have used over a dozen different grading services over the years. I am not sponsored by or affiliated with any company or service outside of Ambr Grading and the opinions written are mine. 

So you’re looking to get your Pokémon cards graded and wondering where to start. Grading cards is not something all card collectors do but it is extremely popular among Pokémon Card collectors. There are many benefits to having your cards graded which include permanent protection and having the card(s) authenticated. Some questions you might have asked are:

  • Which of my Pokémon cards are worth money?
  • Which Pokémon cards of mine will be worth money in the future?
  • Are my Pokémon cards in good enough condition to get graded?
  • Is it worth it to get my Pokémon cards graded?

The first thing you need to consider is why you want to get a card graded. Are you trying to make money now, invest, keep something for nostalgia or begin a collection? If it's nostalgia or a collection that you care about most, the monetary value may not be a consideration. If maximizing your return tops your list of reasons for grading your cards, it’s important to understand which cards you have so you can accurately evaluate them. 

How do I identify what I have?

If you have absolutely no experience with Pokémon cards or you have been out of the loop for a while, your initial step might be to find someone that knows what they’re looking at. Some local shops may be willing to look at what you have if the collection is small enough or perhaps a friend that has an eidetic memory for card values and can quickly search through your collection for stand-out cards - there are more people like this than you might realize. If neither of these is an option, there is a process you can use to help minimize the time it takes to find potential value in your collection:

  • Sifting through your cards pull out anything that is holo (shiny), rare or higher (see images below), full art, rainbow, a “first edition” stamp, or has a popular name (i.e., Charizard, Blastoise, etc.). There is no guarantee that these cards will have a high value but it’s a good place to start while eliminating most other cards that are more likely to not have any value. Rare cards will have a star and promo cards will often have a promo indicator but not always. Some common and uncommon cards can still be valuable but not because of their rarity per se. Make sure you look up "shadowless" cards if you are working with older cards.  
The location of this information may be on the left or right of the card. Some printings use symbols while others use codes or both to represent the cards information

The location of this information may be on the left or right of the card. Some printings use symbols while others use codes or both to represent the cards information

  • Using sites like Pokémontcg.Guru (English cards) or Bulbapedia (for non-English cards) can be excellent resources in showing the different versions of cards that exist. Type in a card's name and use the visual search to find the same version of the card you have. Look for the version with the same photo but keep in mind that even the slightest difference can make a massive difference in value and there may be several cards with the same art. For example, having a “first edition” stamp can make a card worth several times more than one without a stamp. There are innumerable differences and reprints of many cards and it can be a task to determine exactly which one you have. A site like the ones mentioned above can give you the set name which will help you determine the card's value in the next step. Alternatively, you can skip to the next step as TCGplayer.com has many of the same visualization capabilities. Another tip for obtaining a very generic identification, especially if a card is not in your native language is to use Google Lens. It's a free app and all you need to do is take a picture of the card and have Lens analyze it. You won't likely get an exact match but you will probably get a card name and maybe even a set which is enough to keep searching.  
First Edition stamps can greatly increase the value and rarity of a card. Some stamps have errors in them, making them even rarer.

First Edition stamps can greatly increase the value and rarity of a card. Some stamps have errors in them, making them even rarer.

  • Once you have located the version that is yours, head over to TCGplayer.com or eBay to find out what your card is selling for. Again, make sure you are selecting the correct version of the card you have. If it's first edition, holofoil or some other variants make sure you are using that as a search criterion. Using the collector number and the set symbol is a good way to narrow down the selection. An example of an eBay search might be something like this “base set Pikachu first edition” or “Mew holofoil promo 9.” If you enjoy the “hunt” of looking for good cards then you can always search for cards by their highest value and then search through your collection to see if you have any that match. This is a tedious process and there are so many cards worth money that it's not likely to help but it can be fun to do. 

This process can be time-consuming, especially at first. After a few cards, you’ll get the hang of it, and it will go faster. Card collecting is extremely nuanced and it takes years to grow a baseline knowledge of what is out there and what is valuable. Don’t be discouraged if you are just starting out, it's all part of the hobby!

Be ready to pay for shipping:

Most people new to grading are unprepared for the common shipping practices among grading services. Grading is unique in that most other goods and services don't require you to send something in and then later have it sent back. Shipping your cards can get pricey, especially if they are high value and you adequately insure them and you will need to multiply that number by two, plus some since it has to be sent both ways. Purchasing retail shipping is even more expensive if you do not have a dedicated shipping service with an account. As a personal rule, I would never ship with UPS (this is different from USPS aka the postal service). UPS is often 8-10x more expensive than USPS and their customer service is awful. Going with USPS flat rate boxes or FedEx is generally faster and less expensive. Keep in mind that USPS has a $5000 cap on insurance and charges around $1 per $100 of insurance. FedEx has a $100,000 insurance maximum and charges less per $100 - at the time of this writing. These rates will change with time so go to each respective carrier for accurate information. I do recommend using a service like Grandshipper if you are able to make an account since you will get better rates, and better service and you can create shipping labels from home.

What do I get when I have my Pokémon Cards Graded?

At the most basic level, you will get your cards reviewed and placed in a plastic case. Depending on the company you choose this might be polycarbonate or acrylic. Typically acrylic is more clear and looks better but it acts more like glass than does polycarbonate. Some companies will offer subgrades (the individual grades that make up the overall grade - Centering, Surface, Corners, and Edges) but most will charge extra for this service. You can also get photos of your cards before and after they are graded so you can share them on social media and use the images in your sale posts if you choose but this service is not common. Ambr Grading is the only grading service meant specifically for TCGs that includes every service with no up-charges and a guarantee of 30-day return times or less. 

Something to keep in mind is return times, values and pricing can vary with each grading company and even within each grading company. Many charges are based on the value of the card, despite it getting the same treatment as a much less valuable card. Others will be very inexpensive if you plan to ship in hundreds of cards at a time. This only works if you are ok with those cards being away and untrackable for long periods of time. In 2021, it was not unusual for there to be 18-month return times on the lowest tiers of grading. It's important to consider all factors before selecting a service to go with. 

I want to sell my Pokémon Cards now:

With Pokémon cards, collectability is what drives the value of cards- the rarer, the more valuable. Brand new cards will sometimes have a “hype premium” that inflates their price initially. Generally, this price settles over time. Eventually, when the card goes out of print, the value will begin its slow climb up. If history teaches us anything about the oldest cards in the Pokémon Card collecting hobby it's that their value only goes one direction – up. If you’re holding on to some base set first edition or shadowless cards you probably want to get them graded now, no matter what their condition is. If you are looking to have some cards that are newer graded for safe keeping, doing so sooner will almost certainly save you money and the hassle of protecting those cards in other ways. The cost of grading cards has gone up substantially in the last five years and there is no indication that it will go down any time soon. If you have a card that is rare and valuable now, there is a good chance it will be worth more later. Keep in mind that not all grading companies are the same. Some specialize in TCGs like Pokémon and others are sports card centric. Just because a company is less expensive does not mean you are getting a good deal. Make sure the company has a thorough authentication process and a return time that is acceptable to you. 

It might be a good idea to check the population reports of the cards you want to get graded. It is a good indicator of the scarcity of your card and how popular it is. 

Keep realistic expectations. Just because you found the same card as the one you have for $100 on eBay does not necessarily mean your card is also worth $100. Some people will overinflate the value of their cards because of sentimental reasons or perhaps they don’t understand how markets work. You need to find the LOWEST price that matches the condition of your card to find an accurate value of what it may be worth. To make things a little more complicated, graded cards that have a high score will often be worth a lot more than cards with low scores or cards that are not graded but in the “same” condition. A trick to get accurate values for your cards is to search on eBay using the “completed//Sold” option. Alternatively, TCGPlayer.com sorts its cards by condition, and it's easy to get a sense of the value of a card. TCGPlayer.com also has a condition guide for “raw” cards that can be helpful in determining your card's condition. You may have a near-mint card but that does not guarantee a high grade with a grading service because there are more variables being assessed and with a lot more scrutiny.  

I want to keep my Pokèmon Cards:

Grading cards for your personal collection is a great way to protect them and keep them safe while displaying them. Most grading companies use plastic that has some UV and humidity protection. Ambr Grading allows for full border customization allowing you to get the aesthetic of your cards to shine. 

To see how Ambr Grading is truly different when it comes to grading and slabbing TCGs click 👉 HERE.

I hope this guide answers many of your questions, if you have any more, please feel free to contact me at hello@ambrgrading.com!