TCG Card Pre-grading: How it’s done

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Daniel Clarke

4 minute read

How to get the grades you expect on your card grading submissions: Pre-grading

How to know if you're going to get a top score or not before you submit

There is nothing worse than sending in your pack-fresh card to be graded and having it come back as an 8 or worse. So how do you make sure you don’t get poor grades? One prefix, a hyphen, and a word: Pre-grading.

Pre-grading is the act of performing a rough grading process so you have a better idea of what kind of grade you’ll receive on your cards before you submit them. If you follow this guide you will have a much better chance of predicting which cards get you the grades you expect. A pre-grade is not a guarantee that you will get the grade you expect- expert graders have sophisticated tools and training that allow them to see every defect, but it will certainly help! Let’s get to it!

Using a unit like mm makes it easy to get an idea of a cards relative centering

Using a unit like mm makes it easy to get an idea of a cards relative centering

Centering

Most collectors take care in opening their packs and are sure to keep the cards safe and well protected. Because of this, centering will almost certainly be the determining factor of your card’s grade for more recently released cards. A simple way to test your card’s center grade is to measure the outer border and compare the left measurement to the right and the top to the bottom and repeat this process for the back of the card. The further those measurements differ, the lower the grade will likely be for your card. For example, if your right border is 3mm and your left is 2mm your grade will likely be good but not perfect. Many grading companies will show you a grading overlay but it is difficult to line up and read all four measurements accurately- just use a ruler. Find the measurement that is closest to a mm (if it's closer to 2mm use 2mm). This is not as precise as the process used by Ambr Grading but it will give you the gist of your centering and that's all you want from this process. In the case where you don't have a clear outer border to measure, use another part of the card to estimate its center.

Surface issues can be from the factory

Surface issues can be from the factory

Surface

Your card’s surface should be free of print lines, indentations, scratches, scuffs, and other imperfections that will adversely affect its end score. Use light and rotate the card in different directions to get a good look at its surface. More imperfections=lower score. As a general rule, minor imperfections will reduce your score by a half-point and major defects will reduce the score by a point or more. Again, this is just a tool for blunt estimation.

Corner and Edge Grading are very similar in that the defects overlap

Corner and Edge Grading are very similar in that the defects overlap

Edges and Corners

Edges and corners are the most prone to being damaged since it does not take much to leave a permanent mark. Unfortunately, many cards leave a pack with edge and corner dings or “touches.” Using a light will help you see more and allow you to better gauge their condition before you send your cards in for grading. More imperfections=lower score. As a general rule, minor imperfections will reduce your score by a half-point and major defects will reduce the score by a point or more.

Example of "inking" where a card was repaired with a marker

Example of "inking" where a card was repaired with a marker

Damage/Altered

Damage can be subtle or severe. On black border cards, make sure you check for repair-marks called “inking.” This is common on older cards and unfortunately causes a card to be marked as altered, and will not be gradable (though it may still be authenticated). To check for inking, put the card under a bright light and rotate the card’s face in a circular motion. If there is inking, it will look like glossy spots that differ from the rest of the surface of the card. While Ambr Grading won’t grade altered cards, we will authenticate them if they pass our multi-stage, computer-assisted process and are given a score of AO (Authenticate Only). Damaged cards will receive a grade of One (1). Damage is defined by non-play (or excessive) wear that was caused by presumably unintentional circumstances. Since inking is intentional it is considered an alteration and not categorized as damaged for grading purposes. Damage may include exposure to water, a crease that spans more than half the card, missing material from a significant portion of the card, and so on.

Crimped cards can still be graded by Ambr Grading without affecting their score

Crimped cards can still be graded by Ambr Grading without affecting their score

Qualifiers

Ambr Grading recognizes that misprints and oddities are incredibly valuable in the TCG collectible community. To address this, Ambr Grading accounts for misprints and oddities without affecting their score. For example, miscut, crimped, and other unusual, manufacturing derived, aspects will be given a qualifier and otherwise graded normally. The only exception to this rule is Non-Factory Cut cards. These will be given the qualifier of NFC even though they are not factory errors. Cards that have been altered to look like they deserve a qualifier will not be graded. While Ambr Grading strives to meet the needs of every collector, miscut cards (and other factory oddities) that do not fit in our card cases cannot be graded at this time.

Factory and Non-factory miscut cards are highly collectible and may be gradable by Ambr Grading without a loss of score.

Factory and Non-factory miscut cards are highly collectible and may be gradable by Ambr Grading without a loss of score.

Ambr Grading uses an unbiased, multi-expert grading process. Our algorithms take 18 independent inputs to produce a card’s objective grade. Using the steps above will help you understand what we look for and reduce the chance that you get a grade you don’t expect. Every card graded by Ambr Grading will include a data sheet that breaks down the card’s subgrades and includes high-resolution images of your card. You won't find a more thorough or transparent grading company than Ambr Grading.

If you have any questions or suggestions please send them to:

hello@ambrgrading.com