At Ambr Grading we recognize that Trading Card Game (TCG) cards like Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering are fundamentally different from sports cards. While there are some similarities within authentication, grading, and encasing any card, the differences are significant enough to require a system that is purpose-built for TCGs.

The Ambr Grading process is built specifically for TCGs - classification, and authentication by experts of your favorite game who understand the needs and wants of collectors. We allow qualifiers like miscuts, misprints, and other anomalies to produce a grade that more accurately represents the condition and status of your card.

Here we take a detailed look at how we process a card. Orders are verified at every stage to ensure that your order is maintained throughout the process. This process involves Intake, Research & Authentication, Grading, Printing & Sealing, Quality Assurance (QA), and Return Shipping. We use internal controls, so we know where every card is at any time during its journey through our facility, and you can track your cards via the Dashboard on our website when you are signed in to your account.

The Card Process

From Start to Finish
Stock photo of Ambr TCG cards

Intake

Every package we receive is scanned into our system as soon as it arrives. We do not warehouse unopened boxes - packages and cards should not sit uninspected for long periods of time. The package is inspected upon arrival to ensure it is in good condition - any damage or issues are immediately documented. This will give you assurance that your order is in good hands and inside our secure facility.

Once checked in, the orders are queued for processing, and packages are then opened one at a time under video monitoring. Each card is inspected for its arrival condition and checked to ensure it corresponds with the order list and scanned using a high-resolution scanner.

From the box to the scanner, your cards are never out of view from our security system. After the scans are complete the cards are then sleeved and placed in rigid, serialized, protectors and placed into serialized containers, and staged for their next step. The scans are sent to the research and authentication dashboard and each card’s digital report.

Research & Authentication

  • Behind the Scenes Part 1 - Authentication
  • with Ambr Grading Co-Founder Daniel Clarke

Properly authenticating and identifying each card is a critical step in the process. With the proliferation of suspect cards in the market, we want to make sure every card we grade and encase is authentic. Mis-labeling cards are a common industry issue due to the abundance of variation in TCG cards - our system was built to ensure cards are correctly identified and labeled.

During the research and authentication stage, each card is verified using the ordering system and checked to make sure what has been entered matches what is present. Once verified or corrected, our team uses a complete and current database for every game that we grade. Our training program and built-in redundancies ensure our team will properly identify every card we process.

Next, the card gets checked for authentication and is subjected to multiple documented tests. These authenticity tests may include a variety of forensic markers and identifiers such as printing marks, layering structure, dimensions, and more. The tests vary between games and eras as each has its own markers. While we document and record these markers for every card internally, we do not share all details of the process in order to keep counterfeiters from benefiting from that knowledge.

If a card cannot be authenticated (identified as suspect), it is recorded and stays with the customer’s order but will not be graded. We will notify you if a card cannot be authenticated and will be returned with the rest of the order.

Grading

  • Ambr Grading: Behind the Scenes Part 2 - Grading
  • with Ambr Grading Co-Founder Daniel Clarke

Grading is the process of determining the overall condition of a card by analyzing several physical aspects. Although there are no uniform industry standards used by the card grading industry, we utilize best practices established for consistency and reduced subjectivity.

The grading system developed at Ambr Grading is purpose-built for TCGs. Our card grading process and algorithm are tailored to reduce subjectivity and increase consistency, while integrating the considerations of trading card games into the system. We placed a priority on building a system that is repeatable and easy to understand - both for the grader and the collector.

Grading is accomplished systematically by breaking the card into sections and allocating scores to each using explicitly defined criteria. Our method includes 18 points of observation that are analyzed which include the Surface (2 points), Edges (4 points), Corners (4 points), and Centering (8 points).

The grading process combines computer imaging and measurement analysis with observations by a person - where a person verifies the results from the computer. To reduce subjectivity, every card is graded twice with the first results hidden. Once all observations are recorded twice, the scores pass through an algorithm that generates four Subgrades and one Final Grade.

The Final Grade is based on a half-point scale from 1 to 10 (e.g., 9.5). The four Subgrades also utilize the 10-point scale for Surface, Edges, Corners, and Centering. While we do not print the Subgrades on the case label, every graded card receives subgrades which can be found on the Digital Report.

All cards also receive a Mint Score. Whereas graded cards can sometimes be described as having a “mint” correlating to the grade, we utilize a letter score that better represents the card’s condition and is less ambiguous. For example, a card with a, Final Grade of 9.0 will receive a Mint Score of “A-”.

In some instances, a card may only pass through the Authentication step and not be graded before being encased. Authenticated and ungraded cards will be assigned a Final Grade of “AO” for Authentication Only. Altered cards, for example, will be marked “AO” and allow a collector to have their card authenticated and encapsulated without receiving a score.

It is very difficult to receive a Final Grade of “10” from Ambr Grading. We feel 10’s should be reserved for perfect cards as they are rare to find in practice. We recognize the assigned grade can significantly impact the value of a card, and scrutiny should be taken when assigning high Final Grades. The information used to determine your card’s Final Grade can be found in its Digital Report.

Stock picture of a workstation at Ambr

Printing & Sealing

Printing and sealing are the “glamor” steps where we highlight the aesthetics of your card. Now that the Authentication and Grading steps are completed, the card is ready to have its customized, full-border label printed and be encased.

Our custom software combines the background image you selected upon order submission with the data for your card. The label data includes the Card Name, Game Name, Set Name, Final Grade, Mint Score, and qualifiers and variances that may apply (e.g., foil, alt art, language, misprints, etc.). The unique Ambr Grading case design lets us print the label into the case directly and eliminates the traditional paper label. This is done using a specialty printer that prints the labels out in batches.

Once the label has been printed the card is sealed into its case. Each card is matched to its label and carefully pre-assembled into the case. It then gets placed in an ultrasonic welder that seales the case’s two halves together, encasing the card. The ultrasonic sealing process is beneficial since it properly bonds the two halves together, creates no heat, and has no contact or effect on the card.

stock photo of Ambr welder

Quality Assurance (QA)

The Quality Assurance step is the final check to ensure we did everything right. A comprehensive checklist is completed, and an expert examiner visually re-inspects the card for factors such as:

  • Does the card look authentic, and did it pass the checks?
  • Is the card categorized correctly? (e.g. is it the correct set)
  • Does the grade look correct?
  • Does the printed label look correct?
  • Is the label data correct?
  • Was the card sealed correctly?

Return Shipping

Once all of the cards in an order have passed QA it will move to Return Shipping. At this stage we carefully wrap and package your order to be returned to you. The appropriate shipping method and insurance are used based on your selection from when you originally submitted the order. Once the package has been picked up by the carrier you will get a tracking number to know your cards are on their way to you!