Sports Card Grading Glossary

Acetate: A clear, transparent plastic stock that card manufacturers use in place of other, more traditional, paper and cardboard card stocks.

Altered: When a card has been modified or changed from its original form, whether to deceive a buyer or improve the apparent condition of a card, it is said to have been altered. When something has been added to or taken away from a card, it has been altered from its original state. Some common alterations include: trimming, pressing, re-coloring, power erasing, stock restoration and corner rebuilding.
See also: Doctored

American Card Catalog: The original guide created by the hobby pioneer Jefferson Burdick that catalogs all known types of trading cards, not just sports cards. Also known as the ACC, Burdick’s catalog designations are still used today. The ACC gives us designations such as “T-206” in reference to the now famous cigarette card set.

Autograph Card/Autographed Card: A card that has been signed by the athlete, entertainer, celebrity or other personality. Also referred to as: Auto or AU, the abbreviation and acronym for the word autograph.

Base Card: The main cards that comprise a sports card or non-sport product’s base set. The cards are typically numbered on the back of the card.

Blank Back: A trading card that has no printing, of any kind, on the card’s back. This can either be by design or as the result of a printing error.

Cabinet Card: A style of photograph that was widely used for photographic portraiture after 1870. It consisted of a thin albumen photograph mounted or glued on a thick cardboard card typically measuring 4 ¼ by 6 ½ inches.

Card Stock: The media in which a trading card is printed on. This card can be made of many different materials such as card stock, paper, cardboard and plastic.

Chrome: The name of the metallic-like card stock manufactured by Topps.

Common(s): A term used to describe the least expensive cards in a set. These can be player cards not belonging to a rookie, semi-star or star. They can also be used in reference to any non-insert or parallel card in a set. The latter being the more common use of the term in the modern collecting era.

Condition: The physical state of a card. The condition of a card can be affected by environment, handling or manufacturer defects. The state of the condition of a card is measured against a condition scale. Third-party grading companies such as CSG use an industry-standard 10-point condition scale.

Cut Signature: An autograph fragment or an autograph that has been cut from a larger document. The portion that has the autograph is then embedded or mounted into or onto a card to create a signed trading card. Also referred to as: Cut Auto

Die-Cut: A card that has been cut using a die to create a specific card shape or design.

Ding: A “ding” is the term used to describe damage on the corner of a trading card. Dings commonly occur as the result of cards being mishandled by either dropping the card on its corner or the corner has suffered blunt force, causing the corner to bend or buckle.

Doctored/Doctoring: A term typically used to describe a card that has been altered to cover-up or eliminate a condition flaw. Cards can be “doctored” in several ways including but not limited to: trimmed, re-colored, power erased and pressed. Card doctoring and is frowned upon by hobby collectors and dealers.
See also: Altered

Double Print: A trading card that has two-times more cards than that of the other cards in the set. A typical trading card sheet consists of 132 cards. Depending on the number of total cards in the set, some cards are often included on the sheet more than once resulting in those cards being “double printed.” Commonly referred to as: DP

Emboss, Embossed, Embossing: A printing process that presses a design or text into the stock of the card leaving an indentation.

Encapsulated: A card that has been sealed in a tamper-resistant, permanent plastic case. This typically occurs after grading or authentication by a third-party grading company. Some manufacturers such as Topps and Panini have issued sports cards products that have been encapsulated in a holder that is sealed with a sticker. These are also referred to as encapsulated.
Slang: Slabbed

Error Card: A trading card that contains a mistake. Some of the more common errors include misspelled names, inaccurate statistical information or a wrong photograph. Often, the error is caught before the entire print run has been completed. If the card with the mistake is corrected, this is referred to as a Corrected Error. The card that was printed in the lesser quantity determines which of the two cards may have any premium in value in the hobby.

Event-Used: A memorabilia piece that has been cut or removed from a worn or used item at a specific event such as draft day or rookie debut events.

Event-Worn: A piece of memorabilia embedded in a card that was not used in a game. Instead, the memorabilia is from an item only worn by the athlete and only for inclusion within a memorabilia card.
See also: Player-Worn

Exhibit Card: A trading card measuring approximately 3-3/8 x 5-3/8 inches. Exhibit cards were produced and distributed by the Exhibit Card Company of Chicago.

Facsimile Signature: An autograph that has been applied to a card using a stamp or printed as part of the overall printing process. A replica signature of the subject that was not applied to the card’s surface by the subject themselves.

Factory Set: A complete set of trading cards packaged as a full set and sold by the manufacturer. Factory sets typically carry a premium over hand-collated sets.

Foil: Metallic-like accents added to the surface of a trading card. Foil is added through an additional step in the printing process.

Food Issue: A card that was distributed as a premium with a food product.

Full Bleed: A printing term used to describe a trading card that contains no border. The printing on the card (typically the photograph) extends in all four directions to the edge of the card stock.

Game-Used: A piece of memorabilia that has been used in a professional sporting event. These items can include, but are not limited to: bats, gloves, batting gloves, bases, football pylons, hockey sticks, etc.
Not to be confused with Event-Used.

Game-Worn: A piece of memorabilia that has been worn by a player in an actual game and embedded into a card by the card manufacturer. These items can include: jerseys, hats, shoes, pads, etc.

Gloss/Glossy: The shiny luster surface of a card. The gloss is a result of a material applied to a card after the printing process giving the card a lustrous protective finish.

Graded Card: A card that has been examined by a third-party grading specialist for condition and assigned a specific numerical grade that corresponds with the card’s physical condition.
See also: Third-Party Grading Company

Gum Stain: A stain on a card caused by chewing gum issued in the card pack. When gum was inserted in packs, it was placed between the wrapper and either the top or bottom card. Over time, the gum would form a stain on the card, significantly devaluing the card.

High Number: A term mostly associated with vintage cards printed before 1973, to describe the last, or near the last cards in a trading card set. These cards originate from the last print run and distribution of cards printed and released by series.
See also: High Series

High Series: Also known as a high number series or high number, a series contains cards from the last series of cards printed and distributed for a set in a given year.

Hit or Hit Card: Refers to a higher-valued card or those perceived to have a higher value than other cards in a pack or box of cards. These cards are typically those that are autographed, contain a piece of memorabilia or are significantly short-printed.

Hologram: A printing technology that creates a reflective, 3D-like effect. It can also refer to a specific hologram used in the authentication process. First introduced to the hobby in 1989 by Upper Deck as an anti-counterfeiting measure.

Inscribed/Inscription: A term used in autograph collecting where the subject, in addition to signing their name, includes a specialized notation such as a statistical achievement, nickname, Hall of Fame induction year or personalization.

Insert Card: Used to describe a non-base and non-parallel card in a trading card set. These cards typically have a specific and unique theme, name, designs and numbering.

Jefferson Burdick: Called the father of the hobby, Burdick wrote the book on collecting cards. Called the American Card Catalog, or ATC, the book assigned a catalog number to the different known card sets of the day. This is where we get the term “T-206.” The set is a 20th century US tobacco issued set and is set 206 under that designation.

Jersey Card: A card that contains a piece of jersey material, often referred to as a swatch embedded into the card stock.
See also: Game-Used, Event-Used

Lenticular: A printing technology which causes a 3D-like effect allowing the image or images to have the appearance of movement when viewed at different angles. To create this effect, a small, ribbed, plastic lens is used to produce images that gives the illusion of depth.

Licensed: A trading card that carries with it the official endorsement and authorized usage rights from a respective sports licensing body like the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB.

Limited Edition: A term used by trading card manufactures and memorabilia companies describing a card that has been produced in small quantities and is scarce.

Loupe: A hand-held magnifier used by card graders to determine a card’s condition and to detect card alterations and counterfeits. The proper loupe for card grading is a 10x power loupe with a triplet lens that has been corrected for both color and distortion. This is the standard loupe format for professional card graders.

Manufactured Relic: A non-game-used or player-worn item that is manufactured by the card company and included as a premium or insert in a trading card product. These can include: pins, coins, plaques, rings, silks and patches, all of which are embedded in the trading card.

Manufacturer: A company that produces trading cards in the sports and entertainment collectibles market.

Memorabilia Card: A card that contains a piece of player related equipment or other item in some way related to the player or subject depicted on the card. The item is embedded in the card.
See also: Relic Cards

Notching: Indentions on the edge of a card caused by a group of cards being held together by a rubber band.

Numbering: The card number affixed to the back of a trading card indicating its order in its respective set.

Oddball: A non-traditional collectible that doesn’t fall into a typical category like other better-known cards or other commonly collected items. Examples include beer or soda cans, food related items and product premiums.

On-Card: An autographed card whose signature is directly on the card and not on a sticker label affixed to the card. Also referred to as Hard-Signed.

One-of-One: A card that is unique to a particular series or card product. One-of-One cards are usually serial numbered as 1/1, meaning that there is only one of that exact trading card in existence.

Player-Worn: A piece of clothing or memorabilia that has been worn by a player but not in a game. Usually, it is worn for a photo shoot.

Post-War Vintage: Vintage sports cards that were produced after World War II are known as Post-War Vintage.

Premium: An additional item included with a box of cards such as a box-topper. A premium can also mean an increased value placed on a card or item from a set due to various influencing factors including rarity, condition issues, etc. A premium is also an item that was given out or included in products like newspapers and other publications or offered through a mail-in promotion.

Pre-War Vintage: Cards that were produced prior to World War 2 are known as Pre-War Vintage. Cards produced after World War 2 are known as Post-War Vintage. This is the most acknowledged division of eras of cards known as Vintage.

Printing Plate(s): Are the plates used in the printing process that have been cut to standard card size and placed randomly into packs as an Insert. A card is printed using four (4) individual plates in the following colors: Black, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow.

Prizm: A term used by Panini America to describe their own type of specific parallel cards. The cards display a metallic-like finish that is similar to the Topps product called Chrome.

Promotional Card: A card produced by a manufacturer and distributed free to collectors or dealers through various methods to promote an upcoming trading card release. Their smaller print runs often result in them carrying a premium. Also referred to as a Promo Card.

Prop Card or Prop Relic: A type of memorabilia card found in entertainment or non-sport card products containing a piece of a prop from a movie or TV show.

Raw: A card that has not been encapsulated by a Third-Party Grading Company.

Re-Colored/Re-Coloring: The practice of adding color to the surface or stock of a card to hide wear or physical damage. Re-Coloring can be applied to a card's surface, corners or edges.

Redemption: A program used by card manufacturers that temporarily substitutes a card that should be in the product for the right to redeem that card when it is available from the manufacturer. Manufacturers are sometimes left to the mercy of athletes to return their contracted autographs and must wait to fulfill those redemptions until the cards are returned. When those cards are not returned to the manufacturer in time to be inserted into the card product, a redemption card must be used.

Refractor: A card that utilizes a printing technology that produces a visual effect that refracts and disperses light in a manner that creates a prism or rainbow-like effect, similar to a Panini Prizm card. The process has become very popular with modern trading card manufactures as a result of increased demand for these types of cards from collectors. Topps was the first trading card company to utilize this printing process.

Rookie Card (RC): Designates a player’s first officially licensed card after making the roster for one of the four major sports professional teams at the major league level MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL.

Serial Number: A card produced in a specific quantity and serial numbered with an individual number on the card.

Shaved Edge: A similar act of alteration to trimming, shaving an edge removes less material than trimming and can be harder to detect.

Short-Print (SP): A base-set card that is printed in a lesser quantity than the other cards in the set.

Skip-Number: A sports card set that consists of many un-issued cards numbered between the lowest number in the set and the highest number in the set. This can happen for several reasons, both intentional and unintentional, on the part of the trading card manufacturer.

Slabbing/Slabbed: Slang term used to describe the process of encapsulating a card after it has been graded and/or authenticated. The encapsulation itself is often referred to as a slab.

Sticker Auto, Sticker Autograph: An athlete signs a sticker or label, and the card manufacturer applies this sticker to the card. This allows the manufacturer to have autographed cards ready in time for the product release but are less desirable than an On-Card autograph card.

T.C.G.: An acronym for Topps Gum Company.

Team Card: A sports card depicting a picture of an entire team.

Team Set: All of the cards from a sports card set consisting of players from a specific team.

Test Issue: A print or manufacturing run of cards or that are released for sale in a small market on a trial basis. The practice was used by Topps to test product demand before releasing the product nationally. One of the most well-known Topps test issues is the 1975 Topps minis.

Third-Party Grading Company: These are businesses in the sports card and sports memorabilia industry that provide support services to collectors, dealers and retailers. These services include card grading, autograph authentication, image hosting, pricing information and memorabilia authentication. Reputable Third-Party Grading Companies are unbiased entities that impartially assess the condition and authenticity of a card. Since the 1980s, more than 100 card grading companies have entered the hobby, but few reputable companies remain today.

Top-Loader: A plastic holder for storing single trading cards.

Trimming: The process of cutting or removing a portion of a card in an attempt to improve the appearance of an edge or to improve the centering of a card.
See also: Shaved Edge.

Variation (VAR): A card that is subtly different from the same cards in a set. Variations can include characteristics such as: a different color background or lettering, a corrected error, a name misspelling or photo variation.