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Gotta grade them all!

Looking to grade your Pokémon cards but not sure what to look for? Whether you’re just starting your Pokémon collection or your a seasoned expert, grading Pokémon cards can be a little confusing. Below is a list of the top 4 defects to look for when grading your Pokémon cards yourself. 

Why grade Pokémon cards anyway?

Before submitting your cards to PSA for grading you want to personally inspect and grade them yourself. There are many things to look for when grading your Pokémon cards. How smooth and crisp is the surface? Are the edges sharp? How about the centering on the front and the back? Is the holographic box free of any scuffs, scratches or stains? 

Increase the value of your collection

Having your cards encased by a third party grading company such as PSA, increases the value of your card significantly, as long as it grades well. You want to ensure your cards grade out to at least a PSA mint 9. There’s very little value gained when your card is encased in a near mint to mint PSA 8 case.

So, you want to thoroughly inspect your Pokémon cards before submitting them. I use all the right gear like a magnifying lamp or a jewlers loupe to get my eyes as close to the cards as possible.

> > > Check out the supplies page for more grading and inspecting equipment.

PSA Pokémon examples

There is also a list with examples of actual Pokémon cards that have been graded below. I’ve shown a PSA 5 thru a PSA 10 for referencing. 

1. Surface Scratching

how to grade pokemon cards holographic scratching 5

When grading Pokemon cards you need to really take your time when inspecting the surface of both the front and the back. There are many ways a card can have surface damage. Dings, dents, scratches and even printing defects can demote the grade of your cards. Of all the defects, scratching seems to be the most difficult to look for. 

Inspecting the holographic box

Lot’s of light, a magnifying lamp and tilting the card. Tilting the card at different angles in bright lights will allow you to catch micro scratches. 

One of the most crucial grading flaws on the front of Pokemon cards is the condition of the holographic box. You need to inspect this area thoroughly. Any scratching will reduce your overall grade significantly.

When looking at the holographic you need multiple light sources and a magnifying lamp. It’s going to be difficult to find small scratches with low light using your naked eye. 

2. Border Centering

how to grade pokemon cards centering the border

Evenly centered cards are more likely to receive higher grades. You need to inspect both the top and bottom and left and right borders on the front and the back.

How to grade centering?

When grading Pokemon cards, one of the first things you should look for is how even or uneven the centering is. Ensure there is the same amount of yellow on all 4 sides for an evenly centered front. 

The back side requires an even amount of blue on all four sides. 

3. Sharp Corners

how to grade pokemon cards checking the corners for sharpness

Corners can make or break a card. They need to be sharp and have solid color. If the card you’re grading has been played, it will show. Soft edges with layering is evident in played cards. You do not want to send those cards in for grading. 

How to grade the corners

Look for whitening on the back and front. You want as little white as possible. Having solid blue and yellow is ideal. Do not get discouraged. There are Gem Mint 10’s on the market with very minor whitening on a single corner. Don’t get your hopes up if there is any other issues with the card though. 

4. Solid Edges

how to grade pokemon cards grading the edge

How to grade the edges

Edges need to be sharp and have solid color. There shouldn’t be any flaking, whitening, dents, dings or un-even color. If there is 1 minor error you should still consider getting the card graded. 

When inspecting the edges, use lots of light and consider using a magnifying lamp. A jewelers loupe works great as well. Inspecting the edges with the naked eye is done by seasoned Pokemon collectors because they know what to look for. 


PSA Photo examples below

I did my best to adjust the settings of the photo examples below. This should allow you to see the minor details in the flaws and discrepancies of the card like scratching, whitening, creased corners and so on.

Hopefully this article will give you a comprehensive understanding on what PSA looks for when they are grading Pokémon cards.

PSA 5

1999 charizard 1st edition holographic #4 graded psa 5 EX front
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1999 charizard 1st edition holographic #4 graded psa 5 EX back
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Front

Typically you’ll find scratching on the holographic pattern of the card around Charizard’s fire blast attack. There will also be a fair amount of whitening on the edges, some discoloration and maybe a stain or two on the surface.

Back

Examining the back of the card is crucial when grading your Pokemon cards. Without even zooming in on the image above, you notice all that white on the borders. This is a sure reason as to why this card received a grade of 5 “excellent”. The whitening is evidence of frequent play time and use of the card. 

PSA 5 Pokémon Cards

A PSA graded 5 pokemon card has noticeable damage to both the front and the back. So here you can see there’s significant whitening and very strong chipping here on the left and right back sides.

Additionally, there’s consistent whitening all across the border, with more significant chipping at certain spots. However that consistent whitening is going to be the main reason why this card is limited to a PSA 5 grade.

If it had this whitening without the front blemishes it probably more of a PSA 6 however combining the front flaws with the back that is why this car is a PSA 5 grade.

PSA 6

1999 charizard 1st edition holo #4 psa graded 6 pokemon back
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1999 charizard 1st edition holo #4 psa graded 6 pokemon back
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Front

A PSA 6 has a pretty solid looking front. If you look at the scan it’s difficult to find any noticeable errors. One flaw to look for is creasing in the corners. In the scan above the bottom left corner has a slight crease, which is evidence of play time. Other than that the front looks great. So why such a low grade?

This goes back to pointing out how important it is to inspect the back of the card. 

Back

When grading the back of this card it’s an entirely different story. It has consistent whitening on the right and bottom borders similar to the PSA 5. The whitening is not as pronounced but nonetheless, it still has consistent whitening. 

PSA 6 Pokémon Cards

PSA 6 and PSA 5 graded Pokemon cards share many similarities. They both look like they’ve been tossed in a shoe box and have had lot’s of play time. If your cards look like they’ve been used and stored by a kid, then prepare for a lower grade. 

Don’t give up on them though! Some are still worth grading even with lower grades.  

PSA 7

1999 charizard pokemon psa 7 shadowless 1st edition psa grading pokemon cards
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1999 pokemon charizard holographic psa graded 7 #4
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Recently sold Charizard PSA 7 $2,200

Front

A PSA 7 front is really going to start to “pop”. The holographic pattern shows little to no wear. This 7 has a strong front. Great color, smooth surface, sharp corners and decent centering. The main issue is going to be the back. 

Back

There is a fair amount of whitening on the back. It is not as prominent as the 5 and 6 but it’s still noticeable. All four corners show minor whitening and the right side has heavier chipping than the left. 

PSA 7 Pokémon Cards

PSA 7’s are the higher end cards that have been played. They have been taken out of the pack and maybe shuffled around a little bit or played a few times. Their playtime hours are not as extensive or frequent as the 5’s and 6’s but they more than likely have been played. When compared to the lower grades a 7 surely shines but not as bright as the 8, 9 and 10’s. 

PSA 8

1999 charizard pokemon game psa 8
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1999 charizard pokemon game psa 8 back
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Recently sold Charizard PSA 8 $3,650

Something to note about the PSA 8, 9 and 10’s. These cards are typically cards that have been pulled straight from the pack. They have never been played. Holographic prints on these cards are going to be very vibrant and have zero scratches. White chipping on the borders will almost be non-existent. 

Front

The eight is where you really start to see strong grades and weak grades. What I mean by that is this a great example of a strong eight. There are cards that sit between grades sometimes. So this card could probably be a borderline 9.

Why I believe it’s a strong 8 is because if you look at the front the only flaw really is that left centering you see it’s a bit smaller there on the left still within nine parameters. However when we look at the back there isn’t much whitening. 

Back

Looking at the back of this card will show that this is a pack fresh card. There is very minor whitening here, very microscopic that’s very small. Evidence of whitening isn’t necessarily a sure sign to get a PSA 8 though. However this is a great example of a strong 8 week 9. 

PSA 8 Pokémon Cards

More specifically, this is a great card that you could send to  PSA for a review. It would be a great candidate to upgrade to a 9 grade because again, some cards sit between grades. Finding PSA 9 cards inside a PSA 8 case and vice versa will be fairly common in the current Pokemon market. There is just too little to see with the naked eye. If you want to get a closer look, check out my article on the best magnification lamps to grade your cards with.

PSA 9

1999 charizard 1st edtion psa graded 9 mint #4 holographic holo front side
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1999 charizard 1st edition back psa graded 9 mint #4
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Recently sold Charizard PSA 9 $4,900

Front

So a mint card can still have a minor defect or a minor bit of whitening and this Charizard is a great example the front being flawless. You could see right away that holographic pattern is really very vibrant. Much more vibrant than in the five, six or seven. The centering is almost dead even. Zero whitening on all four corners. This is a borderline gem mint 10. 

Back

When you go to the back you’ll notice the two white parts on the top of the card. There is also a white blemish on the bottom right corner. Even though the front was pristine, the 3 noticeable white spots on the back of this card demoted it to a mint 9. 

PSA 9 Pokémon Cards

There’s really a lot to discuss with a nine. First of all, there’s a reason why PSA made the mint grade 9 instead of 10. Mint means a truly unused and untouched example of an item or card. And that is why this card received a 9 grade. The 10 grades are truly a “gem” example of a mint card.

PSA 10

1999 Pokemon Charizard 1st edition Graded psa 10 Gem Mint #4
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1999 Pokemon Charizard 1st edition Graded psa 10 Gem Mint #4 back side
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Recently sold Charizard PSA 10 $26,000

Front

A gem mint 10 card is truly a flawless card. The front has strong, bright colors with 50/50 borders on all four sides. The edges are crisp and show no wear whatsoever. Charizard’s fire blast holographic section has zero scratching. 

Back

Gem mint 10 cards have, for the most part, no whitening on the backs. Which is why it’s it is so difficult to land a 10 grade. The backs are extremely important to Pokemon card collectors, to many it’s a deal breaker if there is evident whitening on the corners or sides. 

PSA 10 Pokémon Cards

Pokemon cards that receive the gem mint 10 grade are literally straight from the pack and into a penny sleeve and top loader. They have never been played or handled. Even pulling them from packs in gem mint condition can prove very difficult. 

What are your thoughts?

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Hilard
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Hilard

Just one question, can a psa 10 have a bit of whitening? Not the wear type of whitening just the bit that u get sometimes when u just get the card from the booster pack not moderate just a tiny bit.

Dawn Edwards
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Dawn Edwards

Great information. How much do you charge per card?

Connor Davis
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Hi PSAcollector,
This is an excellent article,
We provide grading services for customers in the UK & Europe at gradedgem.com and we actually have a part in our FAQ about how you should grade your cards,
Currently we link to psacard and their description but I believe this is more detailed and useful to our users, would you mind us linking to this article?
Thanks,
Connor

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