As a Pokémon card collector, getting your valuable and rare cards professionally graded is hugely important. But grading services from PSA, BGS, and others can be expensive. Is it possible to get your cherished Pokémon collection graded without breaking the bank?
The short answer is no – there are no options to get completely free professional grading from top services like PSA and BGS. However, with the right approach, you can significantly reduce and even eliminate grading costs.
In this guide, I‘ll share all my tips and strategies as a fellow Pokémon collector for submitting cards to be graded with smaller budgets. With a bit of effort, you can avoid the often expensive fees associated with professional grading.
Let‘s dive in!
Why Get Your Pokémon Cards Graded Professionally?
Before covering how to get cards graded for free, it‘s worth quickly going over why grading is so important for collectors in the first place:
1. Grading increases value – Professionally graded Pokémon cards can sell for exponentially more than their raw counterparts. Just look at the price difference between a 1st Edition Charizard graded PSA 10 versus an ungraded version.
2. Grading preserves condition – The sealed slabs protect your cards from wear, damage, and tampering. This maintains long-term value.
3. Grading verifies authenticity – The grading companies have expert authenticators that can spot fakes. Their certification gives buyers confidence in legitimacy.
4. Grading looks impressive – The iconic slabs with labeled grades just look so much cooler than raw cards!
So in summary, grading enhances condition, security, reputation, and investment value of your Pokémon collection. It‘s no wonder passionate collectors like us want to get our cards graded – the benefits are tremendous.
Now let‘s look at smart ways to get all that for free or at least cheap…
1. Submit Cards in Bulk Orders
The best way to reduce grading costs is to submit multiple cards together in a single bulk order.
For example, at PSA their rates start at $50 for the first card graded, but then drop to only $30 per additional card in the same order.
By submitting 20 cards at once, you could bring the per-card average down to under $35 each at PSA!
|# of Cards
|Total Order Cost
Bulk submissions net you volume discounts while also streamlining the overall process. I recommend aiming for at least 10-20 cards per order when possible.
2. Take Advantage of Discounts and Promotions
Keep an eye out for any temporary discounts, sales, or promotions being run by grading companies:
CGC regularly offers coupon codes for 10-15% off grading fees.
Around major conventions and holidays, special event sales are common. I saved 50% on BGS grading during the Pokémon World Championships!
Loyalty programs provide grading discounts in exchange for frequent business. PSA‘s Collector Club gives members cheaper rates after reaching tiers.
Timing your submissions strategically around discounted grading events is a great way to maximize savings on fees. Follow companies‘ social media and newsletters so you never miss a deal opportunity.
3. Use Lower-Cost Grading Alternatives
While PSA and BGS pioneered card grading, there are now many alternative services with cheaper pricing:
CGC offers their "Qualified" tier at just $18 per card.
GMA‘s budget "Economy" grading is only $20 per card.
CSG starts at $10 per card for basic authentication grading.
The tradeoff is these budget options don‘t carry quite the premium reputation and value boost. But they let you professionally certify your cards at a fraction of the cost.
I use them for cheaper cards I just want protected and authenticated, without needing the full prestige of PSA or BGS high grade labels.
4. Participate in Group Submissions
Group submissions are when collectors combine their cards into shared bulk orders. An organizer gathers cards from everyone, submits the giant order, then returns the graded cards.
Participants pay the organizer a small service fee, but save hugely on grading costs thanks to the bulk rates. Most group subs bring per-card costs down to $20-30.
Group subs do require trusting strangers with your cards temporarily. But they can be a cheap way to get many cards graded if done safely. Search Facebook groups and forums to find reputable group submission organizers.
5. Grade Cards at Live Events
Trading card shows often have grading company booths on-site that offer discounted event grading.
For example, at the 2022 Pokémon World Championships BGS was offering $10 off per card graded at their booth.
Hand delivering your cards in person allows graders to review and slab them immediately, without the normal mailing delays. Take advantage of lower show rates when possible.
6. Buy Already Graded Cards
One way to skip grading fees is to simply buy cards that have already been professionally graded by a previous owner. Then the slab is already done for you!
Focus your purchases on professionally graded cards rather than raw cards needing to be sent in. Just be sure to verify it‘s a authentic certification from a trusted company before paying a premium.
Buying graded saves you the wait and monetary costs of initial submission. But be prepared to pay more upfront for the convenience.
7. Try Virtual Grading
Virtual grading uses technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze images of your cards and provide condition assessments and estimated grades.
For example, CardBoss grades cards based on uploaded photos for just $3 per card. ComicBookRealm has a free virtual grading tool. You can also catalog and grade your own collection virtually through services like TradingCardDB.
While not as prestigious as physical slabs from PSA or BGS, virtual grading gives collectors affordable unbiased insights into their cards‘ conditions. These alternatives let you grade your collection virtually for free or very cheap.
8. Negotiate Partial Refunds for Resubmissions
What if your card grades lower than expected on the first try? Many grading companies will let you resubmit and re-grade for a reduced fee or even free in some cases.
But you usually need to negotiate a partial refund on grading costs before sending the card back in. Customer service reps are often authorized to refund 50-100% of fees on undergraded resubs.
Before cracking open the slab, kindly explain why you feel the card merits re-review and ask for a discounted or free re-grade. It never hurts to ask!
9. Complete Grading Company Surveys
Many major graders let customers complete surveys about their experience in exchange for rewards, including free grading credit.
For example, PSA has users complete short surveys after receiving orders for a chance to win $100 in grading bucks. Similarly, CGC emailed me a survey that earned $30 in grading credit.
It only takes a few minutes, so always be sure to fill out any surveys from your grading orders. The free grading credit rewards can quickly add up!
10. Enter Giveaways and Contests
Grading companies will sometimes run contests and giveaways through social media for marketing purposes, with free grading as prizes.
For example, I won a BGS Instagram giveaway that let me get 5 cards graded for free! It never hurts to enter these contests when you see them.
You probably won‘t win every time, but it‘s a numbers game. Follow all the major graders and keep an eye out for any contests offering free grading as prizes.
What About Completely Free Options?
Okay, while the tips above can help collectors reduce costs – are there any totally free grading options?
Unfortunately, all professional grading services require some sort of fees, even at discounted tiers. However, there are some other free alternatives:
TradingCardDB – This website lets you catalog your collection online and grade cards yourself on the standard PSA 1-10 scale. The grades aren‘t official, but serve as useful personal records.
Local Trading Card Communities – Some local clubs will do informal "group grading sessions" where members vote on condition assessments for submitted cards. Again more casual than professional slabs, but can be free.
Trading Card Game Stores – If local store owners are knowledgeable collectors, they may be willing to provide free opinions on your cards‘ conditions just to build goodwill.
At the end of the day though, true professional physical grading with certification labels will require paying reputable companies like PSA and BGS for their expertise, time, and materials.
But hopefully this guide has given you plenty of creative ideas to get your Pokémon cards graded with smaller budgets! Let‘s quickly recap:
- Submit cards in bulk orders
- Use company promotions and discounts
- Choose lower-cost grading tiers
- Join group submissions
- Grade at live events
- Buy already graded cards
- Use virtual grading services
- Get refunds on resubmissions
- Complete grading surveys
- Enter giveaways and contests
While "free" professional grading isn‘t realistic, following the tips above makes the process far more affordable! What strategies do you use for cheap grading? I‘d love to hear any other creative ideas in the comments!
Thanks for reading, and may all your chase cards gem mint 10!