As a fellow Pokémon card collector, I totally get it – you want to know the value of your cards but professional grading services are just too expensive. You‘ve got a binder full of vintage cards but have no idea which ones are rare and valuable. If only there was a way to assess your cards‘ condition and get a grade for free, right?
Well my friend, you‘re in luck! While professional certification will cost you, there are definitely things you as a collector can do on your own to evaluate your cards and assign your own grades without spending a dime. Grab a coffee and let me walk you through exactly how to grade your Pokémon cards for free.
Why Should You Grade Your Cards Anyway?
Grading refers to having an independent third-party service assess the condition of trading cards and assign a numeric grade based on strict standards. Services like PSA, BGS, and SGC are the authorities in card grading.
So why bother getting cards graded? There are some great reasons:
Verification – Grading companies authenticate that your cards are genuine. This is key for rare vintage cards.
Condition Certification – The numeric grade carries an authoritative assessment of condition and quality.
Preservation – Graded cards are sealed in a hard acrylic case for protection.
Increased Value – Graded cards can be worth exponentially more than raw ungraded counterparts.
Liquidity – Graded cards are much easier to resell than raw cards.
Peace of Mind – You can rest assured your prized cards are protected and valued.
As a collector for 15+ years, I‘ve had hundreds of cards graded. While it costs money, the financial return on rare and vintage cards is worth the investment.
But what if you don‘t have hundreds of dollars to spend on grading right now? Not to worry, let‘s explore how you can assess and grade your own collection for free…
Grading Your Cards Yourself
Doing your own grading won‘t carry the prestige or value add of PSA, BGS or SGC, but it can still be extremely useful for collectors on a budget. Here‘s how to do it:
Step 1: Study Up on Grading Standards
The first step is getting familiar with the grading criteria and standards used by the top third-party graders. Here are the key areas they evaluate:
Centering – This refers to how centered the image is on the front and back. Good centering is key for top grades.
Corners – Graders check for any wear, soft or blunt corners, creases or other damage. Sharper corners equal better grades.
Edges – They look for issues like nicks, wear, fraying, creases or anything else compromising the edges. Cleaner is better here.
Surface – They inspect for any scratches, scuffs, staining, print defects, indentations or other flaws on the front and back.
Graders scrutinize cards under magnification and hold them under different lighting angles to identify any flaws, even very subtle ones.
Step 2: Inspect Every Corner of Your Cards
Now it‘s time to put on your grading hat and thoroughly examine your own cards. I recommend having:
Good lighting – Natural daylight is best if possible. Overhead lighting and desk lamps also work well.
Cloth gloves – Handle cards gently by the edges only while wearing lint-free gloves to avoid fingerprints.
Magnification – Use a jewelers loupe, microscope or magnifying glass to see micro flaws.
Grading tools – Templates with cutouts for each grade help visualize differences.
Carefully inspect every millimeter of the card front and back:
Look for centering issues – Hold the card up and check alignment of edges to artwork.
Check corners – Tilt the card and examine each corner closely for any nicks or softness.
Inspect the edges – Hold against light and look for unevenness, roughness or nicks.
Examine the surfaces – Hold under bright light angled to reveal any scratches or indentation
Take your time and thoroughly examine each card from top to bottom. The devil is in the details with grading, so be meticulous.
Step 3: Compare to Grading Standards
Next, compare your findings to published grading standards. For example, PSA standards state a PSA 10 Gem Mint card must have:
- Perfect centering with 60/40 to 40/60 allowance on back
- Four perfectly sharp corners
- Clean, flawless edges
- No scratches, scuffs or blemishes of any kind on the front or back
Their Mint PSA 9 standard allows for slight flaws like a bit of corner wear, a minor scratch, or 60/40 centering. Use similar standards from Beckett, SGC and others for comparison.
Step 4: Document Any Imperfections
Make detailed notes on any flaws you found during inspection – scuffs, edge nicks, corner wear, scratching, staining, centering variance, print defects, etc. Capture them with high resolution scans or photos as well.
Having comprehensive documentation of all flaws is key to making an accurate grading assessment. A single nick or crease can be the difference between Mint and Near Mint condition.
Step 5: Grade Against Your Notes
With all your diligent inspection and flaw documentation, you can now make your own grading assessment. Compare your findings to the grading standards and assign a numeric grade like PSA‘s 1-10 scale or use grading tiers like Mint, Near Mint, Very Good, etc.
Be totally honest here – don‘t inflate or exaggerate the grade despite your emotional attachment! Approach it objectively like a professional grader would.
Step 6: Seal Cards in Protectors
Once graded, gently place cards into sleeves, top loaders or snap cases to keep their condition preserved. Avoid touching the surfaces again with bare hands. Label them with your assessed grade for future reference.
Now you‘ve got your own grades as a free benchmark of your cards‘ condition! Let‘s look at other alternatives for guidance without professional grading fees…
Free Grading Guidance from the Professionals
While PSA and BGS don‘t actually grade cards for free, they do offer some free services that can provide helpful direction:
PSA Price Guide
PSA has an extensive online price guide that lists valuations for virtually every card in all conditions. It taps actual sales data from major auctions. You can quickly check potential value based on the grade.
Beckett Free Listing
With Beckett‘s free listing service, you ship your cards to them, they assess condition and list the cards in their online price guide without grading fees. This exposes your cards to that massive marketplace.
SGC Free Appraisals
SGC‘s free appraisal service has you send cards in, their experts examine condition, then they ship back the raw cards with a detailed appraisal enclosed. No fees, just the cost of shipping.
CGC Free Insurance Appraisals
CGC‘s insurance appraisal service grades your cards strictly for insurance valuation purposes. So you get a professional assessment and valuation without the grading fee. They just charge shipping costs.
So while PSA and BGS don‘t do outright free grading, these complimentary offerings provide helpful guidance that can enhance your own analysis.
When Does it Make Sense to Grade Professionally?
Grading your cards or using free grading resources can provide valuable condition and valuation input to help you as a collector. But here are some instances where it still makes sense to pony up for professional grading:
Rare/Vintage Cards – High value older cards warrant reputable third-party grading to boost marketability and value.
Potentially High Grades – Minty cards likely to score very high professionally can increase significantly in worth.
Extremely Valuable Cards – Grading fees are usually negligible for cards worth thousands of dollars or more.
Damage Verification – Grading can substantiate damage or alterations on suspect cards.
Card Liquidity – Third-party grading makes cards much easier to resell vs raw cards.
Preservation – Encapsulation provides protection and longevity for prized cards.
The cost-benefit evaluation boils down to whether the professional grade will boost the card‘s value over the cost paid for grading. But even for raw cards, having your own grades gives you great insight into their condition and market value.
Money Saving Grading Tips from an Expert
As much as we wish we could get professional grades for free, the credentialed third-party services will charge us fees for their expertise, time and reputation. However, here are some tips from a seasoned veteran that can help minimize costs:
Submit in Bulk – Aggregate multiple cards into one submission to utilize grader bulk pricing discounts.
Use Middlemen – Pay small fees to middleman services to consolidate and handle grading logistics.
Split Costs – Go in on joint submissions with other collectors to divide upfront fees.
Declare Lower Value – Declare a lower fair market value for your cards to get them in lower grading tier.
Sell to Recoup Costs – For really valuable cards, the bump in graded value covers fees.
Buy Already Graded – Consider buying professionally graded examples instead of submitting yourself.
Use Grading Vouchers – Some dealers provide grading vouchers or credits to help offset fees.
With the right strategy, you can keep your total grading expenses lower, or at least get maximum return on your investment in the form of higher graded card values.
Is Grading Worth it for Modern Cards?
You‘re probably wondering if grading makes sense for newer Pokémon cards printed in the last few years. After all, modern sets are still opened every day – these cards aren‘t rare or old!
The reality is that grading modern cards is only worth it if they have exceptional eye appeal and near-pristine condition. Think black label BGS 10 or PSA 10 cards. Cards achieving these perfect grades can sell for exponentially more than raw versions of the same card.
But with modern production and printing methods, almost all pack-fresh cards today come out of the box with flawless centering, clean edges and surfaces. So getting that elusive 10 is extremely difficult.
That‘s why I typically recommend only grading modern cards that:
Have a shot at a black label 10 grade (BGS or PSA 10)
Are extremely popular current Pokémon or Waifus chased by collectors
Are very limited print run cards like numbered parallels
If your modern card fits that exclusivity criteria, it may be worth paying the grading cost to unlock maximum value. Otherwise for most raw modern cards, selling them "as is" is often the better play over paying for grading.
Should You Ever Pay for Express Grading?
Most grading companies offer express services with 1 week or faster turnaround for massively inflated fees. I almost never recommend express grading because the extreme cost premium just doesn‘t justify it for most collectors.
Cards sit in your collection for years anyway – so what‘s another few months of waiting? Plus new sets are printed constantly, so modern cards don‘t have the same urgency or short term value volatility as with other asset classes.
In my opinion, express grading really only makes sense IF:
It‘s an insanely iconic rare card nearing 6 or 7 figures in market value where getting graded faster augments short term value.
You need very quickAUTHENTICATION of a questionable high value card purchase.
You need the card back rapidly to complete a high value sale dependent on the grading.
You want to capitalize PR buzz around a new release while hype is peaking.
Outside of cases like that, save your money and stick to the standard grading tier appropriate for your cards‘ value. Let‘s look now at which companies I recommend for trustworthy professional grading…
Which Grading Company is the Best?
There are numerous grading companies out there, but the legacy leaders known for expertise, integrity and consistency are PSA, BGS, and SGC. Here‘s the quick rundown on each:
- The largest card grading company.
- Known for consistent and trusted grading standards.
- Distinctive red slash graded card holders.
- Strong brand recognition carries a lot of weight.
- Uses stricter 10 point grading scale (vs PSA‘s 5 point scale)
- Black label BGS 10 pristine grades are highly coveted.
- Bold yellow labeled holders stand out.
- Very clear cases provide optimal card visibility.
- Known for consistency and integrity like PSA.
- Cool tuxedo style card holders.
- Fast turnaround times and great customer service.
- More affordable grading fees.
Personally, I use PSA the most just because collectors widely recognize and trust their grades globally. But BGS and SGC are also leaders producing credible and consistent grades. Compare each company‘s fees, timeframes and cases to find your best fit.
Should You Ever Crack Open A Graded Card?
This is one of the most hotly debated topics among Pokémon collectors! The grading world is essentially split between purists who believe grades should remain sealed forever, and pragmatists open to cracking slabs and re-grading when it makes sense.
Here are some factors to consider on each side of the debate:
Pros of Cracking Slabs
- Resubmitting can fix erroneous grades from years ago
- Valuable cards may grade higher under stricter modern standards
- Cards previously damaged may have since naturally restored
- Periodically inspecting and regrading ensures optimal grade
Cons of Cracking Slabs
- Cracked cards immediately lose slab premium and provenance
- Re-grading risks damaging card removing from holder
- No guarantee of grading higher than prior grade
- Costly to re-grade if not worth more than prior slab price
My personal take is only crack vintage, iconic or otherwise super valuable cards where you‘re almost certain of a tangible grade increase reflecting meaningful added value. But approach re-grading judiciously – don‘t destroy slab provenance just for an incremental +0.5 grade bump.
Let‘s Get Your Cards Graded!
Alright my friend, you should now have lots of insights and best practices to put into action for grading your Pokémon cards. Here‘s a quick recap of the key takeaways:
Grading your own cards can gain you valuable condition insights even if not official.
While not free, take advantage of professional services providing guidance like PSA price data.
Grading high value vintage or pristine modern cards boosts prestige and marketability.
Submitting bulk orders helps maximize grading value relative to fees paid.
Handle and store all cards meticulously to avoid damaging flaws.
Only crack vintage graded cards with immense potential upside from re-grading.
Stay patient young grasshopper – proper grading takes diligent practice and experience!
Best of luck getting your prized cards graded. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out! This Pokémon Master is always happy to help a dedicated fellow collector. Gotta grade ‘em all!