You've decided to make the leap to grade some of your cards, now what? How do you prepare your cards for grading? What supplies do you need? What are the best practices for preparing and shipping your cards? What should you avoid?
Steps to prepare your cards for grading:
Gather your supplies
One of the most important factors in preparing cards for grading is having the right supplies and a clean, open space to prep the cards in. The goal is to get your cards to grading in the very best condition, with the best chance at a high grade. Choose a location that is clean, with minimal dust - any bit of dirt or dust that can get into the sleeve with your card will potentially leave a mark or dent in the card hurting the ultimate grade. It is also a good idea to use a clean playmat which provides a soft surface that is made for handling cards.
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You will also want soft card sleeves for the cards such as penny sleeves to put the cards in prior to prepping them for grading. The sleeves should be bigger than the cards so there is less chance of catching the edge or damaging the card when inserting it in the sleeve. Ultra Pro makes good quality penny sleeves that work nicely for protecting your cards. Avoid low quality sleeves that might have imperfections or loose bits that can damage the cards especially when compressed in packaging.
Most grading companies also require that the cards arrive in a semi-rigid sleeve (card saver) but not in a top loader or any kind of acrylic case. Again, quality matters here and you want to avoid cheaply made card savers that might have imperfections or manufacturing issues that will damage your cards. Cardboard Gold's Card Saver 1 are generally considered a good option.
We'll talk about shipping and packaging materials at the end.
Prepare your Cards
Raw cards should first go in a soft penny sleeve and then into a card saver or other semi-rigid sleeve. Make sure the card is dust/dirt free. Do not use any kind of cleaning solution or make any marks on the card as it will adversely affect the grade. All the major grading services (PSA, CGC, & BGS) have online submission forms for grading that will require you to input the card name, set, value, etc and to keep the cards in the order on the submission form when packaging them. For smaller submissions, this is an easier process but for large submissions, it does require a level of organization to keep track of the cards and their input order. Check with the company you're grading with to find out minimum submission numbers as well as maximum submission numbers.
If you only have a couple of cards to grade but want the best price per card, consider using a CGC Authorized Dealer (like Going Twice) to submit your cards and get a good rate.
Create Online Submission
Each grading company has its own unique online submission process that uses a database to help ensure that each card is properly identified and cataloged for grading. This step is really important to avoid costly delays in the grading process. If a card is inputted incorrectly, it slows down the grading and could result in an extra charge for the correction. See our previous article on grading tiers and services for more information about the cost of grading and what your options are. You can also opt to use a third party to process and submit your cards for you. Be selective about who you grade with and use an authorized dealer - for example, Going Twice is a CGC authorized Dealer and you can find more information on our Grading page. Essentially you ship your cards to us and we take care of the submission and all other steps involved.
Once you've completed the online submission process, you'll be prompted to print your list of cards to include with the shipment. It is critical that your cards remain in the same order as they were inputted so organization is key.
Packaging your Cards for Shipment
Once your cards are in card savers and inputted in the online submission form, they now need to be prepared for shipping. While the card savers offer a level of protection for your cards, they need to packaged in a way to prevent any damage in shipment. Stack the card savers in the order on the submission form and depending on the number of cards, you might need to make a few stacks to bundle them together. Both CGC and PSA recommend that you place a piece of clean, new cardboard that is bigger than the card savers on either side of the stack and tape or rubber band the stack together. It should be just tight enough to hold everything together but not so tight that it is squeezing the cards. If it is a large submission with multiple bundles of cards, I would label each bundle with a sticky note specifying cards #1-25, #26-50, and so on. The bundle should be wrapped in bubble and placed in a new cardboard box. I personally recommend double boxing your cards but putting that box inside a larger exterior box for shipping. With either packing peanuts or bubble around the interior box.
Be sure to include the packing slip provided by the grading company upon completing the online submission form. Certain companies, like CGC also require that mark the box based on what grading tier was used so that it is processed correctly. They also may require that you adhere a barcode or label to the exterior box used for identifying the submission.
Once your shipment is on its way, track the package, and make note of when it arrived. Most grading companies will not start the clock (number of business days estimated for grading) until they have logged your submission into their system so it may sit for days or weeks until the package is opened and the submission is scanned in. Once in the system, you can usually track what step of the grading process your card is in through your online portal. Depending on the volume of grading, that process may take more or less time than what is advertised from the grading company.
The key takeaways are to ensure that you have the proper supplies, carefully prep your cards and input your cards, and package them with protection in mind. Grading is the best way to preserve the condition of your cards and to verify their authenticity.