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How hard is it to get a PSA 10?

Sooner or later everyone in the hobby who is submitting cards to PSA aims for a Gem Mint 10. But why going for perfection and chase a PSA 10? Big reason behind is of course the exclusivity and the potential upside in short and long term value. Especially if you are talking about the holy grails and modern chase cards. For most of these cards the price is a multiple compared to the Mint 9 version. For example, a Gem Mint 10 Shining Charizard 1st Edition was sold on eBay for $19,600 on February 27. In comparison, the Mint 9 version was sold for $7,200 on the same day. That is 2,7x price multiple!

But how hard is it really to get a PSA 10?

I have done the research for some of the most popular modern and vintage Pokémon and NBA sets. And checked how many PSA 10s compared to PSA 9s exist for each set. To sum up, it is really hard to get a PSA 10 for a vintage card as there is almost no supply for ungraded cards in near mint / mint condition. Additionally, as cards are 10-20 years old chances for any damage from handling or storage are way higher. However, numbers for modern sets show that it is easier to get a PSA 10. That is caused by the fact that modern cards and sealed products are still available in higher quantity and treated more carefully by collectors.

Comparing PSA 10 vs. PSA 9 numbers for popular NBA and Pokémon sets:

Consequently I checked the PSA population report for the most popular vintage and modern sets as they provide best numbers for analysis. And the results are very interesting. When comparing vintage with modern sets, numbers for NBA and Pokémon sets show that the overall percentage of existing PSA 10s is way smaller for vintage cards. For example, only 7% of all NBA Fleer 1986 cards are graded PSA 10. In contrast, 55% of all NBA Panini PRIZM 2019 are graded PSA 10.

SetTotal cards graded% PSA 9 rating% PSA 10 rating
NBA Fleer 1986256.79536%7%
NBA Panini PRIZM 2019190.42641%55%
Total number and distribution of PSA graded NBA cards from NBA Fleer 1986 and NBA Panini PRIZM 2019 (Source: PSA)

Of course graph data confirms the pattern:

Graph showing the percentage distribution per grade for PSA graded NBA cards from 1986 Fleer and 2019 Panini Prizm.
Distribution of PSA graded NBA cards (Source: PSA)

Similar numbers apply for Pokémon cards. For instance, 23% of all Base Set cards (incl. unlimited edition) and 71% of all Hidden Fates cards are graded Gem Mint 10.

SetTotal cards graded% PSA 9 rating% PSA 10 rating
Pokemon Base Set (incl. 1st edition and unlimited)231.24839%23%
Pokemon Hidden Fates47.54725%71%
Total number and distribution of PSA graded Pokemon cards from Base Set and Hidden Fates (Source: PSA)

Lastly, graph patterns of Pokémon cards confirm the same trend as their NBA counterparts:

Graph showing the percentage distribution per grade for PSA graded Pokemon cards from Base Set and Hidden Fates.
Distribution of PSA graded Pokemon cards (Source: PSA)

After talking numbers, do you want to know what you can do to increase the chance of getting a PSA 10? Then let’s tackle it!

Topics of this blog post:

  • What is a PSA 10?
  • Which cards have the potential for a PSA 10 grading?
  • Additional 5 tricks when going for a PSA 10
  • Conclusion

What is a PSA 10?

According to PSA,”a PSA Gem Mint 10 card is a virtually perfect card. Attributes include four perfectly sharp corners, sharp focus and original gloss. A PSA Gem Mint 10 must be free from staining of any kind, but an allowance may be made for a slight printing imperfection, if it doesn’t impair the overall appeal of the card. The image must be centered on the card with a tolerance not to exceed approximately 55/45 to 60/40 percent on the front, and 75/25 percent on the reverse.”

Definition of a Gem Mint 10 by PSA

Which cards have the potential for a PSA 10 grading?

Most importantly, PSA focuses on 4 visual elements during their grading process. Meaning card centering, surface, corners and edges. However, the overall appeal of a card is also considered by the grader. But what does that mean?

Overall appeal

Also called eye appeal, a more soft factor during grading. In short, the PSA grader examines the overall appearance of the card as a whole and has decision room to neglect slight printing imperfections.

Centering

For PSA one of the most important factors when grading a card. PSA examines the centering of the front and the reverse of a card. For a Gem Mint 10, the image must be centered on the card with a tolerance not to exceed approximately 55/45 to 60/40 percent on the front, and 75/25 percent on the reverse. Very handy can be the centering tool to easily measure image tolerances. In conclusion, submit only cards that are centered according to the PSA range. Otherwise you will not get a 10.

Surface

The surface of a card is often one of the hardest visual elements to judge because in most of the times you are looking through a top loader/card saver or a sleeve. So make sure that you remove the card carefully for examination. And try to remove it only once to prevent the card from damage in the handling process. Also please don’t touch the card on the front or reverse side as thumb prints will affect the grade.

Use a bright light source and a magnification glass (if available) to check the card for scratches, print lines, dents and greases. Consequently, if the card is affected by any of those it will no longer be a PSA 10 contestant. Especially if you can identify the surface damage, the grader surely notice it too.

Corners

You will only get a Gem Mint 10 if the card has four perfectly sharp corners. In reality chances are high that there might be a little whitening or an imperfection on one of the corners. Unfortunately, any imperfection will disqualify the card for a PSA 10.

Edges

When it comes to the edges of a card make sure that you check the card all around the outside. And don’t forget to inspect the edges from the front and reverse side. Lastly, disqualify any of your cards that show silvering as you are lowering chances for a PSA 10.

Additional 5 tricks when going for a PSA 10:

1. Maximize your options

In general, you should try to get a couple of near mint / mint copies of an ungraded card that you want to send in for grading. But why? Especially when you are buying the cards via eBay you can’t be 100% sure of the card condition until you hold it in your hands. Firstly it might be a perfect card based on your first impression from the pictures. Secondly you might identify some slight imperfections compared to another copy of that card that you are already owning. In the end, variety helps you to compare and choose the right cards.

2. Use new sleeves / top loader / card saver

Make sure to prepare your cards as good as possible for the grader. So please always use new penny sleeves, top loader / card saver and post-it flags. Because in this way, there is no distraction for the grader by an “old” and scratched penny sleeve, top loader, etc.

3. Don’t try to clean the card

Please don’t try to clean or manipulate the surface of a card as in most of the cases the card is damaged afterwards (e.g. micro scratches). Consequently, if your guts tell you that the card is not “perfect” then don’t submit it if you want to maximize chances for a PSA Gem Mint 10.

4. Make and era oriented submission

Try to only send in card bundles per era. Why? By bundling you prevent that a vintage card is compared with a modern card during the grading process. In other words, don’t send in modern and vintage cards at the same time.

5. Create an organized submission form

So imagine yourself in the shoes of a grader. Of course you prefer perfectly organized submissions over unorganized ones. So make sure to prepare your submission form accordingly.

How to get a PSA graded 10 card every time

Conclusion

In short, it is very hard to get a PSA 10 for a vintage card. Especially today! For modern cards, numbers indicate that the chances are better. But don’t let the numbers stop you! It is still possible if you select your cards according to the PSA criteria carefully.

Do you think it is hard to get a PSA 10? Please let me know in the comment section below!

Lastly, if you value this article or found it interesting, it would mean a lot to me if you could share it on Social Media!

Please note: I am not a professional grader neither endorsed by PSA. This information will help you to increase the chance to get a PSA 10. But there is no guarantee!

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