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What does PSA look for when grading?

Choosing the “best” cards for grading sounds like a no-brainer. But in reality, picking the right raw cards is not that easy if you are not familiar with PSA’s grading process and standards. In other words, if you are preparing your first submission chances are high that your “perfect” PSA 10 contestant comes back as a Near Mint 7. Facing the reality can be hard. However, getting familiar with PSA’s grading standards is not hard and a good future investment. So what does PSA look for when grading?

Answer:

In short, PSA is mainly looking for 4 visual elements during their grading process: card centering, surface, corners and edges. Moreover, the overall appeal of a card is also considered by the grader and an important factor for the overall grade given.

Continue reading, if you want to learn more details about what a PSA grader does look for when grading.

Topics of this blog post:

  1. PSA grading factors
  2. PSA grading standards
  3. Conclusion

PSA grading factors

What does PSA grader look for when grading? Four visual elements and the overall appeal of a card. Sounds simple.

However, each visual element needs to be understood and checked in the right way to make a good first prediction of the overall grade.

In addition, the overall appeal seems fuzzy. In reality, this is the tricky one to predict as it is being made while considering centering, surface, corners and edges.

So lets deep dive into each factor:

Overall appeal

Also called eye appeal, a more soft factor PSA is looking for during grading. In short, the PSA grader examines the overall appearance of the card as a whole and has some decision room for each grade.

Centering

Image showing two parallel lines showcasing the PSA grading factor "centering"
(Photo by cottonbro from Pexels)

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 example, 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.

Surface

Image of three playing cards to showcase the surface of a card
(Photo by Raka Miftah from Pexels)

The surface of a card is often one of the hardest visual elements to judge.

To clarify, the grader is checking the card for imperfections in focus, gloss and printing. Subsequently, the card is checked for physical damage like scratches, dents, discolorations and greases.

Any imperfection and physical damage will have an impact on the overall grade of the card.

When preparing your submission, make sure that you remove the card carefully for examination. Because in most of the times you are looking through a top loader/card saver or a sleeve. Moreover, use a bright light source and a magnification glass to check the card for imperfections and physical damage.

Lastly, try to remove it only once to prevent the cards from any damage during the handling process. Additionally, don’t touch it as finger prints will affect the grade.

Corners & Edges

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.

Image of an ace of spades and its corner.
(Photo by Pixabay from Pexels)

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. In other words, check from different angles. Lastly, look out for silvering as this will also have an impact on the overall grade.

PSA grading standards

What is PSA looking for when grading Excellent-Mint 6 up to Gem Mint 10?

GradeCenteringCorners
and Edges
Surface
GEM-MT 10Front: 55/45 to 60/40 percent

Back: 75/25 percent
Four perfectly sharp corners

Edges: No information
Sharp focus and original gloss. Free from staining of any kind. Allowance may be made for a slight printing imperfection, if it doesn’t impair the overall appeal of the card
MINT 9Front: 60/40 to 65/35 percent or better

Back: 90/10 percent or better
Edges: Slightly off-white bordersOnly one of the following minor flaws: a very small wax stain on the reverse, a minor printing imperfection
NM-MT 8Front: 60/35 to 70/30 percent or better

Back: 90/10 percent or better
Corners: Slightest fraying at one or two corners

Edges: Slightly off-white borders
Can exhibit the following: a very small wax stain on the reverse, a minor printing imperfection
NM 7Front: 70/30 to 70/25 percent or better

Back: 90/10 percent or better
Corners: Slight fraying on some cornersCan exhibit the following: Picture focus slightly out of register, most of the original gloss retained, minor printing blemish, slight wax stain on the reverse
EX-MT 6Front: 80/20 percent or better

Back: 90/10 percent or better
Corners: Slightly graduated frying

Edges: Slight notching, some off-white borders
Can exhibit the following: a very light scratch, picture focus slightly out of register, some loss of the original gloss, minor wax stain on the reverse
Key areas PSA is looking for when grading Excellent-Mint 6 up to Gem Mint 10 (Source: PSA.com)

What is PSA looking for when grading Poor 1 up to Excellent 5?

GradeCenteringCorners
and Edges
Surface
EX 5Front: 85/15 percent or better

Back: 90/10 percent or better
Corners: Minor rounding

Edges: Minor chipping, some off-white borders
Visible surface wear or printing defects

Can exhibit the following: several light scratches, picture focus slightly out of register, loss of the original gloss
VG-EX 4Front: 85/15 percent or better

Back: 90/10 percent or better
Corners: Slightly rounded

Edges: Borders slightly off-white
Modest surface wear

Can exhibit the following: Light scuffing, light scratches, some original gloss retained, a light crease
VG 3Front: 90/10 percent or better

Back: 90/10 percent or better
Corners: Some rounding

Edges: Noticeable wear, borders yellowed and/or discolored
Surface wear with light scuffing or light scratches

Can exhibit the following: focus somewhat off-register, much of the original gloss lost, visible crease, slight stain on obverse, wax stain on reverse
Good 2Front: 90/10 percent or better

Back: 90/10 percent or better
Corners: Accelerated roundingSurface wear starting to become obvious

Can exhibit the following: scratching, scuffing, chipping of enamel, several creases, no original gloss, considerable discoloration
FR 1.5Front: 90/10 percent or better

Back: 90/10 percent or better
Corners: Extreme wear

Edges: Borders brown and dirty
Surface with advanced stages of wear including scuffing, scratching, pitting, chipping and staining.

Can exhibit the following: picture out of register, one or more heavy creases
PR 1Front: 90/10 percent or better

Back: 90/10 percent or better
Edges: Borders brown and dirtyEye appeal nearly vanished

Can exhibit the following:
missing one or two pieces, major creases, extreme discoloration / dirtiness, noticeable warping
Key areas PSA is looking for when grading Poor 1 up to Excellent 5 (Source: PSA.com)

Conclusion

You don’t need to be a professional grader to get a rough pre-grade before a submission. PSA does basically only look for centering, surface, corners, edges and the overall eye appeal when grading.

However, you need to educate yourself about PSA’s grading factors to understand how they are applied for each grade.

Lastly, you will get more confident in pre-grading over time as this is a learning process. If you are aiming for Gem Mint 10s, read this article!

How do you pre-grade your PSA card submission? Let me know in the comments!

If you got value from this article or find it interesting, it would mean a lot to me if you could share it on Social Media!

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