Guide on how to choose - PSA vs BGS vs SGC
The grading market continues to grow each year, with collectors and investors keen to find out the value of their assortment of trading cards.
The modern card market is dominated by marvels like online auctions and virtual collections, but the process of getting an item graded is the same as ever.
You’ll need to send over the cards you want to be appraised, and wait for a period of time while they certify the authenticity and quality of your items.
PSA, BGS, and SGC check everything from the size to the coloring to ensure the legitimacy of an item, so you won’t have to sweat if you’re thinking about adding an expensive card to your collection.
Here’s an in-depth guide with everything you could possibly want to know about SGC, PSA, and BGS, including pros and cons, which should help you to decide which is better for your collection.
Arguably the best known of the two, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) is a US-based third-party grading and authentication company.
PSA uses a simple rating system, grading cards from anywhere between 1 and 10 depending on a variety of factors.
PSA Grading Scale
- PR 1 (Poor)
- FR 1.5 (Fair)
- Good 2 (Good)
- VG 3 (Very Good)
- VG-EX 4 (Very Good-Excellent)
- EX 5 (Excellent)
- EX-MT 6 (Excellent-Mint)
- NM 7 (Near Mint)
- NM-MT 8 (Near Mint-Mint)
- Mint 9 (Mint)
- GEM-MT 10 (Gem Mint)
PSA used to exclusively grade using whole numbers but changed to allow for half grades for more precision in February 2008. It’s especially important for high-end cards. They clarified that; “In order for a card to be considered for the half-point increase, it must exhibit qualities that separate it from the average card within the particular grade.
In general, the centering may be the most important factor in achieving the half-point increase with eye appeal being so crucial in the grader evaluation. Since centering is so important and clearly visible to most collectors, the strength or weakness of the centering will have a significant impact on the final outcome.
It’s a welcome decision, especially considering the potential difference in price between a 7 and an 8 grade. However, they only issue half-point grades for anything between PSA Good 2 and PSA Mint 9.
After all, nobody wants a nasty surprise if they’ve spent a wad of cash on a sub-par item. The PSA qualifiers are as follows: Off Center (OC) – They give some leeway depending on “eye appeal”, but an OC card always lowers the asking price.
Staining (ST) – Staining will also diminish value, and it’s more prevalent with vintage cards.
Print Defect (PD) – Generally this comes in the form of a small white dot, which is often known as “fish-eye” or “snow”.
As you might expect, the slightest defect will stop cards from getting the highest grades.
Out of Focus (OF) – Thankfully OF cards are rarely seen in new packs, as you’ll get a headache if you stare at one for too long.
This will vastly lower the price.
Marks (MK) – This could take the form of a signature which was added at a later date, but any card with “writing, ink marks, pencil marks, or evidence of the impression left from the act of writing” will ensure a card gets the MK designation.
Miscut (MC) – A miscut focuses on the card itself rather than the image. If a portion is missing, or the card is oversized, it’s designated MC.
PSA is a great choice, with an extensive list of criteria for grading so you know exactly what you’re getting.
However, that doesn’t mean that BGS/SGC isn’t worth looking in to
The Beckett Grading Service (BGS) has been around since 1999, carving out a niche as a solid choice for getting cards appraised.
It was formed by the founder of Beckett Publications, which has been at the forefront of collectible news since 1984. In the here and now, the Beckett Grading Service (BGS) is a leading name when it comes to the trading card business.
It’s less subjective than heading into your local hobby store, and the BGS grade will give you a better idea of how much your prized cards are worth. BGS focus on four main subgrades when grading cards, which are: Centering, Surface, Edges & Corners.
Centering – The centering considers how the image fits the card, and how it aligns with the border. Many older cards are poorly centered, so it’s one to look out for! This is judged by measuring the angle, and 50/50 centering is when the image is directly in the middle of the card.
Surface – The quality of the surface. Wear and tear can cause creases and flaws, which are noted here.
Edging – How well the edges of the cards align. White borders can blend more easily, making it slightly harder to detect any flaws. While edging is often seen as the least important factor, it still has a major impact on the overall rating.
Corners – Some cards can be trimmed in an attempt to artificially boost the value, and it’s a common method of alteration. Sharper corners are more desirable, as they’re the most susceptible to wear and tear over the years.
BGS uses an algorithm that determines the final grade using the four subgrades on the front label of the cardholder. The lowest overall grade is the first category to observe because it is the most obvious defect, and the lowest grade is the most heavily weighted in determining the overall grade.”
As for the grading system, it’s similar to the PSA scale in terms of descriptors and numbers, but they have a number of extra grades for each of the half-points.
Beckett Grading Scale
- 1 – Poor 1.5 Fair
- 2 – G (Good)
- 2.5 –G+
- 3 – VG (Very Good)
- 3.5 – VG+
- 4 – VG-EX (Very Good-Excellent)
- 4.5 VG-EX+
- 5 – EX (Excellent)
- 5.5 – EX +
- 6 – EX-NM (Excellent-Near Mint)
- 6.5 – EX-NM+
- 7 – Near Mint
- 7.5 – Near Mint +
- 8 – Near Mint-Mint
- 8.5 – Near Mint-Mint +
- 9 – Mint
- 9.5 – Gem Mint
- 10 – Pristine It’s reasonably extensive, and you’ll arguably have a better idea of the overall quality of the card compared to a PSA graded version
They’re not seen as the best option for older cards with PSA often being preferred, but they do have a vintage service (BVS) for older cards.
The point is, Beckett is a viable option if you’re thinking about selling pre-war cards, and the same goes for investing. Beckett’s top-graded cards are identifiable at a glance thanks to premium-colored labels.
A gold/black label on the front of the cardholder signifies the highest graded cards (9.5-10), while a silver label can be found on cards graded from 8.5 to 9.
Beckett is seen as a great option for newer cards, likely due to their methodological approach to grading.
Established in 1998, "SGC is one of the most trusted grading and authentication services for sports memorabilia collectors worldwide, so they say"
SGC claims that they are the most accurate and consistent grading company in the market as they use a grading scale that eliminates “tweeners” (which means the grade could go either way).
They also seem to be more simplistic than the other 2 shops.
SGC Grading Scale
- 10 PR: A “virtually flawless” card. 50/50 centering, crisp focus, four sharp corners*, free of stains, no breaks in surface gloss, no print or refractor lines, and no visible wear under magnification.
- 10 MT
- 5: 80/20 or better centering, minor rounding or fuzzing of corners, roughness or chipping along the edge (no layering), one VERY slight surface or “spider” crease may exist on one side of the card, the gloss may be lost from the surface with some scratching that does not detract from the aesthetics of the card.
- 1: This card usually exhibits many of these characteristics: heavy print spots, heavy crease(s), pinhole(s), color or focus imperfections or discoloration, surface scuffing or tears, rounded and/or fraying corners, ink or pencil marking(s), and lack of all or some original gloss, small portions of the card may be missing.
Pros and Cons
Pros and Cons of PSA
We’ve come up with a list of some of the common pros and cons you’ll find with PSA.
- PSA is seen as the experts when it comes to older cards, especially for anything pre-1970’s. This has caused the price of older PSA cards to exceed their BGS counterparts, even if they have a similar overall rating.
- PSA can be trusted with the handling of high ticket items, and they’re often faster in terms of appraising cards.
- They’re tougher on corners, especially for Gem Mint cards.
- They offer the PSA Set Registry, which enables you to track your inventory, costs, and populations, build and update sets, enjoy competition with others, meet collectors who share common interests, create a photo album of your collection, and share your sets with others. In addition, you can perform “What If?” scenarios to see how the addition of new items will change your set ratings. It’s great if you want a little recognition for your hard work, or if you want to keep track of your progress while collecting a set.
- PSA has processed over 30 million cards and collectibles with a cumulative declared value of over a billion dollars, so they know what they’re doing.
- Joining the PSA collectors club will give you access to bulk rates when selling cards.
- A lack of a PSA 9.5 rating isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s painful if you think it should be a 10. However, it does raise the price of PSA 10 rated cards, and they’re highly sought after.
- The slab isn’t really eye-catching as they’ve opted for a plain sticker listing the relevant information. It doesn’t compare to Beckett’s options, especially if it’s a 10 grade.
- In some cases, the card isn’t secure inside the case and can move around if dropped or damaged. However, it’s unlikely to damage the card itself, which is good news.
- You won’t be able to add non-PSA rated cards to the PSA Set Registry.
- In the past, they were seen as leaders in authenticating, although their grading system has vastly improved in the last decade.
Pros and Cons of BGS (i.e. Beckett)
There are a number of reasons why BGS could be a better option than PSA.
Of course, Beckett card grading has a range of cons that are also worth considering, so here’s everything you need to know.
- Beckett’s labeling is generally preferred, and it’s easy to see why when you compare their offerings to the PSA equivalents.
- They’ve seen a great option for newer cards, and they’re often
- BGS is tougher on centering, especially for Gem Mint cards.
- They decided to release the Beckett Graded Registry in 2013, hoping to match up to PSA’s service with many similar features. You can compare cards with others, sort through your collection, and there’s also the chance to win prizes by competing against others in upload and set completion contests.
- Extensive subgrades allow the buyer and seller to have a better idea of the item, detailing everything from the value to any flaws clearly and concisely.
- The BVG service is ideal if you’d like to get a vintage collection valued.
- The Beckett grading population report is pretty easy to navigate and use
- Beckett cardholders are larger than the PSA equivalent. This isn’t ideal if space is an issue, and it gets worse if you have a large collection.
- Some feel the grading system is too complex. While it’s great to have a lot of info about a card, there are so many variables that go into the BGS grading system. If you have a duo of 9.5s with slightly different grading stats, it’s not surprising if the price differs depending on what collectors value more.
- The special labels are a great touch, but they do have an unintended consequence. They make the silver tabs look second-rate in comparison, and you don’t want people making that connection while they’re looking at your cards.
- They grade autographs on a sliding scale. Many feel the player’s autograph should have only two options; real or fake.
Pros and Cons of SGC
Despite being the smallest of the trio, SGC runs a tight ship and were seen as the go-to service during the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak. There have been a few growing pains along the way, but the pros easily outweigh the cons now that they appear to have ironed things out.
- Typically the cheapest service for grading cards
- Simple design with great slabs
- Good customer service, offering quick responses and no-nonsense
- Speedy card grading thanks to new changes to their pricing system
- They’ve recently changed their pricing system to a two-tier package, which ups the price significantly
- Some users were left waiting for significant periods after they were overwhelmed midway through 2020
As you can see there are a lot of pros and not a lot of cons when it comes to SGC Grading.
The only problems are one of the cons is a big one. No one likes to get less money for their cards when they are around the same grade vs the other shops. BUT we are monitoring this closely as we expect SGC to narrow the gap over the upcoming year as they gain more popularity with collectors.
Quick flips require low wait times, although every service has suffered in recent months due to Covid-19.
SGC saw more submissions after PSA and Beckett Grading were forced to briefly shut down operations early in 2020 due to government orders. However, SGC ended up backlogged, unable to deal with the combined customer base of Beckett and PSA.
No one likes to wait, especially if you have a ten thousand euro card you’re waiting to get back!
So keep an eye on their site for any changes regarding turnaround times.
But keep in mind it can take a while, especially now with the booming card market.
Who is best?
Card grading is far from an exact science, despite what SGC, BGS, and PSA would like you to believe.
After all, you could send the same 8 grade over multiple times if you’re hoping for an extra half-point, and it does work. (of course, this could also lead to lower grades, and they get their fees regardless.) The point is, different collectors will have a variety of experiences and preferences, so the honest answer to the question ‘who is the best grading service’ is that it depends.
It’s worth remembering that some collectors prefer ungraded cards, while others view the practice as a bit of a scam. Considering the massive market for forgeries and doctored cards, we think that it’s better to be sure if you’re looking at rare options, or attempting to sell one yourself.
Overall, a PSA 10 is going to be better and sold for more than a BGS 9.5 and an SGC 10 MT although it becomes more subjective when you get to lower grades.
You don’t have to stick with one over the other, but they do attempt to force you to via loyalty schemes and the respective Registry services. It’s a big deal for some collectors, but the majority are more concerned with turnaround times and pricing. It’s little wonder that SGC continues to grow in popularity.
You’ll have to decide for yourself, and in many cases, there’s no right or wrong answer. Everything from the era of the cards you collect to your preferred slab should have an impact on your personal preference. Some people use one, and others use a combination of all three grading services.