I’d say one of the most common stumbling blocks I encounter when speaking with novice (and even more experienced) collectors concerns shipping sports cards.
For someone that hasn’t sent a valuable card through the mail, the process can be a bit of a daunting experience. However, once you do it a few times, it becomes a fairly simple and easily repeatable process.
I put this guide together to help fellow collectors and to provide some further instructions on shipping sports cards. This guide will cover supplies needed in order to ship your cards, how properly package your cards, along with different methods of shipping and how the process might vary if sending to any third-party graders.
If you have any questions on this, feel free to leave a message in the comments section, or as always feel free to shoot us an email at email@example.com
Supplies Needed To Prepare and Ship Your Sports Cards
For most collectors, the supplies needed will be readily available around your house and if not, these are items that can easily be purchased on eBay or Amazon. Here's a look at what you need:
Penny Sleeves - the most commonly used card supply as a first line of defense for protecting your card from any damage. I wholeheartedly recommend slicing a small portion of one corner of the penny sleeve, so that the card easily slides in.
I've dinged so many corners of cards until I learned this trick. Penny sleeves come in all shapes in sizes. Note that due to a surge in demand, pricing has gone up on these but I wouldn't spend more than $5 for a bag of 100. These are the ones I use and would recommend for standard size cards:
I should also mention having team bags is also helpful when trying to send multiple/bulk lots of cards.
Loose Razor Blade or Exacto Knife - As mentioned previously, I do recommend slicing a corner of the penny sleeve, so that it slides in easier. Note, that I would practice slicing a corner and testing a penny sleeve with a few common cards so that you get the hang of it. Here's an example of an Exacto Knife that I use for this. Note, loose razor blades also work really well.
Top Loaders or Card Saver 1's - Once a card is inside a penny sleeve, you need to add another layer of protection. This is commonly done with either 'top-loaders' or 'Card Saver 1's'. Again, due to a surge in demand throughout the hobby, pricing on both of these has gone through the roof, due to a lack of supply. Thus, it will be hard to find either one for prices from over a year ago, but if you spend enough time searching, you should be able to find what you need for a reasonable price.
Like penny sleeves, top loaders come in all shapes and sizes. For standard size cards, you want to make sure that you purchase 'standard' size 3" x 4" top loaders. I use Ultra Pro (shown below).
Note that for thicker cards, both companies sell thicker size top-loaders, which are measured by Point. For example the thicker standard size Ultra Pro holders are 55 Point (or PT) and Cardboard Gold sells several variations of thicker holders starting at 60 PT and going all the way up to 240 PT.
I would recommend getting on the mailing list for both Ultra Pro and Cardboard Gold to get updates on to when inventory comes back in stock.
Now, while many like Top Loaders for card storage, some prefer what are known as 'Semi-Rigid's. These are card protectors that are a bit more flexible in comparison to the standard hard plastic of a top loader.
The most popular Semi-Rigids are called Card Savers and they are produced by Cardboard Gold. They have both a Card Saver 1 and a Card Saver II for standard size cards. They also make a Card Saver III and Card Saver IV for larger cards.
Card Savers have become extremely popular since they are the preferred holder for card grading submissions. In fact, they are so popular, that Cardboard Gold cannot keep them in stock. (Again, I recommend getting on their mailing list, since they do have frequent flash sales).
Card Saver 1's are bigger than Card Saver 2's and can hold a standard size card inside of a penny sleeve.
I would recommend the Card Saver 1's for standard size cards as I find the Card Saver 2's are just too small for my taste.
However, I actually think the Ultra Pro Card Grading Submission Semi-Rigid (should say holds cards up to 3 3/16" x 4 1/4") holders (see below) are just as good as Card Saver 1's and they are seemingly a bit easier to find right now.
Note that Ultra Pro also makes a smaller semi-rigid which is comparable to the Card Saver II, but I would probably not recommend those if storing cards in penny sleeves as well, as it is just too tight of a fit.
Blue Masking/Painters Tape - blue masking tape serves two purposes. I usually put one little piece on top of the top loader or semi-rigid to protect the card from sliding out of the case. Blue masking tape is also helpful when putting cardboard around the card (more on this later). It is fairly inexpensive and can be purchased for less than $10 for a few rolls.
Packaging Tape - You might have some packaging tape lying around your house, but if not you will need some to package up your boxes. I actually buy mine at Dollar Tree or Costco, but eBay can also be a good resource for tape.
Spare Cardboard - If you have any packages delivered to your house, be sure to save those leftover boxes. Should be no need to buy any cardboard!
Padded Shipping Envelopes - This is all preference, but I prefer white padded envelopes for shipping---and not manila, paper envelopes. These ones have done me well, although at around 30 cents a piece, there are probably cheaper options out there (let me know if you have other ideas).
Small Scale - any scale will do designed for weighing small objects...I actually use a small food scale that I have...does the trick just fine. But if you are mailing larger size packages, you might want to invest in a postage scale. Just need this in order to weigh your packages.
Ruler/Tape Measure - you'll need this to measure the size of your package
Scissors - You need a pair of scissors that can cut cardboard, so get a nice pair of corrugated cardboard scissors. I have these and they work really well.
Bubble Wrap - Word to the wise, if you're ordering any cards online and someone sends you cards packaged in bubble wrap---save it! Otherwise having a roll of bubble wrap around can be very helpful.
Printer - If you don't currently have a printer, you'll need one in order to print up labels for your shipments. I'd recommend getting an all in one that can print, scan and copy just so you have it for other purposes. I have a fairly new printer and have been pretty happy with it - - HP OfficeJet Pro 8025 All-in-One Printer -- and it sells for under $170.
Cardboard Boxes - Like I mentioned previously -- save those boxes from orders you get online whether from Amazon or elsewhere! Typically boxes will only be needed for larger card shipments that cannot fit in a padded envelope. You can always order more boxes online, and it makes sense to have a few sizes or small, large and medium around so that you have it when you need it. These smaller 4" x 4" x 2" boxes are good for shipping smaller amounts of cards.
How To Package Cards For Shipping
Ok by now, you should have everything you need in order to start packaging and shipping your cards. Let's now take a look at how to safely package your cards.
For one individual card that has not been graded it is fairly simple. Place the card in a penny sleeve and top loader (or card saver). Next, place a small piece of blue painters tape on the top opening of the card.
This helps ensure that the card does not slide out of the protective holder while shipped. Note that if the card appears to be moving around after being placed in the holder, it is likely you have the wrong size card protector.
Now that you have your card protected, the next goal is to add further protection so that the card does not get bent while in transit. This step is all about cardboard. The goal here is to add a piece of cardboard to each side of the card so that it acts as a protective layer in order to prevent any damage. So, think of it like a cardboard sandwich!
This image from the PSA Submission guidelines provides a good visual representation of how the cardboard should surround the cards on both sides.
PSA says to use a rubber band to hold the 'cardboard sandwich' together although personally, I just place a piece of blue painters tape on all four sides of the cardboard.
I also recommend cutting the cardboard so it extends past the edges of the holders on the card(s). You want to make sure that there is some room between the cardboard edge and the holder---because when the buyer receives the card, we don't want to provide any openings so that they damage the card if cutting the cardboard.
Now, I mentioned one card at the start, but this process would be the same for one, two, three, four, or five + cards. As shown in the PSA image above, placing multiple cards in Card Savers on top of one another is fine.
If you are shipping cards that have already been graded, I would place each graded card in a protective graded card bag. You can stack graded cards, but we need to be careful that we don't allow any wiggle room so that the graded plastic cases can hit one another and crack.
NOTE- For shipping multiple graded cards, it does make sense to have some of these graded trading card boxes on hand. This is exactly what PSA uses to ship graded cards back to collectors. You can wrap the graded card in plastic and ensure that the cards are tight inside of the box, so that no movement is allowed.
Once you have placed your cards in between cardboard, I always wrap the 'cardboard sandwich' in some bubble wrap for further protection. Then place the cards insider of the padded bubble mailer and seal. Or, if shipping larger lots of cards, be sure to package the cards so that they cannot move freely within the package.
Grading Company Instructions For Shipping
I'm pretty sure most of the grading companies would not debate any of my previous instructions, but let's just take a look at the three major grading companies to see what they say as far as shipping goes.
PSA Card Shipping Guidelines
Here's PSA's Shipping Guidelines PSA actually instructs collectors not to use top-loaders (or snap cases or screw down holders).
PSA strongly advises against submitting items in hard acrylic snap cases, top loaders or screw down holders due to their potential to damage the item during shipment. If items are received in such holders, PSA will accept them but reserves the right to automatically remove them from these cases and place them in Card Savers for ease of processing.
**Editor's note-- I have submitted many submissions to PSA inside of a top-loader with no issues, but just understand that Card Savers are the preferred method for PSA.
We already covered this above, but PSA also provides guidelines on using a 'cardboard sandwich' and utilizing bubble wrap or other packaging protective materials.
SGC Card Shipping Guidelines
I hate to always rip on SGC, but while I'd like to provide some more information on SGC's card shipping guidelines, there is zero information on their website regarding this.
Apparently whatever they had at one point was removed from their website at some point (sort of par for the course with SGC). I did find an old forum post from 2008, so let's just go with that for now....if someone from SGC wants to get in touch to correct me with some sort of updated link, please do.
Q.) How do I prepare my cards for shipping?
A.) SGC suggests the following in preparing your cards for shipping:
Place cards in semi-rigid holder (CardSaverI) or a "top loader" (please use a 'penny' or thin mylar sleeve).
Secure cards to avoid movement within holder.
Place cards in sturdy box surround with bubble wrap or wrapping material and secure the box.
Ship via a reliable carrier (insurance is strongly suggested but not required).
SGC is not responsible for any packages damaged in transit to SGC, so insure accordingly.
Beckett Grading Shipping Guidelines
Beckett at the very least does provide some information on their website. It's simple, but to the point.
A Look At Different Shipping Providers For Sending Cards
There are basically three different options when it comes to sending your cards - USPS, UPS, or FedEx. Whether you are sending a package to a buyer from an eBay sale or sending in a grading submission, the shipping provider used is really going to depend on preference and comfort level. Let's examine the three shipping providers for further details.
Using US Postal Service (USPS) For Shipping Cards
The biggest knock against using the USPS for shipping cards is the lack of predictability in shipments and the entire mismanagement of the organization over the past several years. I've had shipments that were sent across country and never scanned and somehow made it to the final destination weeks past the expected delivery date.
Thus, for the most part, the USPS is akin to the wild west, and that sometimes your package may go through logistical twists and turns that are entirely out of your control. The key with the USPS is that it is more affordable and allows for flexible shipping options and fairly unlimited options for insuring packages.
Card shipments using USPS can be sent using Priority Mail Express, Priority Mail, First-Class Package Service-Retail and USPS Retail Ground.
Priority Mail Express is the most expensive service, yet the quickest way to send via USPS--however an uninsured padded enveloped starts at around $26, with the ability to purchase an additional $5000 in insurance.
Depending on the card(s) being shipped, I usually opt for First-Class Mail (note weight limit cannot exceed 13oz), which is very affordable and allows for additional insurance. I can typically ship a padded envelope with cards for around $4 uninsured. You can also add signature confirmation if you need to confirm for any reason that the other party receives the cards.
Priority Mail includes $50 of insurance but is more than double the cost of First-Class Mail.
Some will opt for Registered Mail for very valuable items, which is really the most secured method of shipping very high priced cards---the package requires an official signature along each step in the shipment. It allows for the most insurance coverage possible at a maximum of up to $50K in coverage available. However this is a much longer process and if speed is a requirement, then Registered mail is probably not a good idea for you. From USPS:
Registered Mail is kept highly secured and is processed manually, which naturally slows the speed at which it travels. Registered Mail is not recommended if speed of delivery is important.
You cannot ship registered mail using your own labels, and the package must be brought to a post office. Note that a box sent via registered mail must be packaged using plain paper tape.
Using UPS For Shipping Cards
I don't typically ship using UPS, but I know of many successful sellers that utilize UPS for shipping cards. Like the USPS, UPS has several various methods of shipping, ranging from UPS Ground to UPS Next Day or 2nd or 3rd Day.
A UPS Ground package will likely run the same amount as a Priority Mail package from the USPS. Note that if using PayPal shipping labels, you can only declare a $999 value, so if a greater declared value is needed, using UPS.com is recommended.
Using FedEx For Shipping Cards
Note that FedEx only allows for up to $1000 in 'declared value' for collectibles, but for some shippers, it is the preferred method for reliability when sending valuable cards.
How To Print Shipping Labels
Note that in order to create shipping labels, I use Paypal which has a very easy to use interface and offers a discount off of regular retail pricing. With PayPal, you can ship via USPS or UPS and funds for shipping are deducted from your PayPal account.
Someone recently also told me about Pirate Ship recently, but I have not used it personally. If you have, please let me know in the comments.
Should I Use Insurance When Shipping Cards?
I usually do and as mentioned, I primarily use USPS with insurance. Now some have told me that having a card insured leaves the package open for a higher possibility of theft, but I have not had that problem and have shipped quite a few cards.
I also have not had to file a claim with any of the three major providers, although I hear that FedEx and UPS are actually not as apt to pay out claims. Some have told me that their wording of 'declared value' and not insurance provides them with an out in compensating for any lost packages.
I've heard mixed things about UPS insurance recoveries, but seemingly the experience from people I know has been better than other stories I've heard regarding UPS and FedEx.
Bottom line is that if you are shipping valuable cards and you cannot afford to lose the funds if the package is lost, I would would purchase insurance. I still recommend USPS for most packages and would opt for USPS Registered Mail if you are shipping something extremely valuable.
Of course, I'm just one person with an opinion, and I love to hear from others on their experiences. Feel free to drop a note in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org