Savvy Slabbing: Cheapest way to get Cards Graded ($8/card)

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Last Updated On: September 8th, 2023

If you’ve spent any time in the sports cards hobby, chances are you notice a few things right off the bat: eBay rocks, late ’80s and early ’90s cards are junk, and graded cards are waaaaaaay more valuable than ungraded raw cards.

Those graded cards and their protective casings (called slabs) send a signal to everyone in the hobby that a card is exactly what you’re saying it is. They add value, denote scarcity, and, frankly, just look cool.

But if you hop online hoping to spend a few dollars to get a card graded, you might be disappointed when you see some of the high prices. In that case, you might be asking: what’s the cheapest way to get cards graded? Do I have to miss out on slabs if I can’t drop $20 per card?

Short answer: no. In this post, we’re going to discuss why it’s important to get cards graded before diving into various grading options and how you can make the best decision based on your priorities. 

cheapest way to get cards graded
Grading can add thousands of dollars to a collection

Let’s get grading!

Reasons to Grade Your Cards

We aren’t going to be re-inventing the wheel with this one. You probably know the reasons to get a card graded (which we’ll get to in just a second). 

But before you purchase card savers and bubble mailers, it’s important to ask yourself why you’re grading. Your motivations should ultimately guide your decision making, beginning with whether to get a card graded at all. 

That’s because the cheapest option depends on what you hope to happen on the other side of a grade. Ask yourself:

Are you looking to flip a card? Then the cheapest option might not be the most inexpensive from a dollars-and-cents perspective.

Are you looking to just get a rough idea of your card’s condition for a personal collection? Then you may not have so much of an emphasis on a premium grading company.

Are you looking to grade Pokemon cards or basketball cards? These are the questions that go into your quest for the cheapest option for you.

Here’s why price might not necessarily be the only factor in deciding the cheapest way to grade a card. Let’s say you’re getting a card graded for resale. You could spend less than $10 on a cheap grade from a lesser-known company. But is that going to truly add value to your card? Isn’t that the purpose of getting a card you wish to sell graded?

In that case, the $10 you spend could well add zero value to a card. You’re out $10 and back exactly where you started. The cheapest option actually cost more money than it was worth.

In other words, while we use the word “cheapest” here, the decision extends well beyond the bottom-line value.

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Authentication and Card Condition

The first two reasons for getting a card graded have nothing to do with adding value and everything to do with ensuring what you have is legit. 

For instance, card companies (in their infinite wisdom) have printed out tons of replica cards for their most iconic lines. The difference between a 1984 Star or 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan card and a 1996 “Decade of Excellence” reprint could be thousands of dollars.  

Thanks to grading, we know that this card is a 1996 Decade of Excellence Fleer card, not a 1986 Jordan rookie
Thanks to grading, we know that this card is a 1996 Decade of Excellence Fleer card, not a 1986 Jordan rookie

And what about aftermarket autographed cards? These are cards that have been signed by a player after they’ve been pulled from a pack – the auto didn’t come with the card. Thanks to autograph authentication services, you’ll have peace of mind that the aftermarket auto actually came from the hand of MJ instead of CJ. Or JJ. Or EJ. Basically anyone that’s not Mike. You get the idea. Getting a card graded helps ensure that a card is what it (and a buyer) says it is.

1985 Topps Football Mike Singletary Auto #34 BGS Authentic.  Cards like this one featuring Mike Singletary, have been signed after the fact -- grading ensures it's authentic
Cards like this one featuring Mike Singletary, have been signed after the fact — grading ensures it’s authentic

Second, let’s not forget the entire purpose behind grading: to get an idea of the card’s condition. When buying online, it can be especially tricky to get an idea of a raw card’s quality: a corner nick might not show up as clean, for example. Or, on the flip side, a mistake with flash might make it look like a card is creased, or has a refractor line. Even centering can look perfect with a subtle tilt of the camera if you’re not able to analyze the the card in hand.

Grading eliminates those concerns (well, almost).

Grading can Increase Card Value

This reason is the one most people think of right off the bat: a grade can increase a card’s value. But not all grades are treated equally. While PSA, SGC, and BGS tend to add the most value to a card, the downside is that they aren’t the most cost-effective. Maybe that doesn’t matter if, say, you’re trying to flip a card for as much money as possible. 

Let’s take Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2013 Prizm base rookie card. With a PSA 9 card, CardLadder values the card around $320-370. But as a CSG 9 (CSG is a cheaper grading service – though not the cheapest as we’ll see) CardLadder values the card at $259. Alternatively, the card is valued around $270 raw (keep in mind these values are as of August 2023).

CSG, while a cheaper option, may not hold value as well as PSA, BGS, or SGC
CSG, while a cheaper option, may not hold value as well as PSA, BGS, or SGC

Are you willing to sacrifice a $50-$100 difference in value passing on PSA for a few dollars difference in grading price? Or, potentially make nothing even if you score a CSG Mint 9 versus the value of a raw card? These are genuine questions you should ask when contemplating where to get a card graded. There’s no wrong answer, as long as you’re true to your individual intentions. 

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When choosing the cheapest way to get cards graded, you’ll want to weigh each of these reasons to come to the best decision. Do you want to resell a card? Do you value credibility in the industry over price? Do you want to merely protect a card for a PC?

Protect your Cards

Ultimately, grading also provides excellent protection for your cards. But when trying to find the cheapest way to get cards graded, you’ll need to ask why you’re protecting your cards in the first place.

For Future Resale Value

Here’s the most obvious and most common. Much of what we discussed above applies here: grading cards can be excellent for resale value, but the cheapest dollar option may not be as valuable long-term as a more expensive, premium label. 

People see PSA and just associate it with quality grading. That lets you as the seller charge more for a card and you as the buyer to have peace of mind that the card is legit.

For your Personal Collection (PC)

But what if you’re just trying to protect a card for a personal collection. Does going with the premium label matter as much? Probably not. In that case, the cheapest way to get a card graded might well be the cheapest wallet option. The benefits are still there: professionally slabbed cards tend to be safer than card savers and top loaders, and at the very least look pretty snazzy.

A cheaper alternative to graded slabs are ungraded slabs, perfect for a personal collection
A cheaper alternative to graded slabs are ungraded slabs, perfect for a personal collection

Also, the uniformity for storage can’t be beat with a professionally graded, uniform card slab. Alternatively, you may wish to go with an ungraded slab, which tend to be cheaper than professionally graded slabs.

Most Affordable Card Grading Services

Now that we’ve considered some reasons for getting a card graded, let’s look at the market itself. What options are the cheapest by price? Which are best for PCs? Which are fastest? Best for high volume? 

Here’s the guide you’ve been waiting for:

Cheapest Overall by Price

And the winner for cheapest way to get cards graded goes to…a TIE?! Sorry, no extra innings on this one. Here’s a breakdown: 

  • GMA Grading: starting at $8/card. NOTE: $8 per card is only available in bulk orders of 100+ cards, otherwise $10/card for orders of 20+ cards. See more about pricing
  • Gem Mint Graded (GMG): starting at $8/card. NOTE: card must be valued at $99 or less). Visit GMG for more info.
At $8/card, GMG offers some of the cheapest prices for graded slabs
At $8/card, GMG offers some of the cheapest prices for graded slabs

While GMA and GMG offer the cheapest starting prices, a few others aren’t far behind.

World Class Grading (WCG) offers grading starting at $9/card (although their website looks like it hasn’t been refreshed since it was first created in 2001!).

From there, prices escalate to $12 from CSG, though that price is only triggered for bulk orders of 25 cards or more. Of any that we have mentioned thus far, CSG is by far the most reputable. But as demonstrated by our Giannis example earlier, even CSG is far from the cream of the crop in increasing a card’s value. Also a quick tangent about CSG: they’re merging under Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) in the near future — so don’t be surprised to see CGC-branded slabs as a result.

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But if those are the cheapest options, which are the best overall?

Best Choice Overall

Of course, the best option depends entirely on your own goals. That’s a combination of price, value, reputation, speed, and more. Additionally, are you looking to get one card graded, or send in a bulk order? 

From purely a credibility standpoint, PSA and BGS are the cream of the crop, with SGC often mentioned as a third excellent option. In fact, recent figures suggest SGC is gaining ground on BGS in terms of popularity. A GemRate report from 2022 listed BGS as having graded less than 750,000 cards all year, a distant fourth behind PSA, CGC, and SGC.

Why are these stats important? Because the value-added by a graded slab is entirely determined by the hobby. Ultimately, hobbyists assign value to a slab. So if fewer people are going with BGS, it could mean the hobby is changing its tune on BGS. Hopefully not to the same tune as it did with BCCG grading.

And staying abreast of changes in the hobby ensures that you stay on the cutting edge. That’s why you should subscribe to this blog by entering your email address in the box below 😉

So if you’re looking to purely increase a card’s value, PSA is your best bet. Even though it’s the gold standard in sports card grading, PSA isn’t the most expensive option out there (that honor goes to RareEdition, starting at $39/card).  

PSA and its iconic red and white label
PSA and its iconic red and white label

But again, it all depends on your individual goals. With that in mind, here are a few caveats to PSA’s dominance.

Cheapest and Fastest

The downside to PSA’s value-adding? PSA isn’t the cheapest option, with prices starting at $19/card for bulk orders of 20 or more (non-bulk options start at $25/card). Additionally, PSA estimates a turnaround time of 65 days, slower than molasses. 

BGS and its iconic gold label for cards rated 9.5 Gem Mint
BGS and its iconic gold label for cards rated 9.5 Gem Mint

But BGS offers a turnaround between 10 and 20 days for $40 per card. Even that, though, pales in comparison to SGC’s $15/card for a 5-10 day grading turnaround.

Here’s a summary of the more affordable and faster service levels discussed:

Grading CompanyPriceTurnaroundConditions
PSA$40/card20 days$499 max value
BGS$40/card10-20 daysNone
SGC$15/card (or $9/card TCG)5-10 days$1,500 max value

For a comprehensive view of all the companies in the market, check out our overview of different grading companies which includes pricing links, what year each company began grading, and more.

Cheapest Choice for Personal Collections

If resale isn’t your priority, price might win the day in deciding the cheapest way to get cards graded. But keep in mind there might be value limits at some of those cheaper options; GMG, for instance, won’t grade a card valued at more than $99. 

Aside from graded slabs, you might want to invest in some cheaper protectors, or even an ungraded slab. Those are as cheap as $2/card on Amazon and offer better coverage than a top loader or card saver.

Cheapest for High Volume (Bulk) Compared

Generally, if you’re sending cards in via bulk, you might overlap between one looking to slab a personal collection and one looking to get a bunch of cards graded for resale. If you fall into the former, any of the cheaper options stack up nicely. 

But if you’re looking to slab for resale, you’ll want to stick with the three big players: PSA, SGC, and BGS. 


For PSA, bulk orders begin at $19/card. But, each card in the order must not be valued at more than $499 (it’s fine if the entire order is more than $499, this ceiling only pertains to individual cards).


SGC has recently reduced its pricing to start at just $15/card for sports and non-sports cards, and $9/card for TCG (e.g. Pokémon). This price-point is hard to beat for orders of any size, including bulk. Keep in mind the value of each card must be less than $1,500 to qualify for the $15 rate, with a standard service time of 5-10 days. For 1-2 day turnaround, any card valued at less than $1,500 is priced at $40/card, and cards valued between $1,500 and less than $3,500 costs $125/card.

Visit SGC for further information on its pricing.


Finally, BGS includes standard pricing, regardless of order size or valuation (a caveat to this is the $18 collector’s special, which carries a 10 card minimum with a valuation ceiling of $400/card). The key difference is turnaround time: at $18/card (the cheapest option), one can expect a turnaround time of 60+ days.

Final verdict: If you’re trying to balance bulk with speed, SGC and its lower prices and quick turnaround is the way to go. But if you’re fine with longer waits for an even more premium label, PSA is a solid option.

Summary: Cheapest Way to Get Cards Graded

The cheapest way to grade a sports card depends entirely on what you hope to get out of a slab. Once you figure that part out, the rest falls into place easily. Cost effective grading companies such as GMA, GMG, or CGC/CSG are affordable choices for savvy consumers looking to save a few bucks.

Before hitting publish, we’d be remiss not to touch on the future of grading. Various companies have already begun integrating artificial intelligence into the grading process, including PSA with its strategic acquisition of an AI grading company announced a few years back. With any luck, this will speed up the turnaround times of grading, although that has as much to do with a log-jam of product as it does anything else. 

In addition, a few apps have come out bragging about their ability to instantly determine a card’s value. That includes CollX, which takes a photo of your card and determines an approximate value.  

The technological advances should see great improvement, and, hopefully, consistency in grading. Who knows, it might even mean an upstart company could break into the hobby. But for now, PSA, BGS, and SGC reign supreme.


  1. You lost me at “eBay rocks”; “late ’80s and early ’90s cards are junk”; “graded cards are waaaaaaay more valuable than ungraded raw cards”; and “add value, denote scarcity, and, frankly, just look cool”. I quit reading at that point as I cannot see my agreeing with anything you state.

    1. Haha! I had a feeling Spencer’s affinity for eBay wouldn’t go unnoticed in particular 😀 Many hate it, some can’t live without it. The rest is certainly debatable, but I do think the post has some great nuggets FWIW. Appreciate the engagement even if it’s not in favor of lol Have a great one Bruno! Cheers, Zaia

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