PSA, BGS, or SGC? Who should you choose out of the three big collectible grading companies based in the United States?
If you’re holding onto a high ticket item, it makes sense to send your prized possession off to either PSA, Beckett, or SGC.
PSA, Beckett, and SGC all have various pros and cons that we’ll get into below, and we’ve also taken the time to give our thoughts on the current state of the card grading market.
Here’s everything you need to know about PSA, Beckett, and SGC, as the US grading giants are put to the test for everything from pricing to timescales.
PSA vs BGS vs SGC: What is Card Grading?
Card grading starts with a company like PSA authenticating an item, often under a microscope. Once it’s confirmed to be legit, it’ll be assigned a numerical grade at the next stage.
The numbers can range from 1-100, but graders typically use a 1-10 point scale.
The card will then be encapsulated in a secure slab, ensuring that it’ll be kept in pristine condition in the long-term.
There are normally four main factors to consider when a card is being graded.
How does the card’s image align, with respect to its four edges? Ideally, a card is centered from top to bottom and left to right. When centering is discussed, graders use percentages to describe how a card’s main design is oriented.
With rounded corners, sharp corners, soft corners and so on, there are many terms to describe the condition of corners, another crucial factor in determining trading card condition. A card can display great centering, but flawed corners can mean a big hit to a card’s grade.
The four edges of a card also play an important role in its grade. Are the edges rough and worn? Do they show dings, dents or other forms of damage? Are the edges black? Colored edges of any sort are notorious for showing wear and incurring chips, especially black edges.
From scratches to creases, “surface” refers to the condition of the cardboard that comprises the card. Some surfaces, like the reflective surfaces of Pokémon cards or certain modern sports cards like Bowman Chrome, are more apt to incur scratches. Vintage cards, meanwhile, are susceptible to condition issues such as the wearing of the gloss from the front of the cards. Creases can either be very light and touch just one surface of the card or much deeper and affect both surfaces.
Who is PSA?
In this PSA vs BGS vs SGC comparison, we’ll take you through what to expect from each service.
Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) is the ‘largest and most trusted third-party trading card authentication and grading company in the world.’
“Since its inception in 1991, PSA has certified over 40 million cards and collectibles with a cumulative declared value of over a billion dollars.”
In the present, they’re a powerhouse within the hobby, which I personally see as the gold standard. In most cases, I would pick a PSA 10 graded card before any of the other equivalents.
However, they’re pricey, and they were suffering from a major backlog that came to a head during the lockdowns seen during 2020.
The PSA grading scale is simple, ranging from a mark between 1 and 10. A 1 grade is poor, while a 10 grade is pristine, or essentially flawless. Each grade has a range of rules, typically relating to eye-appeal and centering.
For example, a GEM-MT 10 (Gem Mint) is a virtually perfect card, from its four sharp corners and no creasing to its sharp focus and full original gloss intact. A card that earns this distinction must be free of any staining, though allowances are made for slight printing imperfections if they don’t impair the card’s overall appeal. The image must be centered on the card within a tolerance not to exceed 55/45 to 60/40 percent on the front and 75/25 percent on the reverse.
A NM 7 (Near Mint) is a card showing slight surface wear visible only upon close inspection. There may be slight fraying on some corners. Picture focus may be slightly out-of-register although a minor printing blemish is acceptable. Slight wax staining is acceptable on the back of the card only. Most of the original gloss is retained. Centering must be approximately 70/30 to 75/25 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse.
It’s fair, but it can be upsetting if you’re sure a card would have received a 9.5 grade elsewhere, and your prized piece only received a mint 9 grade. (On the other hand, it also helps to increase interest in PSA 10 copies, as it’s so difficult to earn the grade.)
In addition to a numerical grade, some PSA graded cards also carry a Qualifier to identify specific characteristics of the card. Following is a roundup of the six PSA qualifiers, 2 of which are required, and 4 that are optional.
- MK Marks – Required
- MC Miscut – Required
- OC Off Center – Optional
- ST Staining – Optional
- PD Print Defect – Optional
- OF Out of Focus – Optional
PSA Grading Pricing
*UPDATE, July 2022: PSA has recently announced the return of their Value service level, coming in at a price that works out to just $30 per card.
They’ve also brought back the $18/card Special tier, although the card must have a declared value of $199 or less. Both are exclusive to PSA Collectors Club members, while the latter has a 20-card minimum.
With the addition of options at the lowest level, we can answer unreservedly; yes, PSA grading is definitely worth it right now.
This is where it gets a bit tricky.
A quick glance at the PSA website shows that they now have three grading options currently available.
- Regular: $100 per card
- Express: $200 per card
- Super Express: $300 per card
The temporary suspension of Value and Economy services is still in effect as they ‘concentrate our available capacity on those orders already in the system.’
For example, Value is priced at $10 per card, with a 20 card minimum. Meanwhile, Economy costs $20 per card.
It’s worth mentioning that the Regular tier used to be $50 per card with a wait time of 25 business days.
PSA slabs are some of the finest you’ll find, with uniformity no matter which grade is achieved. The red and white sticker design is iconic, if a little dated compared to modern options.
They have a QR code on the reverse that can be scanned to ensure legitimacy.
However, PSA slabs are the thinnest and smallest of the trio. This is more apparent when they’re laid out side by side.
PSA Final Sales Prices
The service is always great if you’re looking for the highest final sale prices when it comes time to part with your cards. PSA 10 versions are highly respected. The massive backlog they’ve seen has only helped to increase the average price of their cards in the meantime.
You can take a look at prices for PSA graded cards below.
PSA Current Timescales
You’ll be waiting for a while if you’re hoping to see cards returned for a budget fee. As we’ve noted in the pricing section, the temporary suspension of Value and Economy services is no longer in effect, while the cheapest service is Special at just $18 per card.
PSA Pros and Cons
We’ve listed the main pros and cons seen with PSA below.
- Reputable name in the business
- The best final sales prices
- PSA tend to be sent copies of almost every card imaginable
- Lack of cheaper grading options
- No .5 grades
- Thin slabs
PSA is a great choice if you have a serious collection, or you’re aiming to make the most money when it comes time to sell. Normal services have now resumed, which is great news for owners of cards in the $50-$500 range. With a long list of grading options to choose from, it’s hard to find many faults with PSA.
Who is BGS?
Another strong contender for high-end collectors, ‘BGS operates with the same honesty, integrity and excellent hobby knowledge you have come to expect from Beckett. Reliability and consistency are the hallmarks of Beckett Grading Services.’
Among the features unique to Beckett Grading Services (BGS) is a Report Card providing specific grade details and leaving no confusion as to why your card received its grade. Cards will be graded on the four key categories: centering, corners, edges and surface.
They say that; ‘Beckett Grading Services is the first to use this unique system which assures accuracy in grading.’
Beckett Grading Services uses an ‘easy-to-understand 1 to 10-point grading scale, with descending increments of one-half point (for example 10, 9.5, 9, 8.5, etc.)’. Since you are provided with a detailed report on your card’s key attributes, there are no confusing qualifiers to decipher.
You’ll find a couple of examples in the image below.
For example, the Mbappe card seen on the right only earns a 9 grade, despite a trio of 9.5 subgrades on the Report Card. The sole 8.5 grade for the corners drags it down to a disappointing BGS 9.
They also offer a simplified grading service, without any sub-grades at a cheaper rate.
As BGS explains;
“The overall numerical grade is not a simple average of the four report card grades. Beckett Grading Services uses an algorithm which determines the final grade using the 4 sub grades on the front label of the card holder. 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.”
BGS Grading Pricing
As with PSA, they’ve suspended the majority of services, and this is still in effect coming into February 2022.
They currently have just two grading services on offer;
- Premium: $250/card
- Premium (no sub grades): $125/card
The following tiers are currently out of action:
|Express – No Sub Grades||$100/card|
|Standard – No Sub Grades||$30/card|
|Economy – No Sub Grades||$20/card|
BGS slabs are my personal favourite of the trio, as the thickest and sturdiest. However, they’re not foolproof, and are brittle enough to crack and chip if you’re not too careful. (This will be due to user error, so the point is that they’re not indestructible.)
BGS Final Sales Prices
BGS cards can easily achieve records, especially when factoring in for their elusive 10 grades. PSA is often preferred for vintage cards, while many newer sets get sent in to Beckett for the subgrade treatment.
You can take a look at prices for the best BGS graded cards below.
As with PSA, BGS has suffered from a massive backlog, but they’re slowly getting to grips with the large number of cards sent their way over the past two years. Premium is the only tier that is available, and will take approximately 10-15 business days.
At a minimum price of $125 per card, it’s another company that has left the majority of collectors waiting to see their full range of services resume once more.
BGS Pros and Cons
We’ve listed the main pros and cons seen with BGS below.
- Great for newer sets
- Uses a .5 grading system with Report Cards
- Sturdy slabs to keep your cards safe
- No cheaper tiers available as of now (Late January 2022)
- Report Cards are twice as expensive
Beckett is another capable grading company, offering many of the perks of PSA along with a few improvements. BGS 10 cards are also few and far between, making them just as viable as their PSA equivalents. You can’t go wrong with buying BGS cards, but we’d advise to wait for cheaper tiers if you’re planning to send off a large stack of the latest RCs.
Who is SGC?
Who is SGC grading? In their own words;
“Since 1998, SGC has been a well-established leader in the authentication and grading of trading cards. Our ability to provide accurate and consistent grades in a timely manner is a service that is unique to the card-collecting community and has made SGC one of the pillars of card grading for over 23 years. As our team continues to grow and our footprint continues to expand, our mission remains the same — to help build a better hobby for all collectors.”
They’re a strong third in terms of sale prices, but they also happen to be the most affordable option. Is it worth the trade-off to look at SGC cards?
“Today’s sophisticated sportscard market requires a specific grading scale. SGC uses a scale which eliminates the grades known as “tweeners”: no grading scale is more accurate or consistent. Many industry experts agree that accurate grades mean more accurate prices for your sportscards!”
In practice, they use the same numerical system as the others, with half points included too.
It’s a tried and tested system that works well, and it’s sure to avoid any confusion.
SGC Grading Pricing
What are the SGC grading fees?
SGC uses a sliding scale for pricing, based on the number of cards you’re sending over, and their declared value. However, it starts at just $30 per card, undercutting both of their competitors significantly. You’ll also have to pay for shipping, depending on the number of items you’re sending.
You can find out more by referring to the table below.
Remember, as well as the grading fee, you may have to pay for return shipping, and it’s likely to take a while with one of the cheaper deals.
SGC slabs are some of the nicest to hold in your hand, as they’re slightly bigger than BGS versions.
The large black border also helps the card to stand out, although it can loom over smaller stickers. Regardless, they’ve opted for a strong design, and it’s something different compared to PSA and BGS.
SGC Final Sales Prices
Final sale prices are where SGC is always going to struggle when compared to the likes of PSA and BGS. Unfortunately, they’re not as popular with collectors, who prefer the grading methods used by the others.
Nonetheless, they’re great if you want to pick up more affordable graded cards, and they’re likely to be close to a PSA/BGS equivalent.
You can take a look at prices for SGC graded cards below.
Starting from 20-25 business days at $30, SGC is the most affordable service to make the list by a country mile.
10 days is $40 per card, upped to $75 for a five day turnaround. A 1-2 day return is currently $125 if the card is valued at less than $1,500.
If you’re not planning on sending off the rarest parallels, it makes sense to send cards off to SGC for grading, even if they won’t sell for as much at auction. (Does the cost of grading outweigh the price of the card? SGC will be helpful if so.)
SGC Pros and Cons
We’ve listed the main pros and cons seen with SGC below.
- Large strong slabs with a unique style
- One of the cheapest services to grade cards at the moment
- Quick turnaround times
- The lowest final sale price overall on average
SGC grading is third overall in my estimations, but only just. They’ve continued to improve while BGS and PSA have lagged behind, and offer one of the easiest methods to get cards graded quickly and cheaply.
PSA vs BGS vs SGC: Other Grading Companies
There’s a plethora of smaller alternative grading companies that are hoping to snatch up a share of a considerable market. They’re popping up in regions such as Germany and the UK, with a duo of examples seen in the image below.
Majesty Grading Company and Get Graded are two examples, although prices currently fall short when compared to the biggest US companies. However, they could be a better option for collectors based in Europe or the UK, given the high cost of shipping. For now, the true competition is between PSA vs BGS vs SGC.
We’ve started picking up lesser known graded cards as a long term hold. We’ve also sent items off for review purposes.
PSA vs BGS vs SGC: Overall Winners
The main factor when dealing with any grading company is the final sale price.
- Grading winner: PSA – You can’t argue with the best in the business, but they’re too expensive for grading normal cards.
- Grading Pricing winner: SGC – The most affordable overall, without many compromises.
- Slab design winner: BGS – Robust slabs that will keep your cards safe.
- Final sales price winner: PSA – PSA versions tend to sell for higher prices, and they are preferred by many collectors.
- Timescale winner: SGC: Expect to be waiting a while no matter who you go to, but SGC for now. You can’t really argue with a $30/per card fee with a wait time of 20-25 days.
- Overall winner: PSA: If you’re aiming to make the most money from your collection, it’s probably best to wait for PSA to open up their cheaper tiers. PSA vs BGS vs SGC is a closer competition than it used to be.