Whether you're new or a veteran to the hobby, by now you've seen graded cards. You send your cards off to a company, they inspect them, give them a grade, and then they encapsulate the card. Some people in the hobby love them, some only buy graded cards, and then there are others that despise them.
There are a lot of grading companies out there, but only some are worth using. These are some of the companies out there.
Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA)
Collector's Universe is a publicly-traded company that was founded in 1986. Originally grading and authenticating coins, but in 1991 they ventured into the card world. Giving a card a grade of 1-10 and then encapsulating the card with the grade. It took awhile for the hobby to latch on to this new concept. But they slowly grew through the years until there was a huge uptick in interest in the early 2000s.
They currently have a class-action lawsuit against them for allegedly grading and authenticating cards that were known to be altered. That, surprisingly, has not seemed to affect values as of yet. To date, they have graded over 40 million cards, with a current backlog of over 1 million cards. They shut down for over a month during the pandemic and are currently struggling to catch up, despite continuously growing their workforce. Since the beginning of the year, they have raised their prices to try and slow down the submissions.
If you want to grade your cards through PSA, they can be a little more lenient on centering but are strict on corners, edges, and surface of the card. If I see a minor flaw on a card, I may still send it to PSA in hopes it'll get a 10, but it can only be one MINOR flaw. The "Economy" level of grading is $20 per card with a maximum value of $499. If the card you're looking to grade is valued higher, you'll have to use a different service. It will take approximately 60 business days to get your cards back, once PSA receives them.
They were the first grading company and a gem mint graded card sells for most in a PSA holder.
Sportscard Guaranty Corporation (SGC)
In 1998 SGC decided to enter the world of sports card grading. They graded on a different scale than PSA. Where PSA graded cards from 1-10 SGC graded a card anywhere from 10-100. They specialized in vintage cards mostly for the first 20 years they were open for business.
When grading with SGC one thing to know, is that they will grade some sets on a curve, if they're notorious for having the same flaws. For instance, if a set has a majority of the cards off-center, the grading on centering will be a little more lenient. Grading with SGC is $15 per card with a max value of $500 per card. Return times through SGC are 65-70 days.
In 2018 they brought on a new President and changed their grading scale. They switched from 10-100 to 1-10 with half grades. When the pandemic hit they were the only company open for a few weeks, and they saw a huge uptick in submissions. While people are starting to send more modem cards to SGC for grading, they're still highly respected for their grading of vintage. Modern cards graded by SGC are slowly gaining popularity and value, but they're still 3rd in value behind PSA and BGS.
Beckett Grading Services (BGS)
If you collected cards in the 1980s or 1990s you have heard the name Beckett before. They started a monthly price guide publication in November of 1984. They quickly became the biggest price guide and are still being printed today. In 1999, seeing the continuing growth of popularity, they decided to enter the world of card grading. They would establish yet another grading scale. Like PSA, BGS would grade cards on a scale of 1-10, except BGS would have .5 grades, something PSA didn't have at the time. Not only that, BGS would include 4 subgrades, centering, corners, edges, and surface.
When grading with BGS you can choose to have your card graded with subgrades or without. For the most part, subgrades are going to cost you an extra $15. Their economy cost is $15 per card with no subgrades. Unlike PSA and SGC there is no max value, and if you have a high-end card, it will cost the same to grade it as a common card. BGS doesn't post estimated wait times, but it'll be a longer wait at BGS than PSA or SGC.
Certified Guaranty Company (CGC)
There will be a 4th in the not so distant future that I'm very intrigued about. CGC, a comic grading company, started in 2000, is branching out into gaming cards and soon sports cards. They're a very reputable company and will be one more grading company you can trust. They will be similar to BGS, with cards getting subgrades.
It looks like cards valued under $100 will be $8 to grade. Up to $400 is $15 and both of those services will take 30 business days. Subgrades will cost an extra $5 per card.
Other than those 4, you are going to want to steer clear of any other grading companies. Having a card in a case other than those 4 doesn't add any value to a card, assume the card isn't in gem mint condition and don't pay more than you would for a raw card.
What do I think about grading? It's a necessary evil if you want to maximize profit for your cards. But I also hate it. You can send a card in to be graded 10 times, and get a different grade each time. That's a bit extreme, but it's all subjective. Human error is involved. I think technology is at a point where most grading can be done by a computer. When that day comes, that's the company I'd be going with.