Foil Card vs. Holo—What’s the Difference?

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When you’re first getting started with card collecting or perhaps jumping back in, one of the first big things you might learn is the difference between a refractor and prizm (or holo), and a base card. Really, it might come down to something as simple as holding the card in good lighting at an angle, seeing the rainbow refraction, and knowing you have something more than a base card.

But what about when you come across a foil? (Did you even know that was a thing?)

2021 Topps Opening Day - [Base] - Opening Day Edition Blue Foil #150 - Ronald Acuna Jr. - Courtesy of COMC.com

In sports cards, the difference between a foil and a holo is that a holo is only found on cards with a chrome finish. Since we are talking about holos, that of course includes Panini Optic, but could also include Topps Chrome (refractors) and Panini Prizm (silver prizms).

Shown here, an Ohtani refractor, Mahomes Holo, and Luka Prizm.

2018 Topps Chrome - [Base] - Prism Refractor #150 - Shohei Ohtani - Courtesy of COMC.com 2018 Donruss Optic - [Base] - Holo #49 - Patrick Mahomes II - Courtesy of COMC.com 2020-21 Panini Prizm - Prizm Flashback - Silver Prizm #3 - Luka Doncic - Courtesy of COMC.com

A foil, then, is a similar shiny or refractive look, but on a more typical flat cardboard. But when someone is confusing a holo or refractor and a foil, though, they are probably referring to what is known more specifically as a rainbow foil in most sets, which resembles the refractor rainbow one would find on a chrome card.

2021 Topps Stadium Club - Autographs - Rainbow Foil #SCBA-JS - Juan Soto /10 - Courtesy of COMC.com

That said, a regular foil parallel card is usually more simple and straightforward and refers only to cards that have different colored foiled areas, like the Topps logo and name displays.

To help explain, here is what the term “foil” or “foiling” actually means in printing:

“Foiling printing also know known as foil stamping is a process that involves a foil (think ink) and a metal dye which will have the image to be printed etched into it.”

So, the foil part of the card is the are that features this foil stamp or etch. For example, on Topps Flagship, the main foil part of the card is the Topps logo, usually.

Thus, a “foil” is not always referring to the the rainbow foil finish as described above, and can be a card that has different color foiled features, as is the case with Stadium Club, which features black, orange, and red foil parallel cards that showcase the logo and name display in these different colors.

Which Sets Feature Foil Cards?

There are quite a few sets that feature foil cards, but some of the more popular you might come across include:

Topps Flagship Baseball: Rainbow Foils and Gold Foils

Topps Opening Day Baseball: Red and Blue Foils

Bowman 1st Edition: Color Foils

Topps Stadium Club Baseball: Color Foils & Rainbow Foils

Contenders Football & Basketball Foils