The difficulty of obtaining a PSA 10 depends on the specific card being graded. Some cards are extremely difficult in getting a PSA 10, while others are relatively easier. For instance, there isn’t a PSA 10 1971 Reggie Jackson in existence according to the PSA pop report. On the other hand, there are 476 PSA 10 2022 Topps Chrome Refractors (out of 837 total graded, for a “gem rate” of 57%).
Factors that Impact the Likelihood of a PSA 10
From this example alone, one factor that affects the difficulty of obtaining a PSA 10 is the age of the card, but there are a number of other considerations as well. Let’s take a look at each of them.
As we just covered, there are far fewer PSA 10s that exist from 1971 Topps baseball than compared to 2022 Topps. In fact, there are only 242 total gems from a total of 327K graded cards! Thus, if you were to ask how hard is it to get a PSA 10 when grading 1971 Topps baseball, the answer would be extremely difficult or even “near impossible.”
While 1971 is a notoriously-difficult set to grade, the pattern holds true when you look across vintage sets and compare them to modern cards. We won’t go through all of the scenarios but just think about the fact that there are 3X as many PSA 10s from 2022 Topps as there are from 1975.
It just makes sense. Cards were printed in lesser quantities, and the longer a raw card is in circulation, the longer it has to get played with, traded, sold, and thus, damaged.
Cards from 2022 were printed in far greater quantities, so not only are there more out there, but the majority of them are going to be “pack fresh.” Thus, they haven’t been passed around as much, and their only blemishes are typically going to be from the printer.
Card Set Design
I also chose 1971 for this example because the set is known to be difficult to grade given the design’s all-around “full bleed” black border. It’s hard enough to get a 10, but with a black backdrop that shows every little edge mark, it’s near impossible.
Anyone who collects 1971 Topps baseball knows how maddening those full bleed black borders can be. But this Blyleven rookie beat the odds, the only example of the HOFers debut in a PSA 10! In fact it’s one of just 242 from the entire 1971 issue to grade 10https://t.co/sP24BLgPar pic.twitter.com/MAxPjKusfz— Heritage Auctions Sports (@Heritage_Sport) January 20, 2022
I mean, just a year later, 1972 Topps has a gem rate of 2%, and a year earlier, 1970 has a gem rate of 1%. From this alone, we can see design matters a lot.
The same goes for certain die-cut cards, and cards with full bleeds of any color other than white or gray, really. For instance, 1990 Fleer Soaring Stars is one of my favorite insert sets (and featured Ken Griffy Jr.)—the set has a 2% gem rate, and there are only a total of five Griffey Soaring Stars that landed the coveted “gem mint” from PSA.
@ballcardgenius Had no idea these were such a tough grade! #greenscreen ♬ original sound – ballcardgenius
Next, let’s face it, sometimes cards are submitted for grading without proper inspection. One trap many fall into is taking a card at its face value, literally, getting enamored with great centering or other factors, and failing to do due diligence. Factors like surface blemishes in particular are really tough to pick up on without specifically looking for them.
Thus, proper inspection can help increase the likelihood that you’re submitting a gem mint card. Or, just as importantly, can decrease the likelihood of submitting a card that is more likely to receive a poor grade.
Even if not submitting for grading, surface inspection is a big factor, and those who examine the surface and disclose any issues before selling should be praised and thanked.
2018 Topps On Demand Ohtani RC insert /167— Cardboard&Sushi(BeefCheeks) (@CardboardSushi) January 7, 2023
$250 shipped priority
No recent comps, lowest available on eBay is $375 PSA 9
Has light surface scratches, previous owner had it in a commons box 😏
Open to offers, no trades, more pics if interested
Please RT pic.twitter.com/pp8PZh1614
Last, we have all been there—when examining cards with the thought of grading, we have wanted so badly to turn a blind eye to a small imperfection here and there.
But, when it comes to your chances of obtaining a PSA 10, it’s best to remain objective and to resist the urge to submit something we know in our hearts won’t get a 10.
Card Grading Resources
So, after all of that, there are a handful of resources that can help you get that much closer to landing a PSA 10 if that’s your end goal.
Gem Rate & Pop Reports
We already talked about online research tools like Gem Rate and PSA Pop reports, but it’s worth repeating. If you’re hoping to grade a card, take a look at these resources to see just how many PSA 10s already exist. While a small number doesn’t mean your quest is impossible, it might point to the fact that the card you’re holding is a difficult one to gem.
PSA 10 Examples
One thing I like to do is check out PSA grading examples and what other 10s of the card I want to grade look like in order to compare and contrast. That said, grading is still subjective, and the person looking at your card might be in a completely different headspace, even if identical.
If you don’t trust the naked eye, there are a number of tools that can help you examine a card for imperfections. One is a card centering tool to help you figure out just how centered of off-center a card is.
Another is a magnifying loupe so you can really get up close and personal with the surface of your cards.
I’ve only graded cards myself and haven’t utilized a submission service that reviews and takes care of the process, but they are quite popular. For instance, Ronnie at Gem Mint Subs has quite the reputation for his evaluation and sub services.
Alot of ppl come up to me on the street, the post office, at resturaunts and ask me about my https://t.co/Q4fsJZ5H8s raw card evaluation process. Here’s a recent batch back from grading matched up with my pre grade notes. DM me or visit https://t.co/Q4fsJZ5H8s for more info pic.twitter.com/UInviN06Hm— Ronnie (@Gem_Mint_Cards_) March 19, 2023