Types of Topps Chrome Refractors—Waves, and Pulsars & More!

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Sorry, a little corny, but the feeling of not knowing why type of refractor or variation you’ve pulled or are holding can be a little scary, if not frustrating.

Let’s think about the history for a moment…we went from base and insert cards and hologram cards to refractors and a number of different types of parallel cards. And then the color refractors started coming (and are beautiful)—black, gold, and blue primarily.

Fast forward to today and there is everything from cracked ice to purple wave to pulsar, pink, and yes, padparadscha and now even logofractors. As someone who likes color and shine, I love it, albeit really difficult to keep track of sometimes.

So, let’s jump in and take a look, mostly with visual examples to help you identify the sparkle and shine bursting from your card boxes and binders.

We will start from traditional and move towards completely bonkers.

Refractor (Topps)

What is a refractor?

A refractor card is a parallel card from Topps, featuring a chrome finish and “refraction” or the reflective rainbow that appears when light bounces off the card at a certain angle. These refractors are generally worth more than their base counterparts.

Refractor is a term reserved for Topps, and was introduced in 1993 (one of the best years for baseball cards) while other card brands like Panini have cards with a similar look and feel, but are referred to by different names, as you’ll see in a bit.

How to tell if a card is a refractor?

To tell if a card is a refractor, hold the card in your hand and move it back and forth in good lighting. If it’s a refractor, you should see a rainbow-like reflection, where a base chrome card will simply shine without the rainbow.

You can also turn the card over to the back and look for the word “refractor” printed near the card number or in one of the card’s corners. This is true for most years, except, notably, 1993 Topps Finest, where “refractor” isn’t printed on the back of the card.


Also, just flip the card over and have a look near the card number—refractors will usually identify themselves with a printed word “refractor.” Sometimes they don’t, though, as is the case with, say, something like these chrome variation cards pulled from Topps retail sets.

2020 Topps Chrome - [Base] - Refractor #84 - Fernando Tatis Jr. - Courtesy of COMC.com
2020 Topps Chrome – [Base] – Refractor #84 – Fernando Tatis Jr.

Not to be confused with

Really, the easiest thing to confuse a refractor with is just a base chrome-finish card, whether that’s from Topps Chrome, Finest, etc. There isn’t anything that jumps out differently from the design, so just make sure to be looking at cards in good lighting, and then “when in doubt, turn them about” in order to spot the refractor.

Types of Topps Chrome Refractors

There are also a number of different types of refractors within any given set, with each featuring its own unique design or color. Here are the different refractors to look for in Topps Chrome:

Base Refractor

This is the traditional refractor that is thought of whenever anyone uses the term “refractor” without any additional adjectives. This is the card that will most closely a silver Prizm or Holo from Panini.

Prism Refractor

The prizm refractor is also plentiful, but slightly more rare than base refractors in terms of pack odds. These will also have a nice shine, but the pattern features smaller square-ish designs spread across the card (not to be confused with the bigger, more square designs found on an Xfractor).

It kind of resembles snake skin, no?

Read More: What is a Superfractor in Cards?

Negative Refractors

With the negative refractor, think “negative” in terms of photos (because hey, these are cards, everything is fun and positive). But seriously, these refractors are a bit more obvious thanks to their distinctive black-and-white treatment.

Sepia Refractors

Sticking with photography and filters you may have heard of, the sepia refractor is similar to the negative thanks to its lack of color, but will be more reddish-brown than black and white.

Pink Refractors

The name says it all! These look like a base refractor in terms of the clean shiny baseball card design, but instead of silver, are pink.

Mini Diamond Refractors

If you like sparkle, these are the cards for you! While the base refractors have a clean rainbow-like finish, these more closely resemble a glimmering diamond.


New with the release of 2022 Topps Chrome was the “Logofractor” which can only be found in 2022 Topps Chrome “Logofractor Edition” Mega boxes. These can be identified by the mini MLB logos that cover the card stock, and of course, have the shiny refractor finish.

Sonic Refractors

Also new are “Sonic” refractors, and no sorry, these aren’t like the Logofractors in which you’ll have little mini Sonic the Hedgehog logos floating around your baseball cards. Instead, think of it like a sonic boom. Here you can see the “target-like” circles that make up the card’s front, and the varying colors.

These Sonic refractors are found in another new product, Topps Chrome Sonic, as are the RayWave refractors mentioned below.

Sonar Refractors

Topps also decided to carry through that circle-based pattern to 2023 Chrome, and with it we have the Sonar refractor (which to be honest, are among my favorites.

RayWave Refractors

Also found in 2022 Topps Chrome Sonic, RayWave refractors are easily distinguishable thanks to their wave-like pattern that is quite different than any other refractor type.


For 2023, we were treated to a delicious Tacofractor. While more of a gimmick refractor than anything (while we are still waiting for what that gimmick is), the Tacofractor is technically a type of refractor.

And I won’t go through the rest, but here are many of the other refractors that you can identify based on their colors and card serial numbers.

  • Magenta Refractors – /399
  • Magenta Speckle Refractors – /350
  • Sonar Purple Refractors /275
  • Purple Refractors – /250
  • Aqua Refractors – /199
  • Aqua Wave Refractors – /199
  • Aqua Lava Refractors – /199
  • Blue Refractors – /150
  • Sonar Blue Refractors /125
  • Green Refractors – /99
  • Green Wave Refractors – /99
  • Blue Wave Refractors – /75
  • Gold Refractors – /50
  • Gold Wave Refractors – /50
  • Orange Refractors – /25
  • Orange Wave Refractors – /25
  • Red Refractors – /5
  • Red Wave Refractors – /5
  • Tacofractors – /5


What is it?

If you’re more of a basketball or football collector, you might have noticed cards that look like refractors, but are actually called “holos.” Thus, a holo offers much of the same look of a refractor, but is associated with the Panini Optic brand of card.


How to identify?

Now, things are going to get just a tad confusing here if you’re not yet familiar with any of these cards. And it’s also worth mentioning the importance of some of this…

If you just acquire cards and keep them in your collection forever, then maybe you don’t really have the need to know what the hobby world might label a certain card to be. But with that said, if you’re buying singles on eBay, for example, you’re going to want to know which keywords you should be using in order to actually find something to purchase.

Likewise, if you’re selling cards online, you’re going to want to list them to the best of your ability, and that means by accurately describing them with descriptions and keywords searchers will be using when seeking.

So, all that said, as mentioned above, holos will resemble the refractor-ish chrome look when held in a certain light. Beyond that, you can also flip the card over to check, but you won’t see “refractor,” and, surprisingly, you won’t see “holo.”

2018-19 Panini Donruss Optic - [Base] - Holo Prizm #63 - Donovan Mitchell - Courtesy of COMC.com
2018-19 Panini Donruss Optic – [Base] – Holo Prizm #63 – Donovan Mitchell

Instead, the way to identify is to check for the word “prizm.” So, to recap, a holo must be the Optic brand of cards, so that’s your first step. From there, check the back for the word “prizm.”

Not to be confused with

Same as above, and same as below. You might confuse a holo with a base version of the card, but a quick flip over or check with a source of light will help you determine.


What is it?

Ok, I told you this wasn’t going to be easy…and we haven’t even progressed beyond the basics.

So, we know Topps has the refractor, while Panini Optic has something very similar with their holo.

But what about the prizm?

Yes, a third, very similar type of card is the prizm. In fact, it might be the most popular of the bunch given the huge surge in basketball and football cards of late; both of which are carried by Panini, while baseball mostly rests on Topps.

So, given that, “Prizm” is actually its own line of cards, as you see here:


But within this Prizm line, there are “base” cards, and there are “prizms” are “silvers” as you might have heard, or “silver prizms” as some will say. Still with me?

Think about it like this—Topps has Topps Chrome, and within Topps Chrome there are refractors. So, while every card has the chrome finish, refractors offer a premium. Same with Prizm—they are all of the Prizm set, but silvers are special, and command a higher value. It’s just confusing because the whole set is called “Prizm.”

Now, one last wrinkle—there is also the Select brand of cards, which also feature Prizms.


Actually, this is the last wrinkle—Select Prizms also feature different levels in addition to the silver and other parallels. For instance, in Select football you have Concourse, Premier, and Field Level versions.

How to identify

Much like the two above, hold the card at an angle to check for the “rainbow.” You can also flip the card over and look for the printed “Prizm,” as you see here:

2019-20 Panini Prizm - [Base] - Silver Prizm #7 - Yao Ming - Courtesy of COMC.com
2019-20 Panini Prizm – [Base] – Silver Prizm #7 – Yao Ming

Not to be confused with

You know the answer. Easily confused with base versions.

Prism Refractor

What is it?

No, this isn’t a trick. There is a refractor. There is a prizm. But, there is also the prism refractor. Mind blown, right?

As you can see, there is a spelling difference—this is the Topps “prism” with an “s” as opposed to the “z” prism from Panini.

How to identify

If you’re looking through your chrome cards, a refractor might be relatively tough to pick up on, but a prism refractor has a different look altogether. As you can see below, a prism refractor is going to have clearly-defined lines and shapes, giving the front a clear difference when compared to others.


This look will be more pronounced in later examples (like the x-fractor and pulsar), but for now, the best way to identify the prism refractor with your Topps baseball cards is to look for the shapes. But not quite squares…

Not to be confused with

You might confuse the prism refractor with an x-fractor, but if you do, you’ll probably only make that mistake once. Learn more about the x-fractor below, but while both offer a substantially different look than a regular refractor, the two compared to each other are also that much different.

Actually, if anything, the prism refractor from Topps could be easily confused with the hyper prizm from Panini, which I’ll explain below. But, the fact that they are two different card brands, you’ll know which one you have just from that fact alone.


What is it?

Moving along, beyond your typical refractor, holo, and prizm, let’s talk about the X-Fractor.

If you’ve a baseball card collector, and have been since the age of the uncirculated card boom, the X-fractor probably looks familiar given it has played a key role with Topps for years.


For those who don’t know, take comfort in knowing they are easier to identify than your basic refractor among other Chrome cards. Have a look:

How to identify

So, yes, the front of the card is a dead giveaway, and it’s near impossible to be thumbing through cards and not notice the X-fractor’s checkerboard, with mini connecting squares across the card.


Not to be confused with

I mean, I guess if I said you might confuse a prism refractor with an x-fractor, then I guess the same could be said the other way around.


I was going to keep this to listing all of the Topps/baseball cards and then jump into Panini for basketball and football. But, with Panini picking up more steam with baseball, there is more crossover appeal, so figured why not just go for it.

Which brings us to the Pulsar variation. With a look as intense as it sounds, you can find Pulsars popping out of Panini products like Prizm, Select, and Optic.

How to identify

First, close your eyes and imagine the card’s design popping off the cardboard, and how it would look if it was animated, and flashing lines of colors moving horizontally from left to right.

Nothing? Well, to describe it using the above variations as anchors, refractors, holos, and prizms offer a rainbow “tint” from lighting, where the X-fractor has a substantially different look with its squares.

Pulsar is a bit of a mix between a refractor and x-fractor, offering different shining colors depending on your lighting, and smaller square bits that almost make it appear that the card is in motion. Another way to look for the Pulsar is, it’s one of the few variations that isn’t symmetrical or “balanced” in its design. Meaning, a refractor is a refractor across the card, and the X-fractor has those evenly-spaced squares across the board as well.


They come in a variety of colors, and you’ll probably notice a lot of pinks and purples among Prizm Draft products.

And that’s it for now! I’ll be back to update with new and different variations, but