Short Print Cards: The Complete Guide

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In the world of card lingo and terms, nothing is ever as clear as it seems. Even something as straightforward as a jersey card being a card with a piece of a jersey inside of it opens itself up to a number of follow-up questions—was the jersey worn by the player, was it worn in a particular game, etc.

But, this is also why we love the hobby of card collecting these days…there is so much to talk about! With so much variety, different sets, parallels, and more, collectors have a variety of avenues to explore in order to make card collecting “their thing.”

For instance, in my personal collection, I collect A’s, but I also collect cards of other non-A’s players in the Oakland dugout (and yes, this is a thing and you’d be amazed at how many of these cards exist.) I know of other collectors who will only collect cards with a particular serial number (“eBay one of ones” if you will), while others only collect cards with a star player in the background.

Anyway, the list goes on and on, which brings us to short print cards.

What Are Short Print Cards?

Short print cards, also called and abbreviated “SP,” are cards printed in relatively lesser quantities. Short print cards are typically more valuable based on their scarcity, but this value can vary greatly by card set and brand.

For example, in every Topps release you can count on a few things—a new checklist, SPs, and parallels. So for example, the upcoming 2022 Topps Series 2 release has a new crop of rookie cards, but it also offers a number of short prints.

These short print cards typically include photo variations of current players or the inclusion of retired legends. There are also “SSP” cards, which are in shorter print than SPs, and even “Ultra SP” cards, which are of course more rare than SSPs, and in the past have included these valuable big head cards.

And while information on what those might for Series 2 be is scarce, here is an example of Ohtani SPs from series 1, courtesy of Beckett.com, which always has great guides and galleries for the different SPs and variations from each release.

How to Identify Short Print Cards

If you’re looking at the above cards and thinking these look like normal baseball cards, you aren’t wrong. In fact, identifying SPs is often difficult from just the front of the card, and often requires you to turn the card over. Even so, there isn’t usually any obvious indicator on the back either, but you can find the info.

So, to properly identify a short print card, turn the card over to its back and look to the small writing on the bottom. There will be a long number, and based on the last three digits of that number, you’ll know if you have a regular base card or a short print (or SSP or Ultra SP).

Thus, another reason why I love to consult Beckett for these things is the explanation of each code, and what it identifies.

In this case, if the last three numbers of the code in the fine print are 543, it’s a base card and not sa short print, but if the last three numbers of the code are 560, then it’s a short print, 561 for an SSP, and 562 for an Ultra SP.

Of course when you’re opening packs of cards, you don’t always think to flip the cards over and look at that tiny number, right?

So while there isn’t a concrete way to identify an SP from the front of the card, there are a few clues you can pick up on.

For example, look back to the Ohtani cards above—now that you know they are short prints, do they look a bit different? For me, one he is wearing an alternative jersey and no helmet, and other he is hitting, but in a cap and not a helmet, and it looks like a non-game situation.

Now, look at his base card:

2022 Topps - [Base] #1.1 - Shohei Ohtani - Courtesy of COMC.com

Pretty straightforward baseball action shot, right?

So when looking at cards from the front, some things that will usually tip you off to an SP include:

  • Different uniforms like the player’s weekend jerseys
  • Shots of players in street clothes or non-uniform pieces of clothing
  • Playful and “joking around” photos
  • Batting cages or dugout shots.

What’s the Difference Between an SP, Variation & Parallel?

To end, in this post you’ve heard three different terms—SP, variation, and parallel. Now, this might get a little confusing, but here is an attempt at a clear explanation.

Think of an SP as one major umbrella category, and the fact that all variations and parallels can be considered SPs because they are probably printed in lesser quantities than regular base cards. This is probably more true of variations than parallels. Meaning, it’s much harder to make that a hard and fast rule for parallels because while something like a refractor might be a parallel in shorter print, it’s not really in “short print” and thus isn’t all that rare. But, relatively, it’s more rare than a base card, sure.

Now, when looking at variations vs. parallels, the answer is right there in the names—a variation is the same player but a different photo, while a parallel is the same photo but a different design. So when we talk about prizms and refractors, these are parallels, but when we talk about different photos, like the big head cards or action shots, etc., these are variations.

So, hope that helps clear the air, and happy SP hunting! Be sure to check those card backs, especially for stars and rookies, and consult Beckett or Cardboard Connection for SP codes and variation galleries!