A rainbow in sports cards is the name for collecting the entire parallel run of a particular card in a particular set or subset. The name “rainbow” comes from the fact that parallels often come in different colors and designs, so when you put them all together and next to each other, it forms a type of colorful card rainbow.
Meaning, in most sets of sports cards, there is usually a base card and then a number of different parallels of that same card. For example, in the most valuable 2022 Topps Chrome cards, there is the base chrome card of every player on the checklist, plus each of the following:
- Prism Refractors
- Negative Refractors
- Magenta Refractors – /399
- Purple Speckle Refractors – /299
- Purple Refractors – /250
- Aqua Refractors – /199
- Aqua Lava Refractors – /199
- Blue Refractors – /150
- Green Refractors – /99
- Green Wave Refractors – /99
- Blue Wave Refractors – /75
- Gold Refractors – /50
- Gold Wave Refractors – /50
- Orange Refractors – /25 (hobby only)
- Orange Wave Refractors – /25
- Red Refractors – /5
- Red Wave Refractors – /5
- Printing Plates – 1/1
- Superfractors – 1/1
Now, there are definitely different versions of sports card rainbows. For instance, putting together the above is painstakingly difficult given the availability and price tag of a superfractor in most cases.
2020 Bowman Sterling completed— Frank Durand (@Turn_2_Cards) August 23, 2022
Adley Rutschman Auto true rainbow! #superfractor #oneofone #thehobby pic.twitter.com/HHxNtIHz23
So, a rainbow is certainly a flexible term, and while the “book” definition includes every single card of the run, personal rainbow chasing can involve a smaller subset of cards. As a result, you’ll see a rainbow referred to as a “true” rainbow when it is the full run, as is the case with the example tweet above.
With that said, there are still questions! Do printing plates need to be obtained in a true rainbow? (One could argue that a printing plate is used to create the image on the card, but it is not the card or a parallel.) And then what about the autos?
Either way, the quest for a rainbow is one of many card journeys collectors embark upon in order to make sense of their personal collections. So given that, the next question is how to best store cards or display them. While that’s as much of a personal decision as any other, I do love to frame cards up on the wall.
And while you’ll probably notice the above isn’t a true rainbow, it’s the type of rainbow I like to chase (A’s autos on particular checklists). Again, the rainbow could be by the book, or not!