A toploader is a plastic trading card holder used for protection and organization. Different than a penny sleeve – which is softer and more bendable – a toploader is rigid, and thus provides a more secure storage option. In fact, it’s advised by many to first place a card inside of a penny sleeve, and then place the sleeved card into a toploader.
Slightly bigger than the size of your traditional trading card, toploaders remove the point of contact between hands and cards (once inserted), and between cards themselves when stacked on top of each other. When a toploader is correctly utilized, the card inside of it sits at the bottom of the toploader, allowing for all corners to be protected from bumps and potential dings. The top loader is often referenced when talking about the best ways to store trading cards.
In terms of where to buy toploaders, I purchase the majority of mine through Amazon, and have resorted a few times to eBay when in a pinch. If I’m ahead of the game and don’t need to rush to buy toploaders but want to keep them in supply before I do run out, I’ve had great experiences purchasing through Cardboard Gold.
Easy buy from Amazon; 100ct for $19.88:
When inserting cards into toploaders, it’s important to gently maneuver the card inside for safekeeping. Thus, it’s equally important to ensure you’re using the correct toploader size, as cards with greater thickness should be placed into toploaders that have wider tops/openings.
Some of the more popular top loader brands include BCW and Ultra Pro.
When Should You Use a Toploader?
In terms of which sports card holders are best for different situations, and using toploaders, some of the decision comes down to personal preference, end goal, and available alternatives. Some prefer to only topload cards of a certain value, while others will top load everything (and still others who might not ever put cards into a toploader and would rather instead rely on binders and albums, or semi-rigid cardsavers.
Also, toploaders are required in some situations. For instance, grading companies like PSA have historically asked that cards be sent to them in “Card Savers” which is a semi-rigid cardholder (more on these below). Well, when cards got really hot, so did grading, which meant more people grading cards, and thus more semi-rigid cardholders being used. So, PSA announced they would start accepting toploaders.
However, now that we are back to “normal” it seems things have reverted, and while yes, PSA does accept top loaders, they prefer you submit in a semi-rigid Card Saver I®.
(A quick word on this since it seems to be a common question—when you send cards in to be graded, your cardholders, no matter if they are sem-rigids or toploaders, will not be returned to you.)
Toploader Vs. Penny Sleeve
A penny sleeve is a softer type of card protection, and thus still leaves cards open to bending and even surface damage if something is dropped on top of it. It is good for protecting the corners and surface of a card when cards are being handled and stored with others but is not nearly as rigid as a toploader.
As mentioned above, you’ll usually develop your own idea on which cards should be sleeved and which should sleeved and be toploaded. For instance, some have a rule to sleeve all commons or rookies, and then sleeve and load cards of a certain dollar value.
Toploader Vs. One-Touch Mag
On the other end of the protection spectrum, you have a one-touch mag holder. One big difference is that the one-touch is a lot bulkier, and even comes into pieces held together by magnet. They make your cards look great, and because of that, are better suited for display. Top loaders on the other hand don’t look terrible, feel good in hand, and still offer plenty of protection.
Toploader Availability & Pricing
Recently, the availability of toploaders has decreased, leading to an increase in the prices of those that are available. One could theorize that the massive boom in cards, in general, has impacted supplies, including toploaders. In the wake of the shortage, some companies like COMC, who use toploaders to ship cards out to customers even introduced a Toploader buyback program to help them acquire more.