What is a Toploader?

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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.

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 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.

(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. Semi-Rigid

A semi-rigid card holder is as the name suggests, with a tougher, more rigid plastic that better envelopes a card than a penny sleeve, but that also isn’t quite as rigid as a toploader. Again, people have different preferences, with some wanting to store cards in either option.

One group might say that getting a card into a semi-rigid is more difficult, but when inside, better protects the card because of the snug fitit provides, whereas a card in a toploader can still move around from side to side and up and down (especially if the wrong size toploader is used, and again, pointing to the fact that you’ll want to first place cards in penny sleeves before placing them into toploaders.

You also have to consider shipping the cards, and how the opening of a toploader and wiggle room could lead to damage when in the mail. Along the same lines, a semi-rigid’s plastic may not be tough enough to endure bouncing around with other items in the mail. Either way, take caution—some opt for sealing the top of the toploader and the opening of their semi-rigids with painter’s tape, and others prefer to sandwich cards between pieces of cardboard.

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.