This entry was updated on Sept. 11, 2020.
The journey of a card sent to PSA to be authenticated and graded shouldn’t be a mysterious one. And when the card in question is YOUR card, a little more crystal-clear understanding would probably be seen as a good thing. With that in mind, we’ve written this handy overview of the multi-faceted grading process. The hope is to provide greater transparency into the many steps your collectibles take, from the time you prepare them for shipping to the time you open the box you receive from PSA.
Let’s take a deeper look at the grading process from start to finish, broken down into 12 steps.
1. Shipping Prep
You’ve completed the online submission process and you’re ready to send your cards to PSA. Take special care when shipping to ensure your cards arrive safely and securely. And be certain to double-check these four important tasks: 1) submit your cards in the same order that’s listed on your submission form; 2) safely place each of the cards inside semi-rigid plastic sleeves such as Card Savers to ensure their safe transit; 3) print and include a copy of your submission form inside the package; and 4) Print and affix the Submission ID Label to the side of the package, making sure not to obscure it with packing tape. These are four important steps to ensure your submission doesn’t get delayed and pulled out of the queue as a problem order. For the record, we no longer request that collectors label their Card Savers, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
Soon after you’ve shipped your cards, they will arrive at our facility in Southern California. The Submission ID label you adhered to your package will be scanned and you will receive an email from PSA alerting you that your package has arrived. Please be aware that your My Account page and My Orders page will not be updated until PSA’s Receiving Department has entered your submission into our system to begin the authentication and grading process. That’s the next step in the journey, however getting to that step may take longer than expected due to increased volume of submissions and delays resulting from the COVID-19 global pandemic. In the meantime, you can rest assured that your package is safely stored at our facility while it awaits opening and processing.
During the receiving process, all cards are accounted for and placed, along with the submission form, into an individual box for processing based on their service level. Service level will determine the speed at which your order is processed. Orders at an Express service level and higher take priority over Regular service, Economy, Quarterly Specials and Value Pricing orders. This priority treatment effects turnaround time only and has no impact on the evaluation of the card and the grade received.
4. Order Entry
Now the time has come for your submission to be reviewed and entered into the PSA grading system. An order number is generated and emailed to you with a confirmation that your submission is now in process. At this time, your My Account page and My Orders page will be updated, including a status bar to track your order as it moves through the grading process. This marks the beginning of your estimated turnaround time.
If your order is received with significant errors on the submission form, it will be placed on “Receive-Hold” online until PSA can contact you to resolve the issue. If your cards are received out of order, your submission will be subject to a 5% service charge and will be pulled out of the queue for special handling. In either case, the turnaround time will begin when the order has been fixed and removed from hold.
Note that if there are discrepancies such missing or extra cards, the order will continue in the process, but a courtesy email will be sent to you noting the correction for your records. This is being done in an effort to avoid any further delays with your order.
5. The Sticker
Order identification stickers are placed on the outside of each Card Saver with your order number and a certification number. Each certification number is unique and is the key identifier as PSA tracks your cards throughout the grading process.
An additional sticker containing the order number, item quantity, service level and estimated due out date is added to the exterior of the processing box. This will help the staff quickly identify the order if needed and aid in the organization of the orders internally. Inside the box one can find the cards and the submission form as stated previously.
6. The Research Department
This is where your cards are researched so that the correct information is notated on your card label. You will receive an email confirmation once all cards have been researched and identified, providing you with the time to review each line item to confirm accuracy. If the label assigned to a card doesn’t look right, you can hover over the line item on your account online and click on the “Report Error” link to request an additional review of the description on the label.
We strive for complete accuracy, but no one knows your submission as well as you do. We strongly encourage submitters to take the time to confirm their cards are properly identified. If all cards display the correct description, there is no need to contact PSA. Your order will continue processing as is.
Keep in mind that sometimes cards cannot proceed to grading due to lack of catalog or online information or issues with their size, paper stock or fragile condition. In these cases, PSA will not authenticate and grade the card, nor will you be charged a grading fee. Your card will remain with the order, but it will not be examined any further and will be returned to you in a Card Saver once the rest of the order is complete.
Before the order exits the Research Department, the customer submission form is placed in a sealed envelope. From this point forward, there’s nothing personally identifiable associated with each collectible. The cards and the boxes they are transported in are each identified by sticker only, no names or other personal identifiers. In other words, all card ownership is anonymous from this stage onward.
The time has come for your cards to be sent into the grading room to be authenticated and graded by PSA’s grading team.
Graders evaluate the card, inspecting characteristics like centering, corners, edges and surface. Additionally, the card’s eye appeal is taken into account.
It’s important to realize that while “eye appeal” is highly desirable, it’s only a small part of the technical grading process. A card with stunning eye appeal and a hairline crease on the back is likely to get a lower grade than what might seem appropriate to the naked eye.
8. The PSA Lighthouse™ Label
With the information provided by the Research Department, PSA’s Lighthouse™ labels are printed, containing each card’s description, grade, certification number and correlating barcode.
For cards that have successfully passed through the grading process, these labels will be the permanent identifiers forever found at the top of the card’s PSA holder. In the event that a card does not meet the requirements for grading, the card will be returned ungraded in the Card Saver, with the label adhered directly to the Card Saver.
You can familiarize yourself with PSA’s Grading Standards to further understand why a card would not meet the required standard for grading.
9. The Sealing Department
Each item and Lighthouse™ label are sonically sealed in PSA’s tamper-evident plastic holder for security and protection.
10. Grade Check
Another PSA grader will review each card for grade accuracy. If any changes are required, it is at this stage cards are returned to the PSA Labeling Department for the proper adjustments. It’s important to understand that every card submitted to PSA gets evaluated, at minimum, by two graders.
11. Quality Assurance
A final quality control check is done on your order to inspect for imperfections with the holders and labels. If any loose material is spotted inside the holder, a mislabeling is detected, or any other changes are required, the card is returned to the sealing department.
During this stage, PSA also spot-checks customer orders to ensure the appropriate service level was selected based on the card’s PSA-graded value. This process is called “Results Review” and it is essentially a means of verifying that cards are submitted according to PSA’s declared value rules. If the card is valued higher than the service level it was submitted under, a PSA Pricing Specialist will reach out directly to relay the necessary pricing corrections and to confirm that the current method of payment can be used for the revised grand total.
After the order is released from Results Review, PSA then verifies that items submitted are accounted for and ready to send to shipping.
As an added feature, orders submitted at the Regular service level and above are imaged for SecureScan. This free service provides front and back scans of cards that were authenticated, graded and encapsulated by PSA. Each item imaged for SecureScan is viewable directly on your card’s Cert Verification page, by entering the certification number as it appears on the label in the designated field.
At this step in the process, your order has now been charged using the form of payment submitted and an email is automatically sent, notifying you that grades are available to view on your PSA account before your order is shipped.
Now comes the hard decision…do you check your grades online as soon as they are available? Or do you wait until the package arrives for the grand reveal?
12. The Final Step
Your order is reviewed one final time to make sure everything is accounted for, including any changes in the return shipping address.
Once all the information is reviewed, your order is shipped, and a final email confirmation is sent with the tracking number.
Upon receiving your package, remember to review your order for any discrepancies, as you have five days from day of receipt to report any issues to PSA after receiving your order.
Submitting cards to PSA is a multi-faceted process involving several departments, each led by seasoned professionals who ensure your collectibles are safely handled, properly identified, accurately graded, and securely encapsulated. It’s a complicated process from start to finish.
To better understand the time it takes from submission to completion, magnify the effort detailed above by the hundreds of orders and tens of thousands of collectibles we receive each day, all of which are equally evaluated and scrutinized.