Whether buying graded cards or choosing raw cards to grade, it’s vitally important to understand the basics of card grading. And if you need a primer on the topic, Cardhound has you covered.

This includes understanding not only “condition” in general, but also the nuances of grading. A full understanding of all aspects of grading can save you time, frustration, and of course money. Read on for explanation and examples of 5 misunderstood aspects of grading with PSA and SGC.

Misunderstanding #1: How Grading Works

Myth: There is a common misunderstanding that each card starts the grading process as a “gem 10.” Then, the graders “deduct points” for various flaws.

Truth: A better way to think about the process is that cards grade “down” to their weakness. Then they can grade “up” from there if other condition aspects allow for it.

Explanation: PSA and SGC do not explicitly give “subgrades” for centering, surface, edges, and corners. But it is still true that each grade has a stated minimum condition requirement for each of the 4 main criteria. A clean card with horrible centering will grade “down” to the allowed grade. It can climb back “up” usually by no more than .5-1 point.

Misunderstanding #2: Fatal Flaws

Myth: Another common misunderstood aspect of grading is that “clean cards” with just one major defect can still grade well.

Truth: There are some fatal flaws in card grading–grade killers, regardless of how sharp or clean the card is otherwise. The best example is the dreaded pinhole.

Explanation: A pinhole is also a good example of a card grading down to its weakness. This is considered a fatal flaw. It usually results in a 1 grade (poor) for surface, which usually caps the total card grade at 1.5, due to the system explained above. These can be great buys (raw or graded) because the cards can look fantastic at first glance. But despite the eye appeal, the technical grade will be low. Other examples of fatal flaws are paper loss and tears (even a small tear is a grade killer).

Pinhole cards are not considered Altered but grade low

Misunderstanding # 3: “Authentic” vs. “Altered”

Cardhound has already written on this topic extensively, so we won’t recreate the wheel. But here’s a quick rundown:

Myths: “This card graded A due to a pinhole.” Or, “This A grade was likely submitted only for Authentication.”

Truth: Any card that is original, complete, and intact is eligible for a grade of Poor / 1–even the pinhole example. And not many cards are submitted merely for authentication.

Explanation: “Authentic” is almost always synonymous with “Altered.” You should generally assume that any card in an Authentic-label slab has been trimmed, recolored, cleaned, pressed, otherwise altered.

Attempting to erase a mark results in an “Altered” grade

Misunderstanding #4: PSA “Miscut” (MC) vs. SGC “Miscut”

Myth: “Miscut” just means “way off center.”

Truth: PSA and SGC use this term in very different ways. A PSA “miscut” can receive a qualified grade (see Number 5). But an SGC “miscut” is considered Authentic only and cannot receive a number.

Explanation: Miscut (MC) is a required qualifier at PSA. It is reserved for cards that are way off center–usually to the point that part of the next card is showing, or a border is 100% missing. SGC uses the term “miscut” to mean “bad factory cut,” referring to a card that is diamond cut or not square, for example. Miscut cards via this definition receive A / authentic altered only.

This card is not “miscut” via PSA’s use of the term

Misunderstanding #5: PSA Qualifiers (MC), (OC), (MK), etc.

Myth: “This card received a 7 (MC). Think of how much higher it would grade if it wasn’t miscut!”

Truth: Qualifiers don’t mean “this card would grade higher if not for the qualifier.” Instead, they mean “this card is otherwise a 7, but the miscut makes it ineligible for a 7.”

Explanation: People tend to hate qualifiers. which are explained here. While PSA hands them out much less frequently now, opting instead for the lower true grade, they do serve a purpose. FYI, miscut (MC) and (MK), marked, are required if present. All other qualifiers are now grader discretion. If the centering is a true outlier, they will still give (OC), off center. But more often, the “7 (OC)” will now just be graded a 5, or whatever is warranted by the centering.


There are surely more misunderstood aspects of card grading, but fine-tuning your understanding of these 5 will help you buy, sell, and grade with more success and less frustration.