How to start collecting


If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Trading cards are so cool. I want to start collecting, but I don’t know where to begin,” we get it. We’ve been there ourselves. In fact, every collector in the world has been in your shoes. Whether you want to collect baseball cards, football cards, basketball cards, hockey cards, soccer cards, wrestling cards, racing cards, Star Wars cards, Garbage Pail Kids cards, Marvel Cards, non-sports cards, and any other type of trading card out there, there’s a ton of information out there, and it can come across as challenging to find your footing when you’re just starting out. There’s so many releases, sets, sports, and manufacturers that you may not know where to begin!

If you’re a first-time collector, we’d recommend starting here:

  1. Figure out what you want to collect! Whether it’s cards from one team or cards from one player, knowing that makes you excited is the first step in collecting!
  2. Set your budget! With boxes ranging from less than $10 all the way up to $1,000 or more, it’s important to set and maintain a realistic budget for yourself. Don’t try and buy outside your means.
  3. Set goals for yourself! Are you trying to complete a full base set? Are you trying to find a certain card more than anything else? Are you looking for a big card to flip and make a profit on? Knowing what you want to chase is very important when it comes to buying boxes of trading cards.
  4. Collect what you like! Don’t get pressured into keeping up with trends! Don’t compare yourself to another collector or compare your collection to another collector’s collection. Collect what makes you happy and what you enjoy. Don’t worry about anyone else except you!

Once you find a product you think you’d like, and you’ve set your goals, it’s time to buy! Finding the right card can be the thrill of a lifetime or net you thousands of dollars if you decide to sell it. Remember, it’s never your last box of cards. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to open it again in the future.

The wonderful thing about the hobby is that monster hits can be found by anyone — even you!

Celebrities are becoming more and more involved in the hobby too! Former professional baseball player Sean Casey has recently opened his own card store, and professional basketball players LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Ray Allen (among many others) have come out saying that they collect their own trading cards and the trading cards of their teammates. Rapper, singer-songwriter, and actor Drake famously spent over $200,000 in a basketball trading card break in 2022. Anyone could’ve bought into the break; so you could’ve been pulling monster cards right alongside the Grammy Award-Winning artist! Finding the same card that any of these stars are looking for might just earn you a direct message with an offer from them!

Here’s some other advice you may find helpful, no matter how experienced of a collector you are:

  • Be social! There’s no such thing as a happy hermit when it comes to collecting! There’s so many amazing and positive people in the hobby that are willing to help you!
  • Don’t get bogged down in the details! There’s new sets being released every week, some with dozens of subsets. It can seem like a lot to take in, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Take it one pack at a time. It’s never your last box of cards. If you don’t like something, you don’t have to buy it in the future. Focus on getting the most fun out of your collection.
  • Try new things! Collecting cards is fun! If you’re not having fun in the hobby or feel yourself losing the passion for collecting, take a step back and see what cards or players make you the most excited. Sometimes, all you need to do is narrow down your scope or try a new box to reinvigorate your passion! Interested in trying a new box of cards? Watch some videos on YouTube! This is a great way to preview the kinds of cards from a set without spending any money at all! Look for videos of people opening cards on YouTube and gauge for yourself if you think it’s a product you’d want to try yourself! Steel City Collectibles alone has over 60,000 videos that you can enjoy for free on YouTube!
  • Stay organized! Keep your cards stored and organized as you see fit. Make sure you know where every card is, and don’t be afraid to get your cards out to sort them and reorganize them often. Condition is key, so make sure you’re storing them in the best way to keep them safe.

Common Terms and abbreviations

Here are some common abbreviations used by collectors:

  • BAS — Beckett Grading Services is an autograph authentication company
  • BGS — Beckett Grading Services is a professional card grading company
  • BIN — Buy In Now
  • BMWT — Bubble Mailer With Tracking
  • BST — Buy, Sell, Trade
  • COA — Certificate of Authenticity
  • F&F – Friends & Family, usually associated with transactions on Paypal
  • FS/FT — For Sale/For Trade
  • G&S – Goods & Services, usually associated with transactions on Paypal
  • ISO — In Search Of
  • JSA — JSA is an autograph authentication company
  • LCS — Local Card Shop
  • LOA — Letter of Authenticity
  • NFS/NFT — Not For Sale/Not For Trade
  • NWT — New With Tags
  • OBO – Or Best Offer
  • PC — Personal Collection
  • PSA — PSA is an autograph authentication and professional card grading company
  • PWE — Plain White Envelope
  • RAK — Random Act of Kindness
  • RC — Rookie Card
  • RP — Reprint
  • RPA — Rookie Patch Autograph
  • SP — Short Print
  • SSP — Super Short Print
  • TPA — Third Party Authentication
  • TTM — Through The Mail
  • USP — Ultra Short Print
  • WTB — Wanting/Willing To Buy

Here’s some general terms and phrases used by collectors:

  • Authenticate/Authentication — The process of determining if a signature, autograph, or trading card is genuine, usually accessed by a professional authenticator.
  • Auto Patch Card — Any single trading card that contains a piece of game-worn, player-worn, or manufactured memorabilia along with an authentic signature from the subject of the card.
  • Autograph Card — Any single trading card that contains an authentic signature from the subject of the card.
  • Base — The set of trading cards that’s considered to be the main, most-abundant set in any given release.
  • Blaster — A box of trading cards, normally four to twelve packs in size. These are the boxes most often found in big-box retail stores. Blaster boxes can include exclusive inserts, autographs, and trading cards that cannot be found in other levels of releases.
  • Box — A manufacturer factory-sealed box of trading cards, usually consisting of at least one pack of cards.
  • Box-Pulled Autograph — An autograph that comes directly authenticated from a manufacturer, and wouldn’t need to be re-authenticated in the future.
  • Buyback — Any single trading card or item that the manufacturer bought on the secondary market to rerelease in a new product. These cards are not printed specifically for the new release, but are bought back from other collectors.
  • Case — A manufacturer factory-sealed box of trading cards, usually consisting of at least one box of cards.
  • Checklist — The list of players/subjects available in each set and subset of a trading card release.
  • Coin and Date — This is a method used to show that you’re in physical possession of a trading card and the scale of the card itself. By writing your name and the date on a piece of paper next to your item, you’re showing that you actually have the item. The coin allows other collectors to get an idea of the size of the item, since there are mini cards, regular-sized cards, and oversized cards all on the market.
  • College/Collegiate Card — Any single trading card where the subject of the card is designed around the subject’s college organization instead of the subject’s professional organization.
  • Configuration — The amount of cards, packs, and/or boxes a product contains.
  • Factory Sealed — The term given to a pack, box, or case of trading cards that was never opened and remains in the original wrapping, the same way it left the manufacturer.
  • Grades/Grading — The condition of the trading card; the process of having your trading card’s condition accessed by a professional grader.
  • Hit — Any single trading card that is considered to be a pack or box highlight. Hits can include autographs, memorabilia cards, numbered cards, and inserts.
  • Hobby — A level of trading card release. The Hobby level of trading cards usually contains the best chances for high-level hits, autographs, and inserts. Hobby releases can include exclusive inserts, autographs, and trading cards that cannot be found in other levels of releases.
  • Insert — Any single trading card that is not considered to be part of the base set in any given release. These can include special short prints, numbered cards, and other non-base trading cards.
  • Manufacturer Relic Card — Any single trading card that contains a relic that was specifically produced for the trading card set. This relic was never worn nor used by the subject of the cards.
  • Memorabilia/Relic Card — Any single trading card that contains a piece of game-worn or player-worn memorabilia. These can include pieces of jerseys, logos, hats, skates, sticks, balls, and gloves.
  • Numbered Card — Any single trading card that is numbered and limited in production (a trading card that is numbered out of ninety-nine means only ninety-nine copies of that card were ever produced). These cards have their numbering printed directly on the card, usually stamped.
  • On-Card Autograph Card — Any single trading card that contains an authentic signature from the subject of the card that is signed directly on the trading card itself and not on a clear sticker.
  • Pack — A manufacturer factory-sealed pack of trading cards, usually consisting of at least one trading card.
  • Patch Card — Any memorabilia/relic card that contains a piece of a jersey from a logo, tag, brand, number, or nameplate. These cards can be quantified by the number of colors on the patch itself (if three colors on the patch are viewable on the card, it’s considered a three-color patch card).
  • Point — The unit of measurement used to determine the thickness of a trading card. One point is equal to 0.001 inches or 0.0254 millimeters.
  • Prospect Card — Any single trading card where the card was produced before the player had been drafted to or had signed with a professional team. Within the same vein are Draft Cards.
  • Retail — A level of trading card release. The Retail level of trading cards usually contains the second-best chances for high-level hits, autographs, and inserts. Retail releases can include exclusive inserts, autographs, and trading cards that cannot be found in other levels of releases.
  • Rookie Card — Any single trading card that was produced during the release year of the subject’s first professional season.
  • Set — The collection of players/subjects within any given release.
  • Short Print — Any single trading card that is not numbered, yet only a low number of cards were produced.
  • Single — A single trading card, not sold with any other cards, packs, or boxes.
  • Slabbing — The process of having your piece of memorabilia encapsulated, usually by an autograph authenticator or professional grading company.
  • Soft Sleeve — A soft plastic protector that helps keep dust and fingerprints off of a trading card or photograph.
  • Spot — An entry into a break.
  • Sticker Autograph Card — Any single trading card that contains an authentic signature from the subject of the card that is signed on a clear sticker then applied to the trading card (not signed directly on the trading card itself).
  • Subgrades — The individual numerical grades of the centering of a card, the corners of a card, the edges of a card, and the surface of a card.
  • Subset — A secondary collection of players/subjects within any given release.
  • Super Short Print — Any single trading card that is not numbered, yet only a low number of cards were produced (rarer than Short Print).
  • Swatch Card — Any memorabilia/relic card that contains a piece of jersey that is single-colored (only one color of the relic is viewable on the card).
  • Toploader/Top Loader — A rigid plastic display that protects a trading card or photograph.
  • Ultra Short Print — Any single trading card that is not numbered, yet only a low number of cards were produced (rarer than Super Short Print).
  • Wax — The general term given to unopened trading card products.