Whether you’re looking to submit cards to Ludkins for the first time or just looking for peace of mind when you’ve sold a single, knowing how to safely ship a trading card is an important part of participating in today’s online trading card community. If you follow this guide, your cards will be safe without breaking the bank, and you’ll be able to navigate the often confusing and option-heavy world of trading card supplies. Now lets ship Ash his Charizard Card.
What you’ll need:
- Team bag
- Bubble mailer
Sleeves come with different fits, thicknesses, designs, and materials. They are often advertised as having different purposes, like playing or long-term storage. For shipping, you should be looking to get the job done in the cheapest way possible that is also safe. For this use, nothing is better than a traditional “penny sleeve,” so named for being as cheap as a penny per sleeve. Every major bulk trading card product supplier sells penny sleeves. The point of a penny sleeve is to protect the fragile surfaces of our beloved paper goods. Surfaces like holofoil or glossy cardstock can be susceptible to light scratches from sources as inane as dust; however, the challenge of protecting fragile card surfaces does not have to be daunting. The advantage to modern penny sleeves is that they have come a long way from their predecessors of 30+ years ago. Modern penny sleeves are all acid-free, and they will not stick to your cards, no matter how long they are left in contact with each other.
While penny sleeves are basic and unassuming, they are the best for shipping, for several reasons. First, they cost substantially less than sleeves designed for play. Often manufacturers will advertise attractive sleeves that boast colorful designs or are designed to withstand shuffling in a deck of cards. While these do serve a purpose, they are no better equipped to protect your card in transit than penny sleeves, and they increase your cost. Most sleeves used for shipping will only serve as a temporary protective measure, so the added cost is unnecessary. Second, penny sleeves allow for a comfortable fit that holds the card in place without being too tight on the sides. Sleeves like “perfect fits,” which are designed to be snug on the edges of your card, are marketed as providing added protection, but they can actually damage cards in a few ways. For example, cards that contain a holofoil layer sometimes warp when exposed to humidity. Perfect fits exacerbate this issue by placing inward pressure on the sides of the cards. Additionally, perfect fits can be difficult to put on or remove from a card, making it more likely that a card will be damaged in the process. Penny sleeves do not have these issues.
The journey through the postal system is a bumpy ride, and toploaders are the primary protection against the many potential dangers your card will face inside. While sleeves protect surfaces from abrasion, they are not sturdy enough to protect from indentations or significant bends. A top loader is a sleeve made of hard and thick plastic. Named so because they quite literally load from the top, top loaders use a highly rigid plastic that frames the outside of the card. This structure protects against concussive forces so that your card comes out of shipping confusion without a contusion. Because top loaders are a more rigid material, they are not sufficient to protect fragile surfaces from abrasion, but when paired with a soft inner sleeve, your trading cards are protected from all that the shipping process may throw at them.
Toploaders come in many dimensions, so be sure to get a size and thickness appropriate for your trading card. The standard toploader is 3 inches x 4 inches and is sufficient for cardstocks up to 35pt in thickness. Cards with patches or other unique embedded elements are better suited to “super thick” toploaders, which can handle up to 180pt thickness. If you are dealing with non-standard trading cards such as jumbos, tall boys, postcards, or other items of varying size and thickness, you can find a wide range of specialty top loaders to fit your needs. The vast majority of trading cards will be most suited to a regular 3 inch x 4 inch toploader.
Team bags were originally designed to hold a whole sports team’s cards together, but today, they are more often appropriated to complete the card safety trifecta this article describes. While the penny sleeve and top loader protect the card’s surfaces and structure from unwanted roughness, team bags add a necessary impermeable membrane that keeps your card inside and unwanted dust and liquids out. Team bags are self-adhering and fitted to toploaders. Depending on the brand, you can typically fit multiple toploaders inside of a team bag, and it is fine to do so. You will want to avoid placing multiple cards inside of one penny sleeve because they may rub against each other and cause damage you sought to avoid by placing it in a sleeve in the first place. You also want to avoid putting multiple sleeved cards inside one top loader because it can make them difficult to removed, leading to damage in the extraction process. Team bags, however, are fine to have multiple toploaders inside of them.
Bubble mailers are the most basic shipping unit, second only to a sturdy cardboard box, and are available at most shipping supplies stores and post offices. Bubble mailers add extra protection by cushioning your sleeved card: forces from the outside are exerted on the surfaces of each bubble in the bubble wrap lining, so the pressure doesn’t directly bear down on the object inside. When combined with the previously described supplies, the bubble mailer will ensure that your card is safe from every imaginable harm in the shipping process.
Following these instructions is important for making sure that your cards arrive safely. Skipping any one of these supplies or substituting them for ineffective alternatives puts your cards at unnecessary risk. Unfortunately, during my time as a collector and dealer, I have seen cards lost, damaged, and destroyed in the shipping process many times. If you adhere to these steps, you can ensure that your card does not become a needless victim.