When trading cards are manufactured there are occasionally issues during the process that result in noticeable imperfections. Collectors have also done things to their cards that affect the appearance. When this is the case for a card graded by Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA), two letters will be shown next to the grade. This means that the card would otherwise achieve that grade except for the issue, which is known as a qualifier. There are six different qualifiers.
Off-Center (OC) - The standard centering for a card to be a PSA 9 or PSA 10 is 60/40. If a card has perfect corners, perfect surface, perfect edges, perfect color, etc. but isn’t centered it may still grade PSA 9 (OC). This means that had the centering been better the card would be a PSA 9, maybe even a PSA 10. The centering standard goes down as the grade goes down. Given that wear and tear do not affect centering, it is not very likely to see a PSA 3 (OC) because the centering would have to be so far from the standard to be an issue.
Miscut (MC) - A miscut card is often quite obvious. This is an extreme version of off-center where one or more of the borders is not visible. Sometimes you will see part of another card. There is also something known as a diamond cut. This occurs when one vertical border of a card gets wider from top to bottom and the other vertical border gets narrower.
Staining (ST) - Stains can occur naturally due to the manufacturing process and the passage of time. Older packs were sealed with wax and contained gum. Both items can leave behind residue. In some instances the wax is able to be removed without affecting the integrity of the card. Some types of water damage can also result in staining.
Marks (MK) - The presence of any writing from pencil, ink, marker, or other material results in this qualification. Common things written on a card include the collector’s name or initials and the new team of a traded player. Erased writing that has left an indentation will also result in this qualifier. Of course there are also checklists, which were designed to be marked. As a result, unmarked checklists in near-mint or better condition are highly sought after.
Print Defect (PD) - A print defect is just that, an issue with the card’s appearance as a result of the printing process. The severity and location of the defect(s) combine to determine if and how much the card’s grade is affected. A common print defect is known as fish eye, which presents as a small circle. Any random color spots or lines that should not be on the card can be categorized as print defects. Many print defects are hard to notice with the naked eye for non-experts. The best way to check is to compare identical copies of the same card. There are some print defects that are present on every known issue of a card. In this case, they become accepted as part of the card and are not penalized. Two examples are the 1984 Topps Don Mattingly #8 rookie and the 1983 Donruss #598 Tony Gwynn rookie.
Here are two examples of fisheye: On the baseball card notice
the blue circle to the left of the player’s name. On the football card it is to the left of the helmet.
Out of Focus (OF) - A card with the OF qualifier will be blurry the same way an out of focus photograph is. However, a card that seems to be very out of focus may actually be suffering from a different issue that makes it very rare and highly collectable. The card to the right is an example.
Some other condition issues that do not have qualifiers but still affect a cards grade are paper loss and creasing. Paper loss occurs when a piece or part of a layer is missing. Creasing varies in severity but is very important to look out for. Even minor creasing can significantly limit a card’s potential grade.
So what does this all mean? The impact of a qualifier ultimately comes down to the individual collector’s preferences and the qualifier’s impact on eye appeal. Some people are very focused on centering, and only want the highest grade possible in an effort to have the best Grade Point Average in the PSA Set Registry. Others buy cards with qualifiers as a way to build their collection more affordably, or to get the lowest price for a given grade. Furthermore, some qualifiers are glaringly obvious and others are more subtle. The general rule of thumb is that a qualifier takes one or two points off the PSA grade.