Card Saver Vs. Top Loader- Which is Better?

When we were kids we just snapped an elastic band around our cards and shoved them into our jean pockets. Simpler times, yes, but still painful to think about the damage we caused to original 1999 cards. Top loaders and card savers are the two main card protectors available that offer more protection than a sleeve. But which is better?

Both Top loaders and card savers have their own applications. In some cases (like shipping) one may be more appropriately utilized than the other. For personal collections, it only comes down to preference. 

Pros and Cons

Today, it’s common knowledge that trading cards can be worth a lot of money and that protecting your cards is the first step to collecting. Most collectors will purchase both top loaders and card savers, and utilize both. However, there are pros and cons to each.

 

Price

Recommended by PSA Grading

Rigid

Best for collection

Best for shipping

Size

Industry-standard

Card Saver

$10/50

  

3”X4”

Top Loader

$10/50

 

 

3 5/16” X 

4 7/8” 

What is a Card Saver?

A card saver, also known as a ‘semi-rigid’, is a trading card protector made out of rigid vinyl plastic. The reason a card saver is sometimes referred to as a semi-rigid is that it is bendable. The card saver will hold your card in place very securely, allowing for no movement, but can bend. 

Card savers are recommended by both PSA and BGS. In the shipping instructions from PSA, they specifically ask you to ship your submission in a card saver. Because of its flexibility, it is best to ship a card saver with two pieces of cardboard on either side.

When it comes to personal collections, card savers are a fine choice. However, they are rather large and do not fit into most storage boxes standing upright. For example, the Elite Trainer Box (a Pokémon product) is specifically made to store cards, but will not fit card savers.

NOTE: Most collectors recommend the Card Saver 1, made by the brand Cardboard Gold. Ultra Pro also makes card savers, but they are smaller and more difficult to insert/remove cards. It takes a steady and patient user to use these smaller card savers, otherwise, you do risk damaging the card.

All professionals use card savers. They are the industry standard for shipping trading cards and it is highly unlikely that you won’t see card savers in someone’s card collection.

We recommend purchasing card savers from Cardboard Gold (the Card Saver 1) or BGS (the Beckett Shield). Both are of great quality and are recommended by grading companies (PSA and BGS).

Use a small post-it note to easily remove cards with ease.

What is a Top Loader?

A top loader also known as a ‘rigid’, is a trading card protector made from PVC plastic. Top loaders are not very flexible and will protect your card from bending. Some say that top loaders are bad for cards, but this is false. 

The biggest downside to a top loader is that they provide a small gap between the panes of plastic. This small gap allows for movement if the top loader is dropped, shaken, or hit against a surface. The gap also allows for dust and other particles to fall into the top loader. This can cause scratches if the particles are too abrasive (like a grain of sand). Top loaders should be stored upside down when not being used, to avoid collecting particles.

The small gap of a top loader allows cards to shift or even fall out.

While top loaders are a great choice for shipping cards, they are not recommended by most grading companies because of the card’s ability to move or shift within the device. In fact, PSA will not accept cards submitted in a top loader.

Top loaders do excel when it comes to personal collections. Since they are 3”X4”, they fit perfectly into many storage boxes, which are typically 3” wide. For example, Elite Trainer Boxes fit top loaders perfectly. Top loaders are recommended by all professionals.

Top loaders organized inside of an Elite Trainer Box.

We recommend purchasing top loaders manufactured by either Ultra Pro or Cardboard Gold. Both are great brands and highly respected among the community.

Which is Better?

All professional card collectors, business owners, graders, streamers, etc. will own and use both top loaders and card savers. Both devices are incredibly effective but serve slightly different purposes. 

Top loaders are the choice for personal collections for most. They are a little smaller in size, allowing for better storage, and cards can be easily taken in and out.

Card savers offer similar benefits but excel when it comes to shipping. They grip the cards so tightly that they will not move even when shaken violently. One downside to card savers is that they are so tight that constantly inserting and removing cards can be tedious. 

Final Thoughts

Neither is better. A professional will have both top loaders and card savers in their tool belt, using either for the appropriate application. We recommend purchasing both However if you can only purchase one, the decision is simple. Are you shipping cards? If yes, card savers are the obvious choice. Aside from this caveat, both are absolutely fantastic and will protect your cards.

Author: Oliver CopelandOliver has been collecting Pokémon cards for a long time. He had a crush on Misty when he was 10.