Chrome Vs. Paper Sports Cards

July 25, 2021

The hobby has changed a lot. Nowadays it is increasingly difficult to get retail. And collectors are obsessed with chrome. Should you follow suit? In chrome vs. paper sports cards, is chrome always king?

Some of the most popular and valued cards in the world are Chrome cards. These cards were first issued in the 1996 Bowman Chrome set and have been a staple of Topps sets ever since. Later, Panini released their take on these cards with Panini Prizm in 2012.

So, what are Chrome and Prizm cards? These cards are similar to base sets but with additional cosmetic features, such as different colors or refractor cards. They also use chromium paper which makes the card more durable. (The Panini Prizm line uses various colors in its sets, including patterns like Pink Ice, Purple Wave, and Hyper Prizm.)

Chrome Vs. Paper Sports Cards In Basketball

In 2009, Panini became the exclusive card provider for the NBA, and it has held it ever since. As said above, Panini released its take on Chrome-style cards in 2012 with the Prizm series. In addition to Prizm, Panini also has the Optic series, which includes holographic cards.

A popular question asked around the internet is whether Prizm or Optic cards are more expensive. While it depends on each card, overall, Prizm cards are more in demand and are therefore pricier.

The iconic Luka Prizm rookie is worth more than its Optic equivalent (look for Luka Prizm rookies on Amazon).

Let’s look at the last three Rookie of the Year and compare the value of their Prizm and Optic rookie cards.

Player Optic PSA 10 Prizm PSA 10
Luka Doncic $325 $800
Ja Morant $100 $212
Lamelo Ball $200 $599

So as you can see, in all cases, the Prizm card is worth over twice as much as the Optic. While this does not definitively prove the value of Prizm over Optic, it shows the trend that tends to emerge with these two sets.

Now that we have determined whether Prizm or Optic cards tend to be more valuable let’s examine the value of Prizm cards to standard paper cards. For comparison purposes, we will utilize PSA 10 graded cards from 2017. They consist of the 20 highest-priced cards from the Prizm, Contender, and Hoops collections.

Unsurprisingly, Prizm cards hold a higher average value over the two paper sets. The Prizm cards held an average value of $1,695, the Contenders came in at $303, and the Hoops set had an average value of $283. While it is a relatively small data set, this shows the increased value that Prizm cards hold over other Panini collections.

Chrome Vs. Paper Sports Cards In Baseball

While chrome-style cards rapidly took over other sports, the transition was significantly slower in baseball. For years, collectors tended to value traditional paper cards over the flashier chromatic ones, but flashier and more cosmetically appealing cards have risen in value over the years.

Topps Flagship cards are classic-looking cards that have been released for decades. As a result, many investors and collectors prioritize these cards due to releases’ historical value and consistency.

For years, paper flagship cards held a higher value over Topps Chrome, but is this still the case? Looking at PSA 10 graded cards from 2020, it certainly looks like chrome is reigning supreme. With data from the 25 highest valued cards from each set, Topps Chrome has an average price of $553, while flagship cards have an average of $364.

Topps Chrome rookies fetch more on the market than flagship ones (look for Alec Bohm Topps Chrome rookies on eBay).

Other popular cards to collect are Bowman baseball cards, which also have a chromium card series. Similar to the Topps series, chrome cards are worth significantly more compared to Bowman Paper Prospects. According to data from here, PSA 10 graded cards from the 2020 Bowman Chrome set are vastly more valuable than the 2020 Bowman Paper Prospects. Only four prospect cards are valued at over $50, while no chrome cards in the top 15 are worth less than $100.

Overall, chrome cards have officially taken over baseball.

Chrome Vs. Paper Sports Cards In Football

Similar to basketball, Panini rules when it comes to football trading cards, including their Prizm series.

Panini released the Prizm series for NFL cards in the same year as the NBA, 2012. Meanwhile, Topps continued to make their chrome cards until 2016. However, in 2016 Panini inked a deal with the NFL giving Panini an exclusive right to make NFL trading cards. That move ended the production of Topps Chrome football cards.

Prizm cards rapidly became some of the most sought-after football cards due to their flashy looks and various unique color schemes. Colors like purple power and hyper prizm brought new life to cards, and collectors wanted them.

As with the other sports listed so far, chromium cards tend to exceed the value of paper cards. When comparing the top 25 valued cards of the 2020 Prizm and 2020 Contenders sets, I found that the Prizm set has an average value of $5,041, while Contenders comes in at only $2,835. Unlike the trends in other sports, two signed rookie paper cards are valued higher than any chromatic card. One of these cards is an autographed Joe Burrow card, whose rookie season ended early due to injury.

A good paper auto, like this Joe Burrow, can still get a very high price (look for Joe Burrow autos on eBay).

Chrome Vs. Paper Sports Cards In Soccer

Soccer cards are significantly less popular than the other major sports in America. But the world’s most popular sport has seen its cards become more popular over the past year. As a result, sales have rapidly increased across the board, with Soccer card sales rising by over 1000% on eBay.

Unlike basketball and football, which have become dominated by Panini, soccer has collections from Topps and Panini. This diversity lets us see soccer players in Topps Chrome and Panini Prizm variations.

Pedri is the latest soccer craze, seen here in his Merlin Topps Chrome card (look for Pedri rookie cards on eBay).

Chromium cards continue to be desired due to their aesthetic benefits. Therefore, prices regularly reach several hundred dollars on eBay. For example, a PSA 10 Neymar Prizm card from 2014 sees numerous bids over $400.


As with all cards, the best way to guarantee their value is to have them graded by an accredited company, commonly the PSA. For example, having a PSA 10 graded card can dramatically increase its value due to its excellent condition.

Compared to traditional paper cards, chrome cards tend to grade better due to the increased durability of chromium paper. However, chrome cards are also relatively thick, as they cannot fit into a 35 point toploader.

Let’s compare the number of PSA 8s, 9s, and 10s on recent MLB Rookie of the Year winners:

Card PSA 8 PSA 9 PSA 10
Kyle Lewis Paper Bowman 13 110 55
Kyle Lewis Chrome Bowman 14 107 91
Yordan Alvarez Paper Bowman 13 491 1,383
Yordan Alvarez Chrome Bowman 31 409 1,157
Shohei Ohtani Paper Bowman 170 1,518 3,037
Shohei Ohtani Chrome Bowman 6 209 2,768

If we look at the figures, the proportion of PSA 10’s to 9’s for the chrome Kyle Lewis is close to 1-to-1. Meanwhile, for paper, it’s about 1 to 2. That is a very significant difference in favor of chrome. The Yordan Alvarez cards have a similar proportion so that one is a wash. The most dramatic difference is the Ohtani cards. While there is a 2-1 proportion in favor of 10s for the paper, there is a remarkable 10-1 proportion for the chrome.

The Shohei Bowman Chrome cards grade far better than the paper ones (look for Ohtani Bowman Chrome RC’s on eBay).

The numbers seem to confirm that overall, it is easier to attain a PSA 10 grading on a chrome card. In addition, it’s thicker, more durable material helps protect it compared to thinner paper cards.


Every sport is a bit different. But it is fair to say that chrome cards are more valuable than their paper equivalents. One of the reasons is that they grade better. They are also flashier and more eye-catching. So keep that in mind when investing in players, no matter what sport you collect.

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