CGC Trading Cards Error Guide

Posted on 2/7/2022

As the authority on authenticating and grading error cards, CGC Trading Cards offers a definitive guide to error types.

CGC Trading Cards is the first third-party grading service to authenticate and grade major errors within the trading cards market, with the aid of advanced forensic technology. To further expand CGC Trading Cards’ expertise in this area, the senior-most graders secured an invitation to visit a printing facility in North Carolina in August 2021. This visit helped to solidify the graders’ understanding of errors and how they occur, and also to establish connections with printing facility quality control experts who can assist with the authentication of some esoteric errors.

How Trading Cards Are Printed

Most trading cards, including Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering cards, are printed on large, room-sized offset lithography printing presses, which print in four primary colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These presses cost millions of dollars and can print up to 15,000 sheets of cards per hour. The printed sheets typically have 100, 110 or 121 cards on each. This means that one press alone can print up to 1.8 million cards per hour!

Modern offset lithography printing uses a thin, metal printing plate to begin the process, and a different printing plate is required for each color. First, the desired image to be printed is transferred photographically or lasered to the printing plate. Next, the parts of the plate from which the image is printed are coated with a clear varnish called lacquer that attracts ink. The rest of the plate is coated with gum so that it attracts water.

The metal printing plate is then curved around a printing cylinder that dampens it with water and then brushes it with ink. Of course, only the lacquered parts of the plate will pick up ink while the other areas do not. The inked plate is then pressed against a soft rubber cylinder, known as a blanket cylinder. This results in a mirror image of the design printed on the blanket cylinder. When the blanket is then pressed into the card stock, the design for that color is transferred to the sheet.

With such high-speed presses and numerous color layers, as well as complicated cutting machines, mistakes are bound to happen and escape…

Types of Error Cards

Explore the numerous different types of error cards, and find out how these errors occur in the printing process. Examples are shown for most error types.

1, 2, 3 Square Corners and Square Cut

A Pikachu from Sword & Shield with 2 Square Corners and a Square Cut Professor's Research from Celebrations.
Click images to enlarge.

During the process of producing a trading card, sheets are first cut into card-sized rectangles with pointed corners. To create rounded corners, the points are then removed in a separate process using a die cutter. When a card misses this step on any of its corners, it becomes one of these four types of errors. Please note: Due to the overwhelming number of not-factory-cut (NFC) Square Cut cards from the Wizards of the Coast (WotC) era, CGC Trading Cards will not grade any Square Cut examples without a proven provenance back to a WotC employee.

Additional Ink

A 1st Edition Fossil Lapras with Additional Ink on the front, and a 1st Edition Jungle Vaporeon with Additional Ink on the back.
Click images to enlarge.

Occasionally, extra ink will make its way onto a printing plate or the rollers used to move the sheets, causing a card to have a splotch or area of ink where it should not be. This is also sometimes called toning when it has the appearance of the back of the 1st Edition Jungle Vaporeon above.

Albino Back

A 2020 Lightning Energy with an Albino Back error.
Click image to enlarge.

This is an extremely rare error that occurs when a card only receives black ink during the printing process. They occur when either color ink was not loaded into the printer, or can occur when a printer malfunctions. The only known Pokémon examples (besides the Grayscale Pokéball filler card from the WotC era) are energy cards that were found in Rebel Clash booster packs in the 2020 Trainer’s Toolkit. It is likely that only one sheet or even a partial sheet escaped, as there are also examples known from the same source with only two colors missing. The border is still blue because it is printed in a separate step from the design.

Alpha Cut Corners

A 4th Edition Serra Angel with Alpha Cut Corners.
Click images to enlarge.

This error is exclusive to Magic: The Gathering. Sometimes, 4th Edition or Revised cards will come with the more rounded corners usually reserved for the Limited Edition: Alpha set. This is likely due to the wrong corner-rounding dies being used on a small batch of cards.

Blank Back

A Japanese Mewtwo δ from Holon Research Tower with a Blank Back. Major Japanese errors are particularly rare.
Click images to enlarge.

Typically, the backs of trading cards are printed first. This is a rare error that occurs when a plain sheet without a back printing is used to print the fronts of cards.

Double Printing / Triple Printing

A Portuguese Feraligatr from HeartGold and SoulSilver that was Double Printed and a Drover the Mighty from Jumpstart that was Triple Printed. Both are likeley “Make-Readies.”
Click images to enlarge.

As the names imply, these rare errors occur when a sheet of cards is printed twice or even three times before being cut and placed into packs. It is doubtful that this error occurs naturally, and it is probable that many of these errors are in fact “Make-Readies.”

Make-Readies are press check sheets that are used to help with printing press alignment and ink levels. Rarely, one of these sheets of cards makes its way to the cutting area and is released into packs. Double and triple printing errors are exceptionally rare in Pokémon, although for Magic: The Gathering, many were unintentionally released in Jumpstart packs in 2020. The Drover of the Mighty triple printing above is one of only two such errors graded by CGC Trading Cards so far.

Double Stamped

A Double Stamped The Celestus from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt.
Click images to enlarge.

Certain cards, such as Magic: The Gathering rares or Pokémon prerelease promos, have special foil stamps applied to them. When these stamps are accidentally applied twice, an error is created. The Magic: The Gathering card above features two stamped Planeswalker symbols in the bottom right of the art box.

Doubled Holo Pattern

A Jungle Kangaskhan with a Doubled Holo Pattern on its holofoil layer.
Click images to enlarge.

This is an exceptionally rare error caused not at the printing facility, but at the holographic foil-producing company. On the Kangaskhan above, the design in the holofoil is very clearly doubled.

End of Holo Roll

This Dark Charizard from Team Rocket has a splice of two holo sheets in the middle of the card.
Click images to enlarge.

The rolls of holographic foil supplied to the trading card manufacturers is laminated to the card stock either before they receive the card stock or sometimes at the printing facilities themselves. When the end of a holographic roll is reached, an additional roll must be spliced to the first one. A strip of tape is used to do so, and the sheet with that tape across it is meant to be destroyed. However, sometimes they slip out and are made into cards like the Dark Charizard pictured above. Read more about this interesting error here!

Fold Over / Printed Fold Over

A Boldore from Evolving Skies with a rare Fold Over error.
Click images to enlarge.

The printers used to manufacture trading cards are school bus-sized marvels of modern machinery, printing hundreds of cards per second. The cards are typically printed on sheets of 110 individual examples with some extra paper (called selvage) around the edge of the sheet. Very rarely, the corner of the sheet may fold over onto the card after it is printed but before the cutting stage.

The card is then cut as normal, but with the folded part protected from being cut off and discarded as it should be. These very rarely escape from the factory as they are an error type that is likely to jam the printing, cutting or packaging machinery and therefore be discovered and destroyed.

Printed fold over photo courtesy of Joe P. @regigigagod on Instagram.
Click image to enlarge.

A printed fold over is the same type of error as above except the fold over happens before the printing stage, meaning the card image is actually printed on top of the folded corner! That means that under the fold, the plain card stock can be seen. These are incredibly rare, as evidenced by the fact that none have yet been graded by CGC Trading Cards.

Harry Potter Back / Wyvern Back / MTG Back

A Symbiotic Beast from Onslaught with a Harry Potter back, a Homarid (Hudson) from Fallen Empires with a Wyvern back and a Growlithe Pokémon card from the German Base Set with a Magic: The Gathering back (also a Square Cut error).
Click images to enlarge.

Many of the facilities that print trading cards print numerous types of games. The backs are typically printed first, so occasionally, a sheet is selected with the incorrect back for the front of the cards being printed. These are usually caught in quality control, but very rarely escape into the wild! All three known types are pictured above: A Magic: The Gathering card with a Harry Potter back as well as one with a Wyvern back, and a Pokémon card with a Magic: The Gathering back. For more info on the Growlithe shown above, click here.

Incomplete Print Layer

A Neo Destiny Shining Charizard missing most of its Holofoil print layer.
Click images to enlarge.

This is an error that occurs when one of the print or holofoil layers is partially missing from the card. For example, the Shining Charizard above looks to be only about 30% shining due to an incomplete holo layer.

Incomplete Texture / Misaligned Texture / Missing Texture

A Red's Challenge from Unbroken Bonds with an Incomplete Texture layer, a Dragonite EX from Evolutions with a Misaligned Texture layer and a Salamence GX from Dragon Majesty completely missing its texture layer.
Click image to enlarge.

The Black and White: Next Destinies set was the first to feature cards with textured surfaces. These proved extremely popular, and textured cards have been a major part of Pokémon since then. Occasionally, issues with this process arise. For example, part of the texture may not be properly applied (Incomplete Texture), the texture may be in the wrong position (Misaligned Texture) or it may be absent altogether (Missing Texture). All three of these types of errors are highly sought after. One must be wary of cards with Missing Texture, however, as most counterfeits share that same quality.

Insufficient Ink

A Zapdos from Evolutions with Insufficient Ink on its white opaque layer meant to block the holofoil from showing over the entire card.
Click images to enlarge.

This error occurs when the printer is running low on ink. While CGC Trading Cards does not recognize so-called Holo Bleeds, the graders did recognize the clear insufficient ink error on this Evolutions Zapdos holo card. The white opaque layer meant to hide the holofoil pattern from bleeding through the yellow parts of the card is nearly missing on this example. The small amount of ink that was applied allowed far more holofoil pattern through than intended.

Inverted Back

This Miasmic Mummy from Jumpstart has an Inverted Back. Errors were quite common on this set.
Click images to enlarge.

Technically, these should probably be called inverted fronts as the backs of cards are usually printed first. However, inverted back is the name the collecting community has given these types of errors, which are very popular.

Inverted Stamp / Misaligned Stamp

Two Prerelease Celfables, one with an Inverted Stamp (top) and one with a Misaligned Stamp (bottom).
Click images to enlarge.

Cards are sometimes stamped with foil text in order to signify a special release like a show, Prerelease event, or for a special gift for staff. When the sheet of cards to be foil stamped is fed into the foil embossing machine upside down or misaligned, an error like those seen on the two Clefables above can occur. The foil stamp can be inverted and on on the wrong side of the card, or the stamp is simply in the wrong position. Occasionally, these errors make it out into the marketplace where they often command a large premium.

Minor Miscut, Miscut, Major Miscut

A Minor Miscut Charizard GX from Burning Shadows and a Miscut Crabtrawler from Burning Shadows.
Click images to enlarge.

A Major Miscut Diglet from the 1st Edition German Base Set. Photo courtesy of Joe P. @regigigagod on Instagram.
Click image to enlarge.

Miscuts are the most popular type of error submitted to CGC Trading Cards. They are obvious errors even at a glance, and they are relatively common compared to most other error types. Minor Miscuts are those showing at least half of one alignment dot in a corner or a card missing some of the design but not yet showing another card. Miscuts show part of at least one other card. Major Miscuts show part of at least two other cards.

Other Types of Miscuts - 90° Rotated Miscut, Narrow Miscut, Short Miscut and Twisted Miscut

A 90° Rotated Miscut Crabominable V from the 2021 Fusion Strike set.
Click images to enlarge.

Many different issues can occur during the cutting process, and CGC Trading Cards will add new types of miscuts to better describe those being submitted. A 90° Rotated Miscut occurs when a card enters the corner rounding die rotated 90 degrees. For example, on this Crabominable V, the left side of the card was likely in the position the bottom of a card would normally be. The right side of the card then completely missed the corner rounders, and therefore shows some extra selvage from the edge of the sheet.

A Narrow Miscut Rillaboom V also from the 2021 Fusion Strike set.
Click images to enlarge.

A Narrow Miscut, like the Rillaboom V above, occurs in a similar manner. In its case, the card entered the corner rounding step oriented properly but slid too far in. Therefore, the left side of the card was outside of the die and cut off, while the right side was not affected as it was not in its normal position. This also left some extra selvage that would normally be removed.

A Short Miscut Galarian Darmanitan V from the Vivid Voltage set.
Click images to enlarge.

A Short Miscut occurs in much the same way as a 90° Rotated Miscut. However, instead of rotating and being incorrectly positioned, the card entered the corner rounding die oriented properly but shifted too far to the top or bottom. On the card pictured above, this caused the top part of the card to be cut off with rounded corners while the bottom border is extra thick and has two square corners. The reverse is also likely possible, with a bottom cut off and the top part of the card with extra selvage.

A Twisted Miscut Sylveon GX from Hidden Fates.
Click images to enlarge.

Lastly is the Twisted Miscut like the Sylveon GX from Hidden Fates above. This card entered the corner rounding machine at an odd angle, resulting in three of the rounded corners being misplaced, and the top right corner missing the process altogether!

Misaligned Print Layer

A Misaligned Print Layer error on a Fossil Gengar holo.
Click images to enlarge.

This error occurs when there is a registration issue during the printing process. That means that either the sheet is not quite in the correct location within the press, or the press itself is mis-calibrated for a particular color. Both problems can lead to numerous issues that can have vastly different appearances.

For example, the misalignment of the white opaque layer relative to the card art shows up as a card with a holo box in the wrong location like on the Fossil Gengar above. It is not the holofoil itself that has shifted, but merely the white opaque layer meant to obscure the holofoil in the correct areas.

A Misaligned Print Layer error on a Base Set 2000 Starmie.
Click images to enlarge.

A misalignment on a specific color plate might lead to the colors not blending properly like on the Starmie, which has the yellow ink layer very dramatically shifted to the right.

A Misaligned Print Layer error on an Exeggcute from the Ultra Prism set.
Click images to enlarge.

Lastly, this error can also show up as a misalignment between the two black layers on a card (the first being made up of the three primary colors: cyan, magenta and yellow) as seen on the Exeggcute above. This type of misprint is most noticeable in areas where the black print must be centered, like the Energy and Set Symbols. On this card, the black layer is shifted strongly to the left. This error is particularly plentiful on commons and uncommons from the Ultra Prism set.

Misalignment

A Blaziken ex from the Italian EX Crystal guardians set with a major Misalignment error.
Click images to enlarge.

Misalignment errors occur when the registration of the front and back printings is not correct. This error type does not get much more dramatic than the example pictured above, from the Italian EX Crystal Guardians set. The back was printed normally, but the front of the card is off by nearly half. Che Bello!

Missing Holo Layer

A Base Set 2 Charizard missing its normal holo layer.
Click images to enlarge.

This is a very rare error that would typically affect an entire sheet of cards. If the incorrect card stock (one without holofoil laminated to it) is selected to print holo cards, then the cards of course come out nonholographic. This can also occur if the holofoil layer is not properly laminated to the card stock or if the step was missed entirely. CGC has seen numerous examples of this error type from the Shadowless Base Set, as well as the non-holo Base Set 2 Charizard pictured above. Read more about the extensive authentication process of this particular error Charizard here.

Missing Holo Pattern

A 1st Edition Fossil Zapdos missing its holo pattern.
Click images to enlarge.

These are an unusual error where the typical holofoil pattern is absent. A few (like the Fossil Zapdos above) have been noted from early WoTC sets. This card also features an incorrect holo cutout in the top-left corner, which is found on all 1st Edition English examples (and therefore is not mentioned on the label), and perhaps half of Unlimited examples as well before it was finally corrected.

Missing Print Layer / Layers

A Ninetales from Rebel Clash missing one Print Layer and a 2020 Metal Energy missing two Print Layers.
Click images to enlarge.

A missing print layer occurs when a sheet of cards passes through the printer without receiving all four of the CMYKK colors it should. This can occur if ink isn’t properly loaded into the printer or if the printer has a technical fault partially through printing a sheet.

When these sheets are not scrapped as they should be, errors can make it into packs. The two cards pictured above are missing the yellow ink layer and red and yellow ink layers, respectively. Sun-faded cards can appear very similar to the example missing yellow and red ink layers. However, under UV light, sun damaged cards have lost all of their normal UV properties whereas the UV reactions are completely normal on errors like this one.

Missing Stamp

Two Magic: The Gathering Gifts Given Happy Holidays promos from 2007. The example on the left is missing the normal foil stamp in the bottom right of the art box.
Click images to enlarge.

When a card that is supposed to be foil stamped misses the process entirely, a missing stamp error is created. Note the two Gifts Given cards above. Both should have the “Happy Holidays 2007” stamp in the bottom right corner, but the one on the left is missing the stamp.

Obstruction / Retained Obstruction

A Steenee from the Sun & Moon set with an obstruction on its back and a Retained Obstruction error on a 1st Edition Mankey.
Click images to enlarge.

Occasionally, when the ink is transferred from the printing plate to the blanket, a piece of debris can get stuck to either the blanket or the sheet of cards being printed, and block ink from reaching the surface of the card like on the back of this Steenee from Sun & Moon. When the obstruction-causing debris is transferred to the card with the ink and is retained within the card itself, it is known as a Retained Obstruction like on the back of the above 1st Edition Mankey (below the "ON" in Pokémon).

Offset Printing

A Neo Revelation Entei Holo with an Offset Printing error.
Click images to enlarge.

This is a rare error that creates the appearance of multiple “ghost” images on a card, like the Entei pictured. This likely occurred when either a loose printing plate or blanket shifted while applying the image to the blanket, imparting a few light impressions from the plate to said blanket. When it was then used to print a sheet of cards, that extra ink can be seen as multiple light images behind the main one.

Partial Crimp / Crimped / Crimped and Cut

A Partial Crimp error can be seen on the bottom of this Lugia from Wind from the Seal. A Full Crip is evident in the center of this 1st Edition Base Set Machamp and this poor Porygon2 from Burning Shadows was Crimped and Cut.
Click images to enlarge.

When cards are packaged, they are surrounded by the pre-printed booster pack art foil that is then heat sealed around the proper quantity of cards to become a pack. Sometimes, this process can go wrong, and a card or cards can slip forward or backward and come in between the crimper’s heat-sealing mechanism.

When this happens, the intricate design of the crimping machine is imparted into the card. If only a portion of the crimp is seen on the card, it will earn the Partial Crimp designation. When the entire Crimp can be seen, the card is simply called Crimped. Lastly, the crimping machine can sometimes even cut a piece off the card. When this happens, CGC Trading Cards labels it Crimped & Cut like the Porygon2 above.

Pinched Layer

A Rillaboom from Shining Fates with a Pinched Layer running vertically down the front of the card.
Click image to enlarge.

Sometimes, when the holofoil is being laminated onto the cardboard stock, a small wrinkle can form where the holofoil bunches up. This causes a raised line on the card that shows only on the holo side of the card. This should not be confused with a card that has roller damage from the packaging process, which will show as two vertical indentations on both the front and back of the card.

Printer Hickey

A Fossil Slowpoke with a large Printer Hickey in the top right of the front of the card.
Click images to enlarge.

Printer Hickeys occur when a small particle or piece of debris sticks to either the printing plate or the blanket. This imperfection will show up as a small, round defect on the card.

Sheet Wrinkle

A Town Map from BREAKthrough with a Sheet Wrinkle on the front.
Click image to enlarge.

A sheet wrinkle occurs during the manufacturing process of the card stock itself. Occasionally, the card stock will have a wrinkle-like imperfection in the material, which is then visible on the final card.

Special thanks to Luke W. and Tavis K. for their contributions to this article.


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