Where there are baseball cards, there are toploaders (or “top loaders” if you need some space).
It’s sort of like boys and dogs, or football and tailgates, or Mondays and coffee.
While you technically could collect baseball cards without ever using or maybe even encountering a toploader, your hobby experience will be much enhanced by the presence of toploaders, at least in most cases (pun intended).
Your cards will be safer, they’ll be easier to move around, and they’ll even look better.
But which are the best toploaders?
As with many questions, especially ones that involve a degree of subjectivity, the answer to that one depends on several factors. We’ll cover all of those in the space below so that you can choose the best toploaders for you and your cards, but first, let’s dig in to some basics.
Along the way, I’ll include links to Amazon listings (affiliate link) for the types of toploaders being discussed, and we’ll talk a bit more pointedly about where you can buy these to fit your needs toward the bottom of this post.
Now, let’s dig in!
(Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links to the supplies being discussed.)
What are toploaders?
When it comes to sports cards, toploaders are rigid card holders that are enclosed on three sides, leaving the top edge open for inserting a card. Hence the name: “toploaders.”
Generally speaking, a toploader card holder consists of two sheets of clear PVC attached to each other by narrow strips of spacer plastic along the two side edges and the bottom edge. Those spacer strips produce an air gap between the top and bottom sheets, creating room to slide the card in through the top.
How big are toploaders?
When considering which size toploader you need, it’s important to consider two different components: traditional card dimensions like height and width, and card thickness from front to back.
That second component may seem a bit foreign to veteran collectors. After all, in the old days of the hobby, before the advent of premium cards in the 1990s or so, pretty much all cards were basically just hunks of cardboard, with more or less the same thickness.
Today, though, cards range from that same traditional consistency, to thicker chrome cards, to even thicker memorabilia cards, to deep-dish numbers like rookie auto patch cards.
If you try to jam one of those super thick cards into a toploader made in the 1980s, you’ll skin it alive. Similarly, if you dump a 1985 Topps card into a toploader meant for one of today’s super-duper-specials, it’ll rattle around like a lonely coherent thought in my head.
Luckily, today’s baseball card supply manufacturers have kept up with the times, and with the modern card market. As such, toploaders come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
Here are some of the most prevalent and popular options along both sets of dimensions.
Toploaders: Height and Width
As mentioned above, toploaders come in a variety of height and width configurations, but these are the ones most collectors need and run into:
3″ X 4″
This is the hobby standard and the size of toploader you’ll see about 99.99% of the time (unscientific estimate alert).
Because that’s the perfect size to hold most baseball cards manufactured since 1957, which check in at 2 1/2″ X 3 1/2″ inches.
Modern 800-count and monster boxes are usually just big enough to accommodate 3″ X 4″ holders, too, so they definitely have a strong foothold as the mental image for most hobbyists when “toploaders” is mentioned.
Find 3″ X 4″ toploaders on Amazon (affiliate link)
1 7/16″ X 2 5/8″
Toploaders of this dimension come in a distant second to the standard above when it comes to prevalence in the market, but it’s the size of choice for serious tobacco card collectors. By matching up more closely to the dimensions of old-time classics like T206s and E90-1 American Caramel cards of the same era, these more diminutave holders reduce the likelihood of damaged caused by cards sliding around in larger toploaders while still making for solid display pieces.
They might save you a little space, too.
Find 1 7/16″ X 2 5/8″ toploaders on Amazon (affiliate link)
Aside from the two prevalent sizes above, toploaders come in a range of other dimensions to accommodate odd-sized cards or even non-card collectibles.. Here are other sizes you might encounter, or need:
- 6″ X 9″ – good for photos and cards up to about 5″ X 8″
- 9″ X 11-1/4″ – typically used to hold magazines or photos, depending on thickness
- 11″ X 14″ – good for larger magazines and photos, depending on thickness
- 8″ X 10″ – often used for autographed photos (or non-autographed photos)
There are plenty of other toploader sizes available, too, though supply can sometimes run a bit short for the ones with typically low demand.
Find specialty-sized toploaders on Amazon (affiliate link)
As is the case with height and width considerations, toploaders come in a fairly large range of thickness options to support the various types of cards, as we discussed briefly above.
To make the situation even more complicated, there are plenty of combinations across both dimensions, allowing you to get really specific about your toploader size from both a height-width and a thickness perspective. The possibilities sort of explode when you consider all those permutations.
For this rundown, and to simplify things just a bit, we’ll stick with the most common thicknesses used for 3″ X 5″ toploaders, which (after all) are the most prevalent in the market.
Got all that?
Cool. Here are some specs on toploader thickness:
Actually, we need to make one more clarifying (ahem) point before we can fully understand the thickness options available to us.
When it comes to measuring the depth of flat items, one “point” represents 1/1000th of an inch.
So, this first entry, the 35-point toploader, has a thickness of 35/1000ths of an inch. That may sound pretty small, but it’s just about the right size to hold a standard baseball card in place fairly firmly while also offering a large enough opening to make inserting the card fairly simple.
In fact, many collectors and card supply companies refer to the 35-point, 3″ X 5″ toploader as the “standard” model.
Consider it the plain oatmeal (or potato chip) of toploaders.
Find 35-point toploaders on Amazon (affiliate link)
So, obviously, a 55-point toploader is 20 points thicker than a 35-point toploader — that’s a bump up of about 57%, enough to comfortably accommodate today’s standard chrome-like and other premium-but-not-space-age cards.
Find 55-point toploaders on Amazon (affiliate link)
Alright, now we’re starting to get a bit more space-age in our capacity, as 100 points of thickness means a toploader can handle cards like Panini Prestige or basic jersey cards with a single layer of bling added to the base card depth.
Find 100-point toploaders on Amazon (affiliate link)
High-end base cards these days are pretty darn thick, so they require something along the lines of a 130-point toploader to get the job done. Note that there are in-between options, too, like 120-point models that can do the trick in some cases.
Find 130-point toploaders on Amazon (affiliate link)
Super-thick patches, patches on already high-end (and thick) base cards, other memorabilia cards, and the ever-upward-spiraling premiumness of today’s cards have necessitated this likewise super-thick option.
You wouldn’t want to plop your flimsy Jamie Moyer rookie card into one of these, but there is no other option for some of today’s cardboard behemoths.
Find 180-point toploaders on Amazon (affiliate link)
When Should You Use Toploaders?
Truth is, not every card needs to be in a toploader. Heck, some cards should NOT be stored toploaders at all.
And buying toploaders is not an inexpensive propsition.
So, when do you need to use toploaders? Or, at least, when should you use toploaders?
Well, toploaders are great choices for:
- cards you want to keep safe because they are valuable or special to you
- times when you’re transporting cards and want to minimize damage that might come from their shiftin in their box
- cards that you want to display flat, as on a table or wall
- adding price tags to cards, like when you’re setting up to sell at a card show
- you’re building a set and want to maintain a consistent look and storage size (there’s that “dimension” thing again) across a large number of cards
Times you may not want to put your cards in toploaders include:
- when the card is very rare or very valuable
- when the card is very common or not worth much money
- when you’re looking for an affordable storage option for a large block of cards
- when your cards are susceptible to “sticking” or coming apart — as with many “foil” cards from the 1990s
- when your card is autographed (similar “sticking” or transfer issues can arise)
- when you’want to store your cards for a very long time
That last one is a subtle but important point, because toploaders are not really great choices for true archival purposes. That’s because the PVC used to make most toploaders can break down over time and emit acid that will, in turn, break down your cards.
Where Can You Buy Toploaders?
The easy answer to this question is the same as it is for just about every other “where can you buy X?” query: Amazon.com.
Sure, it’s glib and trite, but also true — you can find just about any toploader you’d want on Amazon.
Of course, you have other options, too, like ordering directly from the companies who sell toploaders, or picking them up at local card shows or card shops.
But Amazon is the simple and easy answer, and I’ve already linked to a bunch of the specific toploader configurations above.
You can also check out the offerings from specific supply companies through Amazon, and I’ll drop those links below. First, though, a word about your brand options …
For most of this century, there have been two primary choices when it comes to buying toploaders: UltraPro and BCW. Those two are still the leaders, but there are other players on the field these days (and TitanShield in particular has stormed the field).
Product quality and perceived product quality will vary among those, so make sure to do your homework if you’re goin off-brand — outside of Ultra Pro or BCW that is. (This is another advantage of using Amazon, as the customer review are right at your fingertips.)
Alright, then, with all that out of the way, here are several brands of toploaders you can buy on Amazon right now:
(Note: These listings contain Amazon affiliate links to the products and brands being discussed.)