by Reuben Bresler
As collectibles become more, well, collectible, the myriad methods for keeping those precious pieces of paraphernalia clean and undamaged have evolved. But even as the technology for card sleeves, binder pages, and acrylic cases has improved, some of the classics persist to this day. And such is the case with Toploaders, the absolute gold standard for protecting cards and collectibles.
Toploaders are the gold standard for protection of paper collectibles, so much so that most grading companies (like PSA or Beckett) require Toploaders for any shipments coming in for grading. You’d be hard pressed to find any gaming store worth their salt without a few prized possessions residing in top loader-style card holders, either in a glass display case or slated in longboxes behind the counter.
Ultra PRO has been the go-to brand for collectible accessories for 70 years for good reason: the consistency, durability, uniformity, and beauty of all of the things we make. And our lines of Toploaders and Toploader accessories specially designed to protect thick cards and collectibles are no different.
What Are Toploaders?
Toploaders are durable, rigid or semi-rigid plastic card cases that are engineered to enclose trading cards in order to keep them clean and protected from the elements while preventing most types of damage. While “penny sleeves” might prevent some dirt and smudging, a thin layer of pliable plastic will not stand up to the more aggressive wear and tear a card might face in its lifetime. Even storage in a longbox for an extended period of time will lead to some amount of exposure to hazards like dust, and usage of Toploaders significantly minimizes that risk. Toploaders operate like very skinny topless boxes, almost like an ammo box without a lid; they have thin but flat sides so as to not damage the cards slid into them, and are most often made from PVC rather than flimsy floppy plastics for even better armor protection.
How Toploaders Protect your Collectibles
Toploaders offer protection in a few simple but important ways. The first is the strong and relatively thick barrier it provides to the front and back of the collectible. Rigid or semi-rigid plastic offers greater protection from outside elements. In addition, the edges provide a safe housing for the corners and edges. Finally, the durable makeup of the PVC prevents most outside microparticles like dust and dirt.
What is the difference between Sleeves and Toploaders?
Both trading card toploaders and protective sleeves have an important role to play in the security and safety of your card storage. A toploader provides an outer layer of protection thanks to a semi-rigid or rigid PVC construction, while a traditional protective sleeve is made of much lighter and more flexible plastic. Both feature in protecting standard size cards, with the soft sleeves inside the hard exterior toploader providing two layers of protection. Additionally, toploaders tend to be slightly larger than standard protective sleeves; a traditional soft sleeve will formfit to sports trading cards or gaming cards, while Ultra PRO toploaders can most often be found in 3”x4” size.
Sleeving with Thick Toploaders is a MUST!
In much the same way an armored knight needs a gambeson or a boxer tapes their knuckles, it is recommended to protect the card while it is inside the Toploader as well. To that end, it is recommended that collectors slide their precious cards and collectibles into a protective sleeve, like a penny sleeve or another polypropylene sleeve, first before sliding them into their Toploaders. This methodology not only prevents the card from coming into contact with the acidic PVC, which can rub against the card and yellow over time but it also adds an additional layer of protection against dirt, dust, and grime that can occur when in storage or simply when sitting on a shelf waiting for the right buyer.
Toploader Variations and Uses
Toploaders from Ultra PRO come in packs of 5-200, depending on size and style. Ultra PRO has been in the business of protecting collectibles since 1952, and over those 70 years our company has been entrusted with millions of pieces of precious memorabilia, from vintage rookie cards and other thick cards to family heirlooms. The Toploaders from Ultra PRO are amongst clearest on the market, and come in a few distinct varieties, and some are more heavy duty than others. They may only vary by a few microns, but those microns add up over the course of hundreds or thousands of individual cards. Ultimately, the type of Toploader you select depends most on personal preference.
What Size Toploaders Are There?
The most regularly used Toploader on the market today is our aptly-named Regular Toploader, which is made with 305 micron clear PVC with hand-glued edges. This is the industry standard, and has been the Toploader used by generations of collectors for everything from baseball cards to ticket stubs. Ultra PRO’s Regular Toploader is a product that has been entrusted by thousands of collectors worldwide, and will keep your cards pristine for decades.
One rung up in prestige is Ultra PRO’s Premium Toploader; 381 microns and featuring even clearer PVC, Premium Toploaders are just that much more improved on the technology. These Toploaders are slightly thicker and therefore have a different feel than the Regular Toploaders. Recommended for higher-end collectibles, these Toploaders are ready to stand up to stringent testing and most anything a collector would throw at them.
The next evolution is the Ultra PRO Platinum Toploader, which builds upon the technology of the Regular and Premium versions but adds even further in their production quality for maximum clarity. On top of that improvement, these 356 micron thick Toploaders also improve on the edge technology for improved longevity, featuring glue-free casted sealings and a smoother outer edge than their predecessors. These Toploaders are truly the pinnacle of protection available for your precious collectibles.
Finally, the most specialized member of the Toploader line of products at Ultra PRO are the Specialty & Oversized Toploaders. Similar in build to the Regular Toploaders, featuring 305 micron thickness and the tried-and-true seams and edges, these Toploaders can be ordered in larger sizes for things like Pokemon cards, ticket stubs, Planechase or Vanguard cards from Magic: The Gathering, K-Pop photos, maps, flags, pennants, comics, currency, magazines, autographed photographs, or even old wedding invitations!
Storing Toploaders Safely
Once you have all of your collectibles safely and snugly stored in toploaders and protective sleeves, now you need to store them in an organized and clean manner! To that end, Ultra PRO offers a few products that work well with Toploaders. The first is Toploader Boxes, polypropylene boxes similar to our 100+ deck boxes that are clear and sized to store between 10 and 35 Regular Toploaders. Another excellent option is PRO-Storage: 3-Drawer Organizer; Each package includes one stackable unit of 3 drawers, and each drawer holds about 150 Regular 35pt Toploaders. Two of these units can be stacked on top of each other and fit perfectly in a Kallax Cube Shelf from IKEA. Lastly, for collectors on the go, there are Secured Toploader Pages. These pages are able to store 4 Toploaders on each page, with flaps that come down to secure the top of the pocket to ensure cards do not escape during transit.
A full safety system for storing collectibles is the only way to best guarantee the overall security of precious cargo. From the innermost sleeve inside the Toploader to the outermost carrying case or storage box that houses your collectibles, every step along the way adds another layer of protection to maintain the integrity and quality of the objects inside. This also can include the location where you store your collectibles; maintaining a safe and dry environment away from harsh light or other external factors is another important step towards longevity.
Loading and Unloading Toploaders
Getting gaming cards into a topload card holder is not a hard task. Typically, your pre-sleeved thick cards will slide gently into the Toploader, perhaps requiring a few gentle taps to drop the card to the bottom. Once inside the Toploader with a protective sleeve, the card or collectible is well protected from outside interference and damage, and can stand up to most forms of contact. Which is ideal for protecting all of your cardboard gold!
Getting cards safely out of a Toploader is a slightly trickier proposition, and requires some amount of patience. The most common method is to pinch the sides of the top loader until an eye-shaped opening is made, which allows you to get your fingers in to grasp the card and gently pull it out. Another method requires the gentle tapping method from before, only this time to jiggle the card loose from the bottom of the Toploader. As a note: under no circumstances should tools like tweezers be used, as it’s significantly more likely to cause damage than to ease extrication. It can be tempting, especially if under a time crunch, but patience is the name of the game. The best method for pulling a card out of a Toploader is the slowest one!
Is there a Toploader Shortage?
In short, there is no shortage of trading card toploaders (at least in Ultra PRO’s case). While the popularity and demand for toploaders has increased in the last half decade, the supply has been mostly met by the demand. Supply chain issues and the price of petroleum are among the issues that can have an impact on the accessibility of toploaders, but those variables have not led to anything that could reasonably be described as a shortage. This is especially the case for Ultra PRO trading card toploaders, which are currently available at normal rates to help protect your Yu-Gi-Oh cards, Pokemon cards, MTG cards, sports trading cards, and collectibles of all kinds.
As the prices and interest in collectibles like trading cards has increased through the last few years, so too has the demand for Toploaders. Add to this the increased demand for PVC and the occasional issues with supply chains, Toploaders are a hot commodity in and of themselves. And it’s no wonder why; if your collectibles are your prized possessions, shouldn’t you invest in giving them the protection they require to stay fresh as long as possible?
In short, Toploaders have been a featured part of Ultra PRO’s line of collectible accessories for longer than almost anything else we offer. If you’re serious about keeping your cards and collectibles in mint condition, there is no better solution than investing in them by protecting them with Toploaders from Ultra PRO International!