Courier's Briefcase - Illustration by Josu Hernaiz

Courier's Briefcase | Illustration by Josu Hernaiz

As a homebody who loves brewing new Commander decks and collecting the latest Magic sets, I love to trade MTG cards online. Whether through Cardsphere or the now defunct PucaTrade, I’ve been sending and receiving cards in the mail for almost a decade. If you’ve ever dabbled in this space, you’ll know the most important part of online buying, selling, and trading is to make sure your cards arrive safe and secured!

Hard card sleeves and toploaders are the main way to ensure your cards stay in good condition during transit, and using them is a clear indication to your buyer or trader that you value them as a customer or fellow player. While hard sleeves tend to be somewhat interchangeable, let’s see if we can pick out a few products that stand out above the competition.

Best Overall

Cold Case Cracker - Illustration by Wayne Wu

Cold Case Cracker | Illustration by Wayne Wu

Ultra PRO’s known for its high-quality products in the Magic community, like card sleeves, deck boxes, and playmats, and most people using toploaders are probably familiar with their product. The Ultra PRO toploader is the standardized version of this item, and these usually cover your sending needs when it comes to trading card games.

Ultra PRO Toploader 3x4

These are 3” x 4” clear hard plastic toploaders, which should fit card sizes for all the most popular TCGs. For reference, most trading cards are a standard 2.5” x 3.5”, though some games like Yu-Gi-Oh! and Cardfight!! Vanguard have slightly smaller dimensions. It seems adding some exclamation marks to the name of your TCG shrinks your card size, but Ultra PRO toploaders are still compatible with those games.

Toploaders are also fairly inexpensive, though like most hard card sleeves, they’re really only sold in bulk. You can buy them from Ultra PRO’s website in 25ct, 35ct, and above, depending on your needs. It’s worth noting that if you plan to do a lot of back-and-forth trading, perhaps through Cardsphere or Deckbox, you’ll be receiving toploaders from other traders some amount of the time, so you don’t need to buy them quite as often as you would if you were only selling cards.

You can also find these in most big-name retail stores like Walmart or Target, though I’m aware there have been restock issues with toploaders in the past.

Ultra Pro 3" X 4" Clear Regular Toploader 25ct Top Loaders for Cards Baseball Card Protectors Hard Plastic Sleeves
  • Protect your valuable collectible trading cards with the original Ultra PRO top loader. Our hard plastic card sleeves are the industry standard in card protectors.
  • These rigid hard plastic protectors are made with super clear PVC to keep your cards safe for storage, display, during trade, and in shipments.
  • With outer dimensions of 3" x 4", these toploaders are designed to safely store standard size cards (2-1/2" x 3-1/2") up to 35 points in thickness.
  • Whether you are making a trading card holder or the ultimate sports card binder, Ultra Pro sheets are the industry standard in trading card protectors.
  • TIME TESTED: Since 1952 Ultra Pro has been the leading manufacturer and supplier of collectible trading card albums, cases & trading card sleeves. Our brand is known for high quality, innovation and customer service.

Buyer’s Guide

The only elements that matter for toploaders are size and durability. Aesthetics don’t matter much for this product all that much, and some of these can get dingy or worn out over time depending on how many hands they pass through.

In terms of size, there are two things you need to consider. First, and most obvious: Do your cards fit inside the sleeve? This shouldn’t be an issue, since any self-respecting company producing these products will ensure their sleeve is large enough to hold most standard-sized trading cards. Thickness also matters. Are you planning to ship one card at a time, or 15 in a single order? A single Ultra PRO toploader can fit a single card perfectly, even up to three or four if you’re diligent, but there’s no way you’re jamming 15 cards in a toploader and getting that across the country safely. Some toploaders have thicker openings to hold more cards, which you’ll want to consider for larger shipments.

Durability’s a no-brainer, though most card sleeves pass this category. Hard plastic tends to remain intact for quite some time unless you’re forcing too many cards inside of it. Toploaders can snap and break, at which point it’s best not to use them. Some cardboard options are sturdy enough, but they tend to wear down after just a few shipments and have less longevity as they become less durable over time.

Quick note: No matter what kind of toploader or sleeve you go with, you should always make sure the openings are sealed off. That usually means putting a small piece of tape over the opening, though you don’t have to go overboard with this. Just make sure the cards can’t fall out, and make sure the cards don’t touch the tape! As a rule of thumb, your cards should always be in some sort of clear plastic sleeve within the larger, hard plastic sleeve. The person receiving the cards will thank you!

The “Cadillac” of Hard Card Sleeves/Toploaders

Card bricks

Card bricks are slightly larger plastic cases that open like a standard wallet and shut with a clasp to keep them secure. In my opinion, these are the try-hard way to send cards through the mail and are mostly unnecessary compared to a standard toploader.

Despite being bulky, they don’t actually fit that many cards, and the cards tend to jostle around inside unless the brick is filled to the max. Additionally, the clasp that keeps the case shut isn’t very secure, and simply dropping it is likely enough for it to pop open and scatter the cards inside.

Add in the fact that these tend to be more expensive, and you’re looking at a product you need a very specific reason to buy. These are probably fine as display cases or something you’re intending for personal use, but I’d recommend avoiding these for postal shipping. I’ve seen players who keep their commanders separated into card bricks as a way to highlight them.

UTCTBC Cards Sleeves Top Loaders 10 Hard Acrylic Card Protector Clear Card Brick + 2 Display Stand Fit for Trading Cards,Standard Sports Cards,Baseball Card Holder Cases Collectibles White
  • Material:UTCTBC Our card sleeves is acrylic material, transparent and drop-proof, HD display,UV barrier to reduce light exposure.
  • Include: you will get 10 pieces of card holders in the package, 2 Display Stand,Our plastic card protector can store, display your collectible trading cards like baseball cards, cartoon cards, basketball cards, football cards, hockey cards, and more
  • Easy to bring:Our baseball card holder smart design allows you to bring it along in your pocket, handbag, briefcase without bending or adding any burdens.
  • Size: The size of each card protector is approximately :3.7*2.6 inch UTCTBC
  • No matter before you buy it or after you buy it, we are always ready to help you, any question or problem, contact us. Any quality problem will get a satisfying solution.

Best Budget Hard Card Sleeves/Toploaders

Shipping Shields

Shipping Shields

I love these Shipping Shields, though they have their pros and cons. They’re affordable if bought in bulk, and I appreciate that their website has an option to send you a single free Shipping Shield as a trial.

These have plastic alternatives, but the standard Shipping Shield is a folded cardboard sleeve with a tab that opens and closes at the top. They’re durable, and they have enough room to expand and fit more cards than the typical toploader. They can easily fit between 5-10 cards as opposed to a plastic toploader’s capacity of 2-4 cards. Their structure also means you don’t need to use tape to secure your cards, and the less tape the better.

Shipping Shield Prices

The only real issue with Shipping Shields is their reusability. You can definitely send them back and forth a decent number of times, but they do wear down over time, especially the ones with an adhesive flap, which will rip the cardboard when it’s opened. Still, you can get 200 of these for just under $30, which I’d recommend if you plan on sending small orders of about 10 cards at a time. If you only intend to send one card on any given trade or sale, stick to a normal plastic toploader.

Semi-Rigid Card Holders

BCW Semi Rigid

Most toploaders and card holders are made of firm plastic, but there are also larger, semi-rigid card holders that work just as well. These are usually bigger and more pliable, so they can fit more cards inside than a typical toploader. That said, they can bend with enough force and their opening can be a bit loose, so you’ll have to use tape to seal it off.

I find these are a nice alternative to rigid toploaders, with the downside that they don’t fit into deck boxes quite as easily and take up more room in an envelope. You can find them from several different companies, with BCW as an example that sells packs of 50 for $5.99.

BCW Semi Rigid Card Holder - 50 ct Trading Card Sleeves | PSA, BGS, SGC & CSG Grading Submission Sleeves for Cards | Sports Card, MTG Card Sleeves, Pokemon Card - Save or Grade!
  • Superior Protection: BCW Semi-Rigid Card Holders offer unparalleled protection for your cards. Made from high-quality, stationary-grade PVC, our holders ensure that your cards remain safe from harm, unlike other card sleeves that contain harmful plasticizers and stearates
  • Convenient and Time-Saving: Our deluxe holders are a real time-saver, making it easy to organize and protect your cards. Whether you're a collector or a dealer, our semi-rigid holders offer a convenient and efficient way to store and transport your cards
  • Versatile Usage: The #1 Semi Rigid holder is not just perfect for grading cards, but also for small personal documents like social security cards, immunization and vaccination cards, mini-diplomas, and more. With its sturdy construction, you can be assured that your important documents will remain safe and secure
  • Unmatched Quality: BCW Semi-Rigid Card Holders are made from the highest-quality materials, ensuring that your cards and documents are protected from damage. Our holders contain no plasticizers or stearates, meaning they will not harm your cards over time
  • Trustworthy Brand: BCW has been a trusted name in the industry for over 30 years, and our Semi-Rigid Card Holders are no exception. Our customers have come to expect the highest quality products and we consistently deliver on that promise. With BCW, you can trust that your cards and documents are in good hands

Custom Hard Card Sleeves/Toploaders

Toploaders aren’t exactly the type of item people get creative with, especially since their main use is to give them away to others. You can probably find toploaders with custom illustrations on them if you wanted to use one as a display case of sorts, but that’s an unnecessary extra layer of complexity for something you’re usually just shipping out in the mail.

Wrap Up

Encase in Ice - Illustration by Mathias Kollros

Encase in Ice | Illustration by Mathias Kollros

Most toploaders and hard plastic card sleeves are fairly interchangeable, especially if your goal is to ship cards to other players. While they each have their own individual advantages, I’m quite fond of the tried-and-true Ultra PRO toploaders, though you may need to make adjustments depending on the value and quantities of cards you’re shipping.

If you’ve purchased cards from an online retailer before, you’ve probably received one of the items listed here to try for yourself. They’re all effective, so long as you’re taking the proper precautions to make sure the cards you’re packing are safe and secure. Trust me, it goes a long way toward making your customer or fellow trader feel appreciated and valued!

Do you do a lot of online trading, or do you have a preferred method of shipping/storing cards? Let me know in the Draftsim Discord or on Draftsim's Twitter/X!

As always, thanks for making Draftsim your #1 stop for all things Magic!

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