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How to degloss your cards to make them autograph-ready

When I was a kid you could walk into any convenience store and get a pack of Topps baseball cards for fifty cents. In those days there were no autograph inserts or game-used swatches. Heck, cards weren’t even glossy.

Well, as you know, that all changed in the early 90s when card companies entered something of an arms race to see who could come up with the most desirable “premium” cards (Topps Finest, Stadium Club, Flair, anyone?). With the exception of a few sets, today’s most basic cards still come with a glossy sheen which can be problematic for autograph collectors.

You see, gloss and Sharpie is like oil and water, they don’t mix well together. The last thing you want to see is a tough-to-get graph start to bubble because the marker isn’t sticking to the card. Fortunately, it’s a simple process to make your cards autograph-ready.

What you’ll need: Pentel Clic Eraser (or comparable)

Step 1: Rub the surface area of the card with the eraser for about 15 seconds, using medium pressure (you are trying to remove the top layer of gloss without damaging the card). Use your finger or a cloth to remove any eraser remnants from the card.

That’s it, just one step and you’re done!

Here is a side-by-side comparison of an untouched card and one which has been treated—the difference is clear. (NOTE: I have printed the player names on the cards for demonstration purposes.)

A comparison of an untreated and treated card

The signature on the untreated card (left) has bubbled and bled. The treated card (right) holds a crisp, clear autograph.

Tip: Some cards have a matte finish or a light coat of gloss and don’t need to be prepped. How can you be sure? Sacrifice a common from the same set and give it a test scribble.

I’ve seen other techniques used to prep cards, from applying baby powder to using your finger to rub off the gloss. I think the method outlined above will work well for you and it’s easy to do while you’re out in the field (unlike the powder).

How do you prep your cards?

About the author: is the founder of Autograph University. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and two sons. Connect with him on Twitter at @mattraymond.

10 comments… add one

  • Doug May 5, 2011, 11:08 am

    Heard there was also a trick with baby powder. Never tried it but your eraser trick sounds easier and a lot less messy!

  • Matt Raymond May 5, 2011, 6:06 pm

    There is — you sprinkle it over your cards and wipe it right off. More mess but perhaps a quicker method to prep a large volume of cards at once.

  • Bill May 17, 2011, 9:29 am

    I use this eraser and it has never let me down to date: Pentel Hi-Polymer® Latex Free Eraser
    I use it on every card bound for a signature, even some regular card surfaces can hold some gloss or contaminant. Less mess and easy to carry
    http://www.staples.com/Pentel-Hi-Polymer-Latex-Free-Eraser-Each/product_500512?cmArea=SEARCH

  • Matt Raymond May 19, 2011, 9:34 am

    Thanks for the tip Bill!

  • richard October 18, 2011, 7:06 am

    HEY Matt i’m bidding on a Bobby Doerr baseball cards I’m going to degloss it thx for the tips

  • Matt Raymond October 18, 2011, 7:52 am

    Happy to help!

  • George Marinos September 3, 2015, 3:30 pm

    Looking for a little advice, Matt. I know the point of the eraser or baby powder is to de gloss the cards, but I am wondering if I am doing something wrong. Every time I prep a card using either method, the cards aren’t shiny anymore. This wouldn’t be a problem, except when I tilt the cards into the sun, there are streaks on the surface of the card. As long as I look straight at the cards, I can’t see the streaks, however, they are disconcerting to me and make me feel like I am getting a less than mint item signed. Drives my OCD crazy.

  • Matt Raymond January 20, 2016, 9:03 pm

    I understand the dilemma – since you’re removing the gloss to make the surface more autograph-friendly you’re altering the card itself.

  • brian June 19, 2016, 3:23 am

    Hey george,
    I have ocd as well. What I do to even the streak is to also buy a long rectangle art acrylic eraser then go over it flat in two streaks across where I erased. It ends up making one streak but easy to rub out with a finger if done correctly. May take a couple tries but I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it. Works like a charm :)

  • Ethan March 17, 2017, 2:53 pm

    Does the card’s surface stay autographable for days or does it fade quickly?

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