HOW ARE TOPPS BASEBALL CARDS MADE

The process of making Topps baseball cards begins early each year as Topps works to secure licensing agreements with Major League Baseball, the players association, and individual MLB players to produce cards featuring team logos, player likenesses and statistics. Once the licensing deals are secured, Topps designers and artists get to work on conceptualizing the design and visual themes for the upcoming season’s set of cards.

Factors like the previous year’s popular players, Teams that had playoff success, rookie players joining the league, and major storylines from the prior season all influence the creative direction for the new cards. The designers will create conceptual artwork featuring potential card designs, photos that could be used, templates for the front and back of cards and ideas for special parallel or insertion card designs that may be included.

After the conceptual design phase, photographers begin working to capture the necessary images of players, teams and stadiums that will be needed for the various cards. High quality action shots of the players batting, pitching and fielding are taken, as well as posed portrait shots. Stadium photographs are also captured to feature on team logo or stadium cards. All of the photography has to be completed before spring training to stay on schedule for production.

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With the design and photography work completed, Topps then works with MLB to obtain the official stats from the prior season to include on the back of each player card. Data like batting average, home runs, RBI’s and career stats are all compiled for each active player. Meanwhile, Topps production teams begin preparing the manufacturing facilities and ordering the necessary paper, ink and other materials needed to efficiently mass produce the hundreds of millions of cards that will be in each new release.

When the design, photos and stats are all finalized, the artwork is then sent electronically to overseas production plants in countries like China, Korea and India where the thousands of printing plates that will stamp the images onto the cards are made. The paper stock ordered by Topps arrives at the plants and is cut down into the standard card sizes. The printing plates are used to apply the front image of each unique card onto the paper through large sheet-fed presses.

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After being printed, the cards move through an automated process where the backs are imprinted with the stats and design. Next, quality control teams manually inspect random samples to check for defects before the cards are sorted by the unique code printed on the back that identifies each player or variation. They are then packed into the sportscard wax packs and boxes that collectors are familiar with. Additional packaging like outer displays, fat packs and special promotional boxes are also assembled.

From there, the finished wax packs and boxes of cards are shipped by boat or plane back to Topps’ US distribution centers where they undergo another quality check before being transported to the major retail stores and hobby shops where customers will purchase them. Topps also oversees additional marketing, promotions and exclusive limited edition card releases to drive excitement for the new season’s collectibles among fans.

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This is just a high-level look at the extensive process required to develop, manufacture and distribute Topps’ MLB trading cards from start to finish each year. With intense deadlines, huge production volumes and stringent licensing agreements, Topps has perfected an efficient system over decades to ensure fans worldwide can enjoy collecting the modern staple of the baseball card hobby leading into each new MLB season.

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