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The earliest recognized form of baseball cards were printed in the late 1870s, however, they were not mass produced like modern baseball cards. In 1869, the American Publishing Company produced a set of cigarette trading cards called “Trade Cards” as promotional items inserted into tobacco products. These cards featured notable personalities and events from 1869 and included some early baseball players like George Wright and Harry Wright. They were more biographical in nature and not focused solely on baseball. Most historians credit the Tobacco Card era as the beginning of modern baseball cards given their mass production and distribution method of inserting cards in cigarette and tobacco products.

The first true baseball card set was produced in 1888 and was called the “Old Judge” cigarette card series issued by the American Tobacco Company. This set featured individual cards solely dedicated to baseball players in their uniforms. Some of the names included in that pioneering 88-card set were Jim O’Rourke, Cap Anson, Dan Brouthers, Hugh Duffy and Tim Keefe. The cards were printed on thick cardstock and measured about 2×3 inches. They featured individual players in action poses and helped promote the popularity of both baseball and the tobacco products the cards were included with. This marked the first time baseball players were featured specifically on individually dedicated trading cards inserted as premiums in tobacco products.

In 1890, Goodwin & Company produced another pioneering baseball card set called the “Allen & Ginter” series. Like the Old Judge cards, these cards were also included randomly in packs of cigarettes and featured color lithographed individual portraits of baseball players in uniforms. This colorful 86-card set helped baseball cards really take off in popularity as collectors began avidly seeking to complete sets. Some of the players included were Buck Ewing, Eddie Grant and Kid Nichols. In 1891, two additional tobacco manufacturers – Mayo Cut Plug and Peck Cigarettes – began producing their own baseball card sets as premiums to compete with Allen & Ginter in the emerging baseball card collecting hobby.

From the 1890s onwards, nearly every major tobacco manufacturer released annual or semi-annual baseball card sets as premiums to boost tobacco sales. This ushered in the golden age of tobacco era baseball cards which lasted up until the 1950s. Many early star players like Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb first appeared on cards during this time period. The inserts became highly anticipated by collectors every year. Some significant early 20th century issues included T206 (1909-1911), E90 (1911), M101-1 Thoroughbreds (1912), C50 Cabinets (1912), and Napolean Dynamite Cigarettes (1914). Production was suspended during World War 1 and World War 2, but picked back up each time.

In the postwar 1950s, baseball card production moved away from tobacco sets due to declining cigarette sales and health concerns. Topps gained control of the baseball card market and began annually issuing large wax-packed sets from 1952 onwards. These hit cards went beyond tobacco-era basreliefs and began including more statistic and baseball action photography. Although tobacco sets still had occasional niche issues, Topps became the dominant force. They established the modern baseball card format of annual wax-packed issues that remains essentially the same today. While tobacco cards kicked off the entire baseball memorabilia collecting hobby dating back to the late 1880s, Topps took it to new heights and kept it thriving for generations of young collectors.

The very first baseball cards emerged in the late 1870s and were loose-leaf premiumed inserts. The organized early sets widely recognized to have kicked off the modern baseball card collecting era were the 1888 Old Judge and 1890 Allen & Ginter tobacco issues. For over 50 golden years, tobacco manufacturers annually issued colorful illustrated baseball cards as premiums, becoming a beloved part of the national pastime. In the 1950s, Topps revolutionized the modern format and took over production, ensuring cards remained a crucial connecting point between the sport and its vast fanbase. Today, those pioneering tobacco cards remain some of the most prized possessions in the collections of both dealers and everyday fans alike.


In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Topps’ original baseball card sets were printed by various printers located in Brooklyn, New York where the Topps headquarters was based at the time. Some of the earliest Topps cards from 1938-1948 were printed by the Ideal Novelty & Card Company and Schumin Web Offset located in Brooklyn. These printers helped Topps launch its baseball card business and early sets featured simple designs printed using basic lithographic techniques.

As Topps grew in popularity and production volume increased through the 1950s, they expanded printing operations to other cities while also upgrading equipment and techniques. In the 1950s, Topps began using multiple printers around the country to meet rising demand, including Art Printing Company in Cleveland, Ohio and Piedmont Printing Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was during this decade that Topps also began using four-color process printing to introduce colorful photographs on its cards for the first time, moving beyond simpler spot color designs of earlier years.

In the 1960s, Topps consolidated more of its printing to larger commercial printers with state-of-the-art multi-color lithographic capabilities. Some of the major printers that produced Topps baseball cards in this decade included Bowen Press in Philadelphia, Nolan Printing Company in Seattle, and Campbell Printing Company in San Jose, California. These printers helped Topps achieve photographic quality and consistent multi-color reproduction needed for the detailed player images and colorful card designs of the 1960s.

As the 1970s arrived, Topps was producing billions of baseball cards annually and its printing operations grew enormously. The company was using over a dozen different printers across the United States to meet mass production demands. Some of the largest printers for Topps in the 1970s included American Banknote Company in New York City, Dart Container Corporation in Mason, Michigan, and Exhibitors Poster Exchange in Indianapolis. These mega printing plants were able to produce Topps baseball cards on an industrial scale.

In the 1980s and 1990s, as competition increased from Fleer and later Upper Deck, Topps further upgraded printing techniques and partnered with the most advanced commercial printers. Major printers producing Topps baseball cards in this period included Canadian Bank Note Company in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and American Printing Company in Lakeland, Florida. These printers helped Topps adopt the latest multi-color offset lithographic and photographic reproduction to achieve sharper card images than ever before.

Since the 2000s, Topps has consolidated most of its baseball card printing to just a few specialized printers with enormous capacities. The largest printers currently producing the majority of Topps baseball cards are Canadian Bank Note Company, Press Ganey Associates in South Bend, Indiana, and Phoenix Color Corporation in Hampshire, Illinois. These state-of-the-art printing facilities employ sophisticated 10-12 color offset lithography, foil stamping, and digital techniques to ensure quality and consistency across billions of Topps baseball cards printed annually in massive runs.

Over the past 80+ years Topps has utilized dozens of commercial printers across North America to produce its famous baseball card sets. As technology advanced, Topps consolidated more printing to larger specialized plants capable of meeting increasing high volume demands through industrial scale production. Today just a handful of the most advanced commercial printers in the United States and Canada produce the vast majority of annually released Topps baseball cards to distribute worldwide. Topps continues improving reproduction quality while maintaining precise historical standards through these leading printing partners.


The process of printing baseball cards is quite intricate and involves several steps. It all begins with designing and creating the artwork that will appear on the card. Baseball card companies employ graphic designers who work with photographers, videographers, and illustrators to develop the visual elements of each card. This usually includes a photo of the player in action as well as graphics displaying their stats and other relevant information.

Once the artwork is complete, it needs to be uploaded and prepared for printing. Designers will use desktop publishing software to lay out the cards digitally. They determine specifics like image and text placement, colors, fonts, and more. The finished digital file is then sent to the printing facility ready for mass production.

Modern baseball cards are most often printed using a process called lithography. This involves transferring the card designs from the digital plates or films onto printing plates. The plates are made of aluminum and coated with a photosensitive surface. They are exposed to ultraviolet light through a high-resolution film of the card image, which chemically transfers the design onto the plate.

Multiple printing plates are used for each color that will be on the card, usually 4-6 different colors including cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The plates are mounted onto large printing presses. The first color, usually cyan as the lightest hue, is applied first using a wet ink application roller. An impression roller then transfers the inked image from the plate onto sheets of thick paper stock specially designed for trading cards.

The paper then goes through the press multiple times, with a different color plate and ink applied during each pass through. After application of all the colors, the prints are dryed using powerful heating elements. At this stage the ink is fully cured and bonded to the paper surface. Quality control checks are made to ensure proper registration and color accuracy across every print.

The full printed sheets then go through an automatic cutting machine that die cuts them into individual card shapes. Modern equipment can cut hundreds of cards per minute from a single sheet. Occasionally there may be foil stamping, embossing, or other specialty enhancements added at this stage as well.

After cutting, a final quality check is performed where samples are visually and mechanically inspected. Approved cards are then sorted intoPACKAGES BY player, team, or inserted autograph/relic odds. The packaged cards move to a fulfillment center where individual packs and boxes are assembled along with enclosure materials for final retail distribution and sale.

This completes the technical print production process. From digital design to finished packaged cards ready for eager collectors represents a complex workflow employing sophisticated equipment, knowledgeable operators, and rigorous quality procedures. Doing it at scale to meet massive consumer demand for the latest baseball card releases each season is quite an undertaking.


Custom baseball cards have become very popular in recent years as technology has advanced, making it easier than ever for fans to design and print their own unique baseball card creations. Whether you want to commemorate a special season or player, create cards for a fantasy league, or just have some fun with card design, getting custom baseball cards printed is a great hobby that baseball fans of all ages can enjoy.

There are several different options available today for having custom baseball cards printed. One of the most basic methods is simply designing the cards yourself on cardstock paper and printing them at home on an inkjet or laser printer. While this allows for the most control over the design process, the quality may not be as high as professionally printed cards. The edges won’t be cut cleanly and the paper stock used for home printing is often not as thick or durable as true baseball card stock.

For higher quality results, many online retailers and custom card companies offer printing services. They provide digital templates that allow you to input stats, photos, and customize the design elements. You then upload the finished file and place an order for a set number of cards to be printed on authentic trading card paper stock using industrial printing presses. The edges will be cut cleanly and the cards will have a true baseball card feel when held.

Print quality is usually very high, though some services may offer different paper and finish options that can affect the final look and feel slightly. Photo clarity and color accuracy is generally excellent. Most services have options for standard size cards, mini cards, or larger display cards. Common paper stocks used are similar to what the major card companies use, ranging from a basic coated stock up to ultra-glossy photo stock for maximum image pop.

Pricing varies depending on the service, number of cards ordered, stock/finish selected, and any extra features like magnetic sheets. But in general, a basic run of 50 standard size cards printed on coated stock can often be done for $30-50. Larger quantities see the per card prices drop significantly. Some services also offer add-ons like boxes, binders, or holograms to really take the custom cards to the next level.

When designing the cards, most services provide templates in common card layouts that include the standard stats and spaces for photos. But many also have fully customizable templates that allow complete control over content placement, fonts, colors, and more advanced design options. Photos can be uploaded in high resolution for sharp reproduction. Stats are entered manually or imported from databases.

Creative people have come up with all sorts of unique and fun ideas beyond just standard baseball stats and photos. Fantasy leagues, retro redesigns, special event commemoratives, and tribute cards to favorite players past and present are all popular themes. Some even get artistic adding their own drawings, sketches or graphic elements. The only real limits are your imagination and design skills.

Once the cards are printed, it’s time to show them off! Many people put together sets in magnetic or hard plastic sheets to store and display the full collection. Some even get the cards professionally graded and slabbed like authentic vintage cards. Others trade and swap with friends or post photos online to share their creations. Tournaments and contests using the custom cards are another engaging way to enjoy them.

Having custom baseball cards printed is a very rewarding hobby. It allows fans to design keepsakes that celebrate their favorite players, teams and baseball memories in a tangible format. The ability to get high quality, professionally printed cards means these creations can feel just as authentic and special as the real trading cards of years past. Whether you go all out on a large commissioned set or just print up a few for fun, custom baseball cards are a unique way for any fan to put their stamp on the great game of baseball.


The history of printed baseball cards stretches back over 130 years. Some of the earliest forms of baseball cards date back to the late 1800s when American Tobacco Company started including cards featuring baseball players in their cigarette packs and cartons as a promotional item. These early baseball cards were primarily trade cards rather than sought-after collectibles.

In the early 1900s, multiple candy and chewing gum companies like American Caramel Company and Goudey Gum Company started producing different series of baseball cards and including them in their products. These cards tended to be thinner and printed on lower quality paper compared to modern cards. Printing technology was also more limited at the time. They helped drive interest among children and established baseball cards as a popular promotional method.

It was during the 1930s and 1940s that printed baseball cards truly started catching on as valued collectibles. Production quality improved alongside cheaper printing techniques developed between World War I and World War II. Memorably, the 1933 Goudey Baseball Gum and the 1934-37 Play Ball sets featured colorful portraits of major league stars on thicker cardboard stock. Stars of the era like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams gained wider exposure and allure through these sets. Meanwhile, production volumes soared to meet burgeoning demand.

The post-WWII era was a golden age for printed baseball cards. In 1948, Bowman Gum released the highly popular and expansive set that is considered one of the finest in the modern era. Their cards utilized vivid color portraits and statistical information on the back. Topps Chewing Gum also entered the market in 1951 and acquired exclusive rights to baseball players’ likenesses for their iconic sets that ran continuously until 1981 when a players’ strike impacted the baseball card industry.

In the 1950s and 60s, Topps released highly collectible high-quality sets on a yearly basis, cementing their status as the top brand. Their cards have been endlessly reprinted and counterfeited ever since due to their popularity among both old and new collectors. Stars of the time like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax achieved a kind of fame and mystique through their colorful Topps incarnations. This timeframe is also considered the “golden age of television” as baseball gained wider viewership, fueling increased collecting of the beautiful accompanying cards.

The 1970s saw the rise of other notable competitors like Fleer and Donruss challenging Topps’ dominance through innovative unlicensed sets. These additions sparked greater competition, expanded production, and introduced sought-after rookie cards forfuture Hall of Famers like George Brett. The rise of strong regional brands in the 1980s like Sportflics and Score also helped diversify the burgeoning multimillion-dollar hobby. During this period, card companies started experimenting with novel production techniques, insert sets, and oddball promotions.

In the modern era from the 1990s onward, printed baseball cards have become an enormous multibillion-dollar industry driven by speculators, investors, memorabilia retailers, online auction sites, and passionate collectors worldwide. Card manufacturers like Upper Deck emerged as serious competitors to Topps. Innovations included the introduction of refractors, parallels, autographs, and memorabilia cards with exciting new marketing strategies. Modern stars like Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter attained global popularity and financial success also due to their collectible baseball cards.

The internet revolutionized how cards are collected, discussed, evaluated, and sold. It created a virtual cardboard hobby where collectors share information and never miss the release of a hot new product. Prices of the rarest vintage and modern cards have shot into the stratosphere, making some examples worth hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars at auction. Today’s cards also feature cutting-edge security measures to prevent counterfeiting in the lucrative marketplace.

After more than a century, printed baseball cards are as popular as ever among multigenerational collectors worldwide. They remain an iconic way for fans to connect with the history of America’s pastime and commemorate their favorite players. The industry continues expanding with innovations, though it also still cherishes the classic cardboard of eras past, as those cards helped grow the love for the game in readers and players alike over generations. Through continuous print runs and preservation efforts, the story of baseball is kept alive one card at a time.