Grading Your Figures

Do You Know How To Grade Your Action Figures

This guide deals generally with the grading of CARDED action figures rather than loose action figures as the grading of loose figures is far more complicated and involves a lot more variables that are not even addressed in grading carded figures (e.g., paint details, loose joints, etc.).

However, with carded figures the most significant factor in determining the value is the backing card itself as the figure inside is generally accepted to be in mint or near mint condition unless there card is in very poor condition or there are other signs of damage.

There are generally two popular grading systems in general use these days. The first of these and the one in more popular use is the Condition Scale or “C=-Scale”.

The second and more specialist is used by professional grading services such as the AFA (Action Figure Authority) who have a more professional grading system which is pretty much the most widely used and accepted system amongst professional graders and is likely to become the trade standard, much as PSA grading is accepted as the standard for trading cards.

The Condition or C-Scale Grading System

With the C-Scale system a MINT C10 carded figure is assumed to have no flaws or imperfections whatsoever. Any flaw, no matter how minor and the carded figure can no longer be considered MINT C10.

Even a figure that has come straight from the manufacturers factory sealed case will often have some slight imperfection so a genuine Mint C10 figure is extremely rare.

If an action figure is graded as a C8 it dosent necessarily mean the action figure is in poor condition, it maybe that the bubble and figure are intact and may well be in C10 condition, but that the card is in poor or very poor condition. It is therefore always advisable to ask for a list of the flaws, particularly if the condition of the carding isn’t of concern to you.

Most dealers or traders will generally only deal with action figures of a C8 grade or above unless it’s a particularly rare or hard to find action figure.

The C-Scale grading system has some obvious flaws and advantages. The main advantages are that it is a simple scale to use and can be referred to by anyone.

Because of this universal availability and acceptability it is useful as a basic guideline to what is an action figures condition and value.

However there are also several flaws in this system.

When dealing with large reputable businesses or established dealers the system works fine but when dealing with unprofessional dealers or other collectors the system is open to abuse or misinterpretation, particularly when dealing with collectors selling off their collections simply because it is difficult for them to give an unbiased appraisal of their action figure’s condition.

The tremendous increase in the use of auction sites has also meant this system has been abused by unscrupulous sellers who have intentionally mis-graded an action figures or ignored obvious fault in order to inflated its vaue.

How to use the C-Scale?

Here is a guide to the acceptable grades available in the C-Scale and the relevant condition of the carded figure.

Please note that this is a GUIDE and always ensure you are dealing with an established or reputable dealer when buying action figures using the C-Scale. If in doubt always ask for clarification from the seller.

C10 (MINT)

  • General: The backing card should be flat with bright, clear colors and NO creases, tears, or marks.
  • Most cards have a noticeable sheen or “gloss” to them. They should be free from stains, holes (such as pin or tack holes), writing (unless it’s been autographed by the character), or any other markings.
  • Edges: Tight, no fraying or separation.
  • Corners: No curling, bends or creases.
  • Creases: None.
  • Price Tag/Card Surface Tear: None.
  • Bubble: Clear, completely attached, no yellowing, crushing, dents, dings, malformations or cracks of any size.

It is particularly important to check where the bubble meets the carding as I have known dealers to “reseal” shop display figures back into their original display boxes to be sold as mint items.


  • General: The backing card should be flat (or nearly flat) with clear, bright colors. And its original gloss or sheen. As with C10 graded figurers they should have no stains, tears, holes, or writing (except autographs
  • Edges: Should be tight with no fraying or separation allowed.
  • Corner Curl: Minimal curling is generally accepted but there should be no creasing or cracking (i.e. the damage should be so minimal that it could probably be flattened out without further damage). The damage should be barely noticeable.
  • Card Curl: Only minimal card curling is acceptable if no creasing or cracking has occurred and the curling is very minimal and barely noticeable.
  • Creases: There should be no creases.
  • Price Tag/Card Surface Tear: None.
  • Bubble: The bubble/blister should be clear, completely attached, with no yellowing, or crushing. Only minimal dents are acceptable if barely noticeable and the bubble isn’t creased or broken. There should be no severe malformations or cracks of any size and the bubble should be sealed tight against the backing card.

C6-7 (FINE)

  • General: Some curling and/or creasing is acceptable but there should be no cracking of the ink or print.
  • The colors should be reasonably bright though some of the original sheen may have faded. There should be no major tears, stains, holes or writing (unless an autographs).
  • Edges: Should be mostly tight although there maybe some minor fraying (see glossary) or separation (section[s] less than 1 inch in length total).
  • Corner Curl: There may be some minor permanent creasing or cracking of print and/or fraying of the card at the corners (1-2 corners).
  • Creases: Minor creases may be evident. No cracking of print or ink allowed along creases.
  • Price Tag/Card Surface Tear: Small tears allowed but must be less than 1/8 inch.
  • Bubble: Some yellowing may have occurred but only slight discoloring the bubble should be present. It may appear to have a light tan or yellowish color, but not a dark tan or brown.
  • The Bubble should still be primarily attached (i.e., not resealed), although it may have become detached in places. These areas should be smaller than 1/2 inch and without tears to any other part of the card front attached.
  • The bubble might show some signs of damage or crushing, if it can be reformed.
  • Minor dents are also acceptable and cracks less than 1/8 inch are also allowed.

C4-5 (GOOD)

  • General: There may be permanent curling or creasing of the card including cracked print or ink.
  • The card may have lost all its original sheen and brightness to a flat, dull finish although it will still have color. The card may have small tears if they are less than 1/2 inch). Also some stains, writing (including autographs) and some small holes may also be present (1-3 pinholes or one large hole less than 1/4 inch in diameter).
  • Edges: May have some minor fraying or separation (section[s] less than 3 inches in length total).
  • Corner Curl: Severe or permanent creasing or cracking of the print with severe fraying of card corners (1-4 corners).
  • Creases: More severe creases that may include cracking of print or ink.
  • Price Tag/Card Surface Tear: Larger tears (less than 1/4 inch) permitted.
  • Bubble: A more pronounced discoloring or yellowing may be present but it should be medium tan and not completely brown.
  • The bubble should still be primarily attached with no possibility that the figure could have been removed though it may have detached sections smaller than 1 inch. There may be other parts of the card front on the bubble, including tears to the print/ink. The bubble may have cracks less than 1/4 inch and have pronounced bubble damage such as crushing or large dents without any reformation.

C2-3 (POOR)

  • General: The card may be almost completely folded over or severely curled or creased including cracked print and/or ink. The cards original sheen or gloss may have completely faded to a flat, dull finish with the colors severely faded or discolored.
  • The card may also have more pronounced stains (such as water stains) or dirt and may have more pronounced tears or holes.
  • Edges: Pronounced fraying and separation (greater than 3 inches total) maybe visible.
  • Corner Curl: Severe or permanent creasing and/orcracking of print with severe fraying of card corners (2-4 corners).
  • Creases:The card may be permanently creased with cracked print orink. The card can be almost completely folded over.
  • Price Tag/Card Surface Tear: More pronounced tears on card surface (1/4 up to 1 inch).

  • Bubble: Severe yellowing may be present and the carding may be completely brown or opaque in sections.

    The bubble should still be attached, though it may be detached on up to two complete sides so it may have been possible that the figure could have been removed and re-inserted into bubble.

  • The detached areas may also have parts of the card front surface, including pronounced tears, in the print ink. The Bubble may also be completely crushed (if figure is undamaged) and contain major dents/dings without any reformation. Bubble may have cracks up to inch in length.


  • General: This is the lowest grade available and as such an action figure given this grade may have a card that is completely ripped or curled with permanent creases and one or more prominent holes may be present. It may have other stains or marks on it and similar damage may also be present. In fact the only reason this has a grade is because the action figure is still attached, no mater how slightly, to the card.
  • Edges: Severely frayed, split and/or separately.
  • Corner Curl: Corners may be severely curled or torn with permanent creasing and/or cracking (2 corners).
  • Creases: The card may be permanently creased or broken with cracked print or ink and/or the card can be completely folded.
  • Price Tag/Card Surface Tear: Large surface tears present tears (over 1 inch), signs of the price tag being removed etc.
  • Bubble: Completely discolored a brown or dark yellow and may be cloudy or opaque totally or in part. Large cracks (larger than 2 inches) present and possibly detached from card. The bubble may have been crushed or severely damaged.

Professional Grading

It is because of the problems and unreliability of the C-Scale grading system that the demand for an internationally recognized and accepted grading system grew and led to the explosion in the professional action figure grading services.

Probably one of the most popular and widely accepted of these services is the AFA (Action Figure Authority) Grading System.

Once graded the action figures are sealed inside a hard acrylic case in order to preserve the figures condition and ensure that its graded condition is preserved, much in the same way as PSA Graded trading cards.

Do You Need Professional Grading?

If you plan on selling any of your action figures, particularly any vintage or valuable figures you want to get the best bang for your bucks, so yes you should get them professionally graded.

After all if you had an antique painting wouldn’t you get it appraised before auctioning it?

Of course, so the same applies here.

Remember that professionally graded action figures that have been graded by a well known and respectable company such as AFA will increase the its value and keen collectors and/or investors will feel more confident on bidding/buying your item/s.


If your are going to pay to have your action figure’s condition and authenticity verified by a professional grading service make sure it is a well known, established and respected company that you use.

As already mentioned AFA are highly recommended for this service.

The professionally grading of action figures is a relatively new service to the hobby, which has grown out of the need and the demand for a standard grading system, the growth in the hobby, the increase in action figure values and the need to protect the buyer from unscrupulous sellers.

A Word of Caution…

Having your action figure/s professionally graded can be expensive so only get those figures that are either vintage figures or valuable figures professionally graded.

If you have a new action figure that you have invested in and wish to ensure it stays in pristine condition then I would also advise it being professionally graded.

If however your action figure has any minor flaws or damage then it is probably not worthwhile getting it graded. It is usually only 85+ AFA Graded Action Figures that command premium prices or that are in demand with collectors and dealers so action figures of a lower grade can generally be bought at a cheaper price anywhere on the net.

What or Who Are the AFA?

The Action Figure Authority (AFA) was born from a frustration of all the different systems and scales that where being used in the market to grade action figures without any uniformity or standardization.

Dealers, collectors and investors of action figures had no universal standard by which to judge and generally used their own definitions and standards to grade items. As a result one mint c-10 item is completely different from another.

This resulted in the over grading and artificial inflation of many action figures and collectors became disillusioned, frustrated and lost confidence in the market.

The AFA was launched in order to change this and bring the hobby kicking and screaming into the 21st Century and return consumer and collectors confidence in the market.

Many dealers, investors and collectors were resistant to the idea at first, and still are, mainly due to the expense of having your figures professionally graded and the fear that their action figures will loose some of their value.

Although initially this may be true the long term effect should be quite the opposite because if consumer, collector and investors confidence returns to the market it will gain more recognition and respectability then.

This in turn will create more demand, and ultimately the market values will also increase which will add to the confidence and respectability of the hobby and so the market will expand.

It is because of this upward trend that I am happy to see that the idea is becoming more widely accepted, particularly for rarer and more valuable action figures.

More collectors are beginning to demand that valuable figures are professionally graded before accepting them and more dealers seem to be accepting that a valuable action figure should be professionally authenticated and graded.

In fact it has now proved to be beneficial to have your figures professional graded as it adds to its value.

In order to show their integrity and that they take their business seriously all AFA's employees are barred from ever buying or selling AFA graded action figures.


So that there can be no alleged conflict of interested or artificial inflating of prices.

The AFA is committed to meet or exceed the action figure markets unique requirements while promoting a healthy and fun environment for all.

AFA state that their main goals and aims are to:

  • give the collector the advantage by revealing each action figures true characteristics, thus promoting the healthy growth of sight unseen purchases of action figures.
  • to gain your trust and respect.
  • to create a consensus that AFA's grading standard accurately reflects the input of all collectors and dealers.
  • to promote interest in the collecting of action figures by the safe and enjoyable purchasing of AFA graded figures.

The AFA Grading Scale

The AFA Grading Scale consists of three levels, each with three sub-levels. These are there Gold, Silver and Bronze levels.

Once graded each action figure is sealed in a hard acrylic storage case in order to preserve its graded condition.

If the figure is at anytime removed from its AFA Case then the grading becomes null and void.

AFA Gold

The Premium level is the AFA Gold level which consists of the grades 100, 95, and 90.

The select few figures that receive these grades are among the highest quality in existence. Only a very small percentage of the figures received by AFA receive a Gold grade.

AFA Silver level

The second level is the Silver level which consists of the grades 85, 80, and 75.

These are figures that are in excellent condition. A figure graded an 85 will often be referred to as 'case fresh' and should be very close to the Gold Level in condition.

The term 'case fresh' is used because the average action figure pulled straight from a sealed case will grade an 85, this is because even “case fresh” action figures usually have small flaws which occur when the figures are packaged or shipped in the case.

An 80 grade is generally a store shelve action figure which will have a few more minor flaws due to handling and shelve wear and tear. Also there is the risk of sun damage and damage by prying hands.

AFA Bronze Level

The Bronze Level action figure consists of the grades 70, 60, and below. Action Figures that receive these grades typically have damage ranging anywhere from simply noticeable at first glance to extremely significant.

It may be that the card has creases on the front and the blister may be crushed or cracked.

Bronze Level covers a large range of figure conditions and the scope of the flaws range considerably.

The level or grade of a Bronze Level figure varies depending on how many 'major' flaws are present on the card and how severe each flaw is.

Bronze level action figures may have major flaws such as a torn off POP or other large paper tears and probably would not be acceptable to condition sensitive or serious collectors.

AFA Sub grades

There are three sub grades for AFA Graded action figures which are assigned for the Card, Blister, and the Action Figure.

Once the grader has been established the overall grade for your action figure, they will assign individual grades for each of these three categories.

The overall grade is NOT an average of these three grade but is a way of show the collector what part of the action figure is in the best condition.

So, for example a card that received an overall grade of 85 with a 90 Card, an 80 Blister, and a 90 Figure will show collectors that the blister has the most damage. A card that received an overall grade of 85 with an 85 Card, an 80 Blister, and an 80 Figure will show collectors that this particular piece is a low end 85.

What Defects Will Affect My Action Figures Grade?

  • Your Figure- If carded the actual figure will be considered to be in mint condition unless there is an obvious defect noticeable.
  • If the figure is loose and shows signs of paint wear, discoloration, fading, broken limbs or other signs of wear will affect the grade. Any accessories will also be graded in a similar way.
  • The Blister- The blister or window is the plastic storage section for the figure. Any dents, breaks, creases or discoloration of this will also have an adverse effect on the overall grade of your action figure.
  • Other defects to check for are sticker residue, clouding, cuts and signs of tampering, i.e. its not been unknown of dealers to re-seal shop displayed action figures back into the boxes to re-sell.
  • Backing Card- Any creases, tears, surface tears, sticker residue, stains, discoloration, ink marks, breaks, broken ink/print or staple/pin holes will affect the grade of your action figure. Most action figure backing cards also have a natural sheen or gloss to them and the quality of this will also affect the overall grade.

Autographed Action Figures

Over the last few years thare has been a large increase in the number and variety of action figures available of stars particularly from TV, Sports and Music.

This has resulted in an increased demand to have them figures autographed by the star or character depicted by the action figure.

This has opened up another large can of worms and potential problems for buyers and sellers:

  • Will this increase the value of your figure?
  • Do you need to get the autograph verified?
  • Will it effect the action figures Grading if professionally graded?

There are no easy answers to these questions but my recommendation would be to:

i) Have a photo of you with the star getting the action figure signed.

ii) If you get the figure signed at a professionally organized convention you will usually be supplied with a certificate of authenticity. Keep this with your action figure and the photo.

iii) Have the action figure AND the autograph VERIFIED professionally, this may need to be done separately.

My guess is that with this becoming more and more popular the Professional Grading sites will begin to include autograph verification into there service, however this is an area fraught with dangers and hazards.

General Terminology

Here is a basic glossary of terms used relating to the grading of action figures.

  • Bubble/Blister- This is the plastic “covering” the action figure and holds it in place. The bubble or blister is usually attached to the backing card by glue but look out for staples which are sometimes used to secure a carded figure that is “peeling” away from the backing card or is evidence of a figure that has been removed from its packaging then replaced.
  • Bubbling- This is the term used to describe a “bubbling” effect on the surface of the backing card, usually away from the edges of the card.
  • Backing Card- This is the section used as the backing of the action figure packaging. This is generally cardboard although some, like McFarlane Toys clamshell packaging, are completely plastic.
  • Surface Tear- This usually occurs when the price ticket has been remove and part of the backing card’s print is removed with the price sticker. Another common occurrence is if the bubble separates from the card it will also often cause surface tear.
  • Corner Curl- This often occurs when they are tightly packed into their cases or on shelve and causing the corners (generally the bottom corners) to curl and bend. This can in most case be corrected if not to severe.
  • Cracked Card- If the card is in anyway broken or torn it is said to be cracked or if part of the ink is broken or removed.
  • Cracked bubble- A noticeable crease, crack, or fracture in the plastic protecting your action figure but doesn’t include the actual separation of the bubble from the card..
  • Crease- A severe bend or curl that leaves a permanent mark in the ink or print. A crease maybe present without actually cracking or breaking often leaving the card underneath to show through.
  • Curl- Less severe than a crease and often can be corrected. But if you try to cored a curled action figure be very careful as you may very well end up making matters worse.
  • Dent- A damaged bubble, usually an indentation caused in shipping or poor shelve storage. Sometimes this will also cause a “stress mark” or whitening of the plastic.
  • Detachment/Separation- This refers to when the backing card and the bubble peel apart. This can be due to severely factor including humidity, temperature and the type of glue used by the manufacturer.
  • Ding- A ding is the termed used to describe a small or minor dent.
  • Fraying- this is when the cardboards fibers are pulled apart or separated giving the surface a “fuzzy” impression, especially at the edges.
  • Hole- Early action figure packaging didn’t have holes to hang them from so often retailers “made” their own for this purpose. Any complete piercing or perforation is considered to be a hole.
  • LLH- Lower Right Hand
  • LRH- Lower left Hand
  • Reforming- Correcting any defects that may have occurred to your action figure.
  • Repair- Any restoration work that has been done to fix or restore your action figure to it’s original condition.
  • Separation- The term separation can relate to either the backing card or the bubble/blister. When talking about the blister it refers to the bubble coming away from the backing card partially or completely.
  • The backing card is general made from two pieces of card with print on one side. These two pieces of card are then stuck together back to back. Separation with reference to the backing card is when these two pieces of card start to come apart and become unglued.
  • Staining- Staining is usually caused by liquids being spilt on the card or bubble and causing discoloration of the card or bubble, or the ink to run. This doe not refer to the discoloration or yellowing of the action figures, carding or bubble.
  • ULH- Upper Left Hand corner.
  • Yellowing- This is the “natural” discoloration of your action figures or the bubble and is caused by a breakdown in the plastic used in the manufacturing process. This yellowing is irreversible although there are preventative measure you can take to stop it or slow the process down. Yellowing is generally caused by excessive sunlight, heat or humidity.

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