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When discerning the value of a sports rookie card, its aesthetic look is often a factor that is not considered as much as others.
The quantity and quality of a card are most often the factors that determine the price, rightfully so may we add, yet as humans, certain cards are bound to catch our eyes more than others.
How the card company shapes the design around the image of the player varies greatly but can be the difference between a memorable card or one that does not receive any attention.
In addition to the design, the color scheme that the team uses can change a card as well as any printing mishaps or variations.
Before you take one look at the first few cards and head to the comments to write an angry comment, keep in mind that the list is in no order.
On the other hand, if we forgot one of your favorite cards be sure to let us know in the comments down below. We think out of all the iconic cards, these seventeen stand above the rest regarding design.
1909-11 Ty Cobb T206 Green Portrait Card
Another vintage card, this T206 Ty Cobb is an extraordinary find. There are multiple Cobb cards in this set that have value, but it’s the green portrait card that has the cleanest look and the most value.
The card shows a simple portrait of the MLB legend with his last name and team written at the bottom. There exist other versions which show Cobb with a bat over his shoulder, but they lack the simplicity of the green portrait.
These vintage cards have a certain class about them that is hard to describe. The simplistic beauty brings one back to a previous time where cards were not cluttered with all sorts of random items and instead focused on the player in question.
2018 Luka Doncic Panini Opulence Gold RC /10 or /75 #145
Luka Doncic is the largest name in sports card investing at the moment and for good reason. He has done amazing things on the basketball court at every level he has played at and has made the transition to the NBA look seamless.
This card is absolutely magnificent as the gold background works great to highlight the jersey patch. Gold has always been associated with excellence and this card does a great job of linking the two feelings.
If you have a lead on the /10 version that is PSA graded please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
There are only ten copies of this card and if you are lucky enough to see one then you should make sure to take the time to appreciate it. The photo of Luka is of him in the white Mavericks jersey as he floats in mid-air halfway through a jump shot.
2000 Tom Brady SP Authentic RC /1250 #118
Tom Brady has cemented his legacy this season as he has experienced great success on a new team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has shown that he can succeed away from the Patriots organization and he deserves plenty of credit for that amazing dynasty. This card comes from Brady’s rookie season and features a very 2000s design that includes a photo of Brady in a fully red Patriots jersey
This card has a unique design that utilizes negative space and the signature Patriots color scheme to catch the eye. The red of the jersey is contrasted nicely by the blue background which has an unusual shape and results in an aesthetically pleasing card.
1996 Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome (Refractor) RC #138
The late, great Kobe Bryant was a competitor like very few have ever been. The “Black Mamba” had a ferocious attitude and would attack opponents like no other.
“This Topps Chrome Refractor from his rookie season has become the Bryant card to own and shows him driving to the hoop in his number eight jersey”
The refractor effect gives this card a very cool look and makes the gold Lakers jersey pop. The gold lettering of Bryant’s name is also a nice touch that goes well with the Lakers theme and adds a unique twist.
1952 Mickey Mantle Topps RC #311′
Perhaps the most iconic sports card of all time, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is the pinnacle of collecting. This is not Mantle’s rookie card, but it is the one that is the most sought-after and well-known. The classic design features Mantle with a bat slung over his shoulder as he gazes off into the distance.
Perhaps the most iconic sports card of all time, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is the pinnacle of collecting
The card then has a white border encompassing it, as well as a box with Mantle’s name at the bottom. This card is much more than the sum of its parts and offers a classic, timeless style that will always remain relevant.
1933 Babe Ruth Goudey #53
The 1933 Goudey set features four different cards that picture the legendary Babe Ruth but it’s number 53 that is the most significant and the most beautiful. It has a bright yellow background behind Ruth with a bat firmly in his hands. The card has his full name in the upper left corner as well as a red “Big League Chewing Gum” banner across the bottom.
Ruth was a legendary slugger who was known for his long-ball hitting ability. This card is great for fans of him as the colors work well together and the yellow really makes it unique. It may be hard to find in great condition as the yellow lends itself to chipping but these cards in even strong condition make great finds.
1989 Ken Griffey Jr Upper Deck RC #1
When Upper Deck launched its 1989 collection, it changed sports cards forever. They brought a new level of quality that once customers got their hands on, they couldn’t let go. This card helped birth the luxury card segment of the industry that has had a large impact on every aspect of the hobby.
Besides the superior quality, the card also features an iconic image of Ken Griffey Jr., an image that would end up representing an entire generation of baseball cards. “The Kid” would turn into not only one of the best players in baseball but also one of the coolest and it all started with this card.
2019 Zion Williamson Prizm Choice (i.e. Tiger Stripe) RC#248
This card has a very unique look that some will love, and some will not like it as much. In the middle of the card is a picture of Williamson throwing one of his signature, thunderous dunks through the rim. The entire card has a dark feel, starting with the deep blue Pelicans jersey Zion is wearing.
The border of the card is where things start to get interesting. It has a black and orange tiger stripe design, framing the photo of Williamson. It’s with unique touches like this that card companies have changed modern cards and this one is done very well. The tiger stripes contrast the dark card in a cool way and make this card very appealing to look at.
As card companies become more comfortable with taking risks, we can expect to see more crazy designs such as this one. While many will miss the mark, it’s worth it for when a card like this is produced that can show off the star on the card while adding interesting elements around it.
2011 Mike Trout Topps Update Border Parallel (i.e. Black Border) #US175 RC
This card shows Trout after having just hit the ball, bat still in hands as he gets ready to make the dash to first base. Trout has been the best player of the modern era, and this card does not only picture an iconic player but does it in an artistic fashion.
The main feature of the card, the thin black border that wraps around it, works beautifully with the red and creates a very interesting color scheme that is sure to grab people’s attention. The back of the card has no image yet contains some stats as well as a small blurb on expectations for Trout.
This is a great blend of modern color schemes while not overcomplicating things and should be looked at as a model for future cards to come. Trout is the perfect player to be on a card like this as it reflects his personality, no extra gimmicks just all business and success.
1985 Mario Lemieux O-Pee-Chee RC #9
Another card that uses a great color scheme and does not overcomplicate things is this 1985 O-Pee-Chee Mario Lemieux. The black and yellow Penguins colors are great on any card and O-Pee-Chee does a great job here of making the bottom banner the Penguins gold.
The image on the front of the card is great as well as it clearly shows Lemieux’s face, something that can be missing from many hockey cards but adds a personal touch. Two other nice aspects of the card are the Penguins logo in the top right of the corner and the white border, both of which help the photo stand out.
2008 Kobe Bryant/LeBron James Topps Chrome Orange Refractor /499 #24
Any card which features two NBA legends such as this one will be a great card. The first thing that stands out about this card and contributes to its great design is the photo itself.
“The 2008 Topps Chrome Kobe LeBron Orange Refractor is particular is eye candy to the extreme #ORANGEDRIP”
The late Kobe Bryant with the ball in the post, guarded by Lebron James, the whole battle framed by the crowd in the background. It’s a truly amazing photo even without the other aspects of the card, but the orange background that the refractor offers takes it to the next level.
Another fun fact to note with this card, though not directly related to its look, is the fact that it’s numbered #24, the same number that Kobe Bryant wore during the second half of his career. This just adds to the overall aura of this amazing card and its legend.
2004 Michael Jordan Upper Deck Finite Signature Bulls HOF Autograph #FS-MF
This card shows Michael Jordan raising up for one of his signature fadeaway jumpers, his white Bulls jersey put against a black square to make it jump. Besides, the photo of “Air Jordan” is a signature, taking up most of the card and clearly acting as the main attraction.
Jordan is much larger than just basketball – or just sports for that matter – and this man by now is an international icon. Anything with his signature displayed so prominently is going to stand out. Besides the signature, the card has a nice grey and black color scheme where the two tones work well off of each other.
2017 Patrick Mahomes Prizm RC #269
This card and Patrick Mahomes’ game can be described similarly: eye-popping. Just as Mahomes stands out on the field, take one look at this card and you are sure to be blown away.
The white sparkle effect covers the entirety of the card and gives the card a shimmering look to it. Light dances around the card, bouncing from one side to the other mesmerizingly.
Mahomes has been nothing short of spectacular through his first few NFL seasons and this card represents that well. While some may find the effect gimmicky, in this scenario we think that it is very well done and makes for an appealing card. On top of the cool effect, the red of Mahomes’ Chiefs jersey catches the eye and makes for another bright color on the card that adds to the appealing nature.
2017 Ronald Acuna Jr. Bowman Chrome Orange Shimmer Refractor Auto RC /25
Ronald Acuna Jr. has taken the MLB by storm so far in his young career as he has terrorized opponents at the plate and on the basepaths. This card is one of the most sought-after that pictures the young Braves superstar, due to its limited quantity as well as amazing look.
Bowman has become known for their rookie cards and this one is no different. It shows Acuna running around the bases, his chain swinging from his neck. The autograph definitely is a nice touch but it’s the orange shimmer that gives this card its signature look and makes it one of the most beautiful baseball cards made in recent years.
The orange does not overpower the card as these effects sometimes can but instead adds a supernatural feel, just what the doctor ordered for a supernatural player.
1987 Greg Maddux Leaf Rookie RC #36
Maddux was an eight-time all-star over three different decades and it’s his rookie card produced by Leaf that really stands out. The card has strong, black borders that frame the image well and grab the eye.
Add the array of colors present, including orange and blue for the Cubs, and the sweet mustache and you get a great-looking card.
This card can be hard to find in perfect condition due to easy scuffing but when is a sight to behold when preserved properly.
2020 Joe Burrow Panini Gold Mosaic Prizm RC #201
This is the most recently released card on the entire list and it’s a gem. Burrow is pictured holding the ball while juxtaposed against a brilliant orange and gold background.
This card is a great display of some modern techniques used to spice up cards with its loud colors and sparkling effects.
This type of card may not be for everyone as some may prefer a more classic look, yet the orange and gold have an undeniable chemistry that makes a very appealing card
1997 Brett Favre Metal Universe Precious Metals Gems PMG Red /150 #156
Sometimes less is more and this Brett Favre card is a perfect example of that. The fully red background is a great contrast for Favre in his yellow and gold Packers uniform as he stands in the pocket, probably looking to huck the ball downfield like the gunslinger he is.
This card has a great design on the reverse side, with a metallic look and a close-up photo of Favre’s face. Overall, this card has a great, simple design that shows that sometimes all the colors and designs can complicate a card and harm it more than help it.
When it comes down to it, we would prefer a better-looking card if all other things are equal and card companies have tried many different strategies to catch people’s attention. Modern cards use all types of color schemes and inserts to make a sparkling card while many vintage cards rely on sublime color selection and strong images.
Everyone’s tastes are different and whether you prefer a modern card with an autograph and plenty of colors or a vintage card with a signature portrait, one of the amazing things about the card industry is that there is something for everyone. There are thousands of card designs and every year we get to see card companies come up with new ideas.