The VIP Section

As we continue in our journey of learning the basics, the next level of cards are what we’ll group together and call the VIP section. Although the name may indicate that this is our top tier of card, that’s not necessarily the case. These three categories are variations, inserts, and parallels and come in all different forms.


Variations, as you would expect, are simply cards that look like the standard base card, but are just a little bit different. Most often, the variation is something along the lines of a different image than what the standard base cards look like. For example, Topps Heritage has what they call “Action Variation” cards that feature a player batting or fielding rather than the portrait-style base cards. This set also has throwback variations, color swap variations, nickname variation, among a few other types that have been mixed in. The Panini Classics set features a “blank back” variation and is numbered out of 50. Here’s an example of what this looks like:


Back in the 90s, inserts were the reason that collectors bought cards. They were the specialty cards that people would pay good money for. Today, inserts are probably more comparable to base cards than they are to the chaseable cards of old.

These inserts oftentimes have their own sets, but are generally much smaller than the base set. Sometimes they appear like they could be part of the base set while other times they can be a little more flashy or fancy. We’ll tour through a few of these, so we can see some of the key characteristics.

As you can see, these cards have a slightly different appearance than what a base card would. The Adrian Peterson card is a “Redzone” insert, as stated on both the front and the back of the card (right beneath the number). The Ben Roethlisberger card gives an example of the special characters that can be used for inserts. Because it is part of the “Super Bowl Heroes” insert set, it is numbered SBH-BR rather than #50 from the base set. Lastly, we see the Peyton Manning “Stained Glass” insert from the Prizm Draft Picks set, which simply features a different look on the front.


Parallels have become the next notch up from your standard card. These parallels can come as a parallel to the base set, to a variation, or even to an insert. Whether a different style of border, a different color, or refractor feature added to the card, these parallels are less common than other types of cards.

That said, some parallels even come with special numbering – this means that only a specified number of this type of card was produced. They are often referred to as “short prints” or “SPs” and are a bit more valuable than other cards. Again, the pictures will help us see some of these specific defining traits to a parallel card.

In both of these sets, there are a couple different types of parallels. We can see a base card, a silver parallel, and also a colored parallel. With the Prizm parallels, you can see the rainbow reflection, which is often noted as a “refractor”. Prizm simply denotes this by putting the word “Prizm” underneath the card number on the back side of the card, differentiating it from the common cards. With the Absolute Memorabilia parallels, we see that they are numbered. This serial number simply tells you how many of this parallel were produced.


There are a number of alternatives to the base cards in a pack. Whether it’s a variation, insert, or parallel, identifying some of these characteristics should help you identify what kind of card you have. Tune in next time for a look at another type of cards: hits!

We know that there are many elements to the card hobby. Whether you’re just starting out or have been doing it for years, we’ll do our best to help you better understand the ins and outs of collecting. If you’d like to receive our updates, we’d be happy to have you join us on this journey!

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