Holographic Pokemon Cards: A Complete Guide
Holographic Pokemon cards are some of the most sought after artifacts of the collectable card world. Even casual players can’t deny the appeal of their brilliant shine. Holo Pokemon cards offer a dazzling display of iridescent colors that capture our hearts and spark our imaginations. If you’ve ever opened a pack of Pokemon cards, you know the thrill of finding that hidden shiny treasure!
Shared by collectors worldwide, the desire for these radiant collectibles only grows with time. From the coveted holographic Charizard of the original Base Set to the glittering VMAX cards of modern sets, Pokemon holographic cards are the crowning jewels in the rich tapestry of collectibles.
In this guide, we’ll help you discover the different types, patterns, and printing process for Pokemon holo cards. Get ready to embark on a journey of art and history encapsulating the magic of Pokemon.
What is a Holo Pokemon Card?
Holo Pokemon cards, also known as holographic or holofoil cards, are a special type of card that have a shiny, reflective pattern on the card’s face, giving the card an appearance of depth. Not only are holo cards difficult to pull from packs, they are also typically powerful in the TCG, making them valuable to both players and collectors.
The earliest form of Japanese Pokemon cards – the Bandai Carddass series – featured prismatic holographic patterns, with some being worth tens of thousands of dollars. In English, holo Pokemon cards were initially released in the 1999 Base Set, which included 16 holographic cards including Venusaur, Blastoise, and Charizard. Today, holos are a staple standard among all popular TCGs and CCGs. How could anyone resist the shiny?
Printing Pokemon Cards
Official Pokemon cards are created through the processes of lamination and printing. Layers of card stock and graphite are fused together for the purpose of making them durable and opaque. Then, ink is printed on top to as the final step to produce the limitless variety of cards we all love.
Holo cards are made with an additional layer of holofoil, a kind of super thin aluminum which is embossed with microscopic patters that diffract light into rainbows. The embossing also produces all the different patterns like cross hatching or stars.
It’s important to note that this is a more modern form of the card creation process. Very little information about the printing processes of the past are available and what we do know was leaked to the internet in the form of an internal information video. Trade secrets are important to keep when counterfeiting is such a huge risk. Fortunately, the differences in these processes can be inferred through some of the defects we can see in the holofoil.
Types of Holographic Cards
The original holo card! It has a normal looking card face with holographic artwork surrounding the pokemon.
In the Base Set these were the only kind of holos, giving them a status that would balloon into the investment worthy prizes we see today. But in the modern era these cards have lost some of their charm due to a new cheaper holo design along with the introduction of Full Art cards. In some of the earlier sets, rare holos would also come in a non-holo version that had a different set number. This would change with the Legendary Collection, where rare holos would instead also show up as reverse holos.
Reverse Holo Pokemon Cards
These are cards where every surface but the image is holographic. With reverse holos, the artwork itself is not shiny, but the surrounding card is. This style was first introduced in the Legendary Collection set in May 2002.
The vast majority of these cards are not very rare; virtually all rare holo and uncommon/common cards are also printed as a reverse holo in modern sets. Keep in mind that some reverse holos from vintage sets can be quite valuable, so be sure to properly catalog and appraise your cards.
While not all of these are technically called “ultra rares”, there are lots of different types of rarities above “rare holo” that fit into this category. They all have augmented game mechanics and a holofoil that extends beyond their artwork. Cards like this started appearing with the introduction of EX Pokemon in the Ruby & Sapphire era.
Certain types of cards are exclusive to a single set while others are seen across multiple eras. Some are horizontal, others seem to interact with the text, and a few are pieces of a puzzle meant to be played together. The most incredible of these are a tapestry of iridescent hues, holographic from edge to edge, and may even have some unique patterning within their reflective shine.
Artwork on these cards are exclusively of shiny pokemon and they all share a striking cross hatched pattern in their holoing. Only a few of these have been released following their debut in the Astral Radiance set. Although they are fairly common to pull from packs, they are incredibly powerful in the TCG, making them more valuable than their rarity suggests.
Full Art / Alternate Art
Full art, or illustration rares as they have been labeled recently, are cards with artwork that cover the entire face of the card. It can also simply refer to any card whose art extends past their borders. The first full art cards were Reshiram and Zekrom with the release of the Black & White set.
Some cards are only printed as full arts while others have lower rarity versions in their respective sets. Sometimes, full art cards have alternative versions, aka: alt arts or special illustration rares, that have more expansive artwork with incredible backgrounds that illustrate Pokemon and trainers alike in there natural habitat. Because of their world-class design and artwork, these are typically the most valuable Pokemon cards in modern sets.
First introduced in the Brilliant Stars set. These cards depict Pokemon with the trainers they are typically associated with. While these can be rarer than ultra rares, they are typically also printed as reverse holos. Pulling one of these with an ultra rare is not uncommon.
Defined by a set number that exceeds the total set amount, secret rares have been sprinkled into sets since Dark Raichu in the Team Rocket set.
Early secret rares look just like rare holos but would evolve as the year went on. They would often depict shiny or legendary Pokemon or reprints of normal Pokemon and trainer cards with different art. Following the release of the Sun & Moon set, secret rares would be normalized into a couple different types. Though not always the most valuable, these modern secret rares are some of the most dramatically designed cards you will ever lay eyes on.
In addition to a full art design, gold cards feature a golden, sparkling surface that will leave your collection looking like the pinnacle of luxury items. The first gold rare cards were Reshiram and Zekrom in the Legendary Treasures set, years before gold rares would become normalized.
With an incredible rainbow coloring, silver border, and unique patterning, rainbow rares are a treat to look at. The first set of these were released in the Sun & Moon set. Even if they aren’t the most valuable, you will absolutely want a few with your favorite Pokemon and trainers.
This card is entirely unique in that it appears to be written on the face of a gemstone in a language that is barely understood with knowledge we have of mew. It comes with a few different variants and was only ever made available during the first week of the premier of the Pokemon 2000 movie. Lots of unique promotional cards in all sorts of sizes exist, but nothing quite as magical as this.
Metal Pokemon Cards
Only 4 of these gold metal cards were every officially released; replicas of the base set Charizard and Pikachu cards in the Celebrations Ultimate Premium Collection, and Arceus V and V Star in the Arceus Ultra Premium Collection. All other gold metal cards are custom made (e.g. counterfeit).
Holo bleeding is a defect where the ink does not completely cover the holofoil underneath and looks similar to reverse holo cards. This happens particularly with holofoil patterns that are more intricate and is made even more prevalent by the rate at which cards are manufactured. Demand for Pokemon cards has increased significantly in more recent years which has made cards with holo bleed more common.
The value of these cards vary wildly with the degree of error and the prevalence of bleeding in the respective set.
When the holofoil portion of a card appears misplaced, it is know as “holo shift” or misaligned holo. Rather than being seen from beneath the ink, this holofoil is placed on top of the ink with the borders of the artwork and the shape of the pokemon cut out.
There is a rather infamous printing error with the Base Set 2 Charizards where there is no holofoil. Most people believed they were fake, but after some careful tests and examination by experts, CGC was able to determine that these Charizards are authentic misprints. This shows clear evidence of the evolution in the printing process over the years.
Certain types of holofoil are made with a very broad pattern. This was a design choice for the purpose of giving all holographic cards uniqueness even among their peers. A point of added uniqueness is in the fabled holo swirl, which are small but noticeable spirals of stars like tiny galaxies. Holo swirls can be found on the “cosmos” holofoil patterning of vintage cards. Some cards can even have 2 or more swirls!
From their humble origins in the base set to their current status as works of art, these sparkling treasures have captured our imaginations and enriched our collections. Whether you are an experienced collector with a discerning eye, or a curious observer drawn to their radiant charm, we hope this guide has provided you with a deeper understanding and a renewed excitement for these gleaming tokens. Continue on your journey, fellow collector, and let the magic of holographic Pokemon cards light your way.