An Introductory Guide To Collecting Rainbows

December 13, 2022

As the number of variations of cards climbs, the practice of collecting rainbows has grown in popularity, even if it has become more challenging.

Instead of attempting to complete an entire set of a new product, building rainbows can be a better and more feasible alternative for those of us who need a goal with collecting. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about rainbows, including some tips for completing them.

Shop for examples of rainbows on eBay

What are rainbows?

The most commonly accepted definition of a rainbow is a collection of every base card and parallel of a single player within a single release.

However, many collectors have their own opinions on what constitutes a “true” rainbow. Some people require absolutely every variation, including 1/1 printing plates, while others consider their rainbow complete without the elusive 1/1.

At the end of the day, a true rainbow is in the eye of the beholder.

History of rainbows

For most of card collecting history, building rainbows wasn’t something in any collectors vocabulary. For decades, only one version of each card existed with some exceptions like Topps Tiffany. This all changed with the release of Topps Tek in 1998.

Tek was revolutionary when it comes to introducing colorful cards to the hobby. The set included only 90 players, but a staggering 90 color parallels for each player. Collecting every variation became an obsession for some, and the idea of building rainbows was born.

Hobbyists discovered the appeal of colored parallels, and card companies never looked back.

amed rosario rainbow
eBay

The floodgates had opened for different color and pattern variations of cards. Initially, sets tended to only have a handful of variations. This made building rainbows a relatively simple task for sets with multiple color variations.

For example, 2004 Upper Deck Play Ball had 4 parallels of blue, red, green, and purple. As demand for flashier and more colorful designs grew, card companies responded by introducing even more variants.

Today, building a complete rainbow tends to be substantially harder thanks to the always-increasing number of parallels. Take 2022 Topps Series 1, one of Topps biggest releases, for example. It has 16 different variations which makes it quite the challenge to collect all of them.

On top of the number of parallels, there are two 1/1s which may never be pulled from packs. Granted, one of these 1/1s is a printing plate, which some collectors don’t consider part of the rainbow. While today’s releases don’t reach the 90 variations of 1998 Topps Tek, they are still quite complex compared to most earlier releases.

Shop for rainbows on eBay

Ways to Build Rainbows

Provided you decide to embark on the rainbow-building journey, you have a few options when it comes to forming your collection.

Opening packs

Opening sealed wax will be a gamble, but maybe you don’t know which player you want to build your rainbow around or you just want to take a chance on getting an elusive 1/1.

Assuming you don’t know which player you want to build a rainbow around, it might be best to open wax and decide based on what you get. Who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky and pull a 1/1, the hardest part of completing a rainbow.

justin fields rainbow
eBay

Buying Cards

On the other hand, if you already know which player you want to build your rainbow around, it will almost always be better to target specific cards and buy them.

Finding the unnumbered parallels and some of the higher numbered ones somewhere like eBay will be easy enough. The real challenge will come when you get into the nitty-gritty of building a rainbow: the low-numbered cards.

Although you might be able to find some of the rarer cards you’re hunting on eBay, it would be prudent to check multiple marketplaces. Other places to check for sports cards include the Blowout Forums, Reddit, and various Facebook groups.

How to pick which cards to target first

Building rainbows is an exciting part of the hobby, but deciding which cards to target can be stressful for first-time builders. Do you go after the easy-to-get cards in order to build some momentum and have a larger collection? Or do you hunt down the low-numbered or one-of-a-kind cards to get the hard part out of the way?

If possible, I consider the best option to be getting the rarer cards. Ideally you would acquire the 1/1 first so you know for a fact you can complete the rainbow. There is no worst feeling then putting together every card but never finding the 1/1.

Getting everything numbered below /10 should be your top priority. However, its ultimately up to you and what you find most enjoyable so really you can start anywhere with your rainbow — just be prepared you may never fully complete the rainbow.

Final thoughts

Chasing a rainbow can be one of the most thrilling experiences in card collecting. Regardless of why you decide to build a rainbow, whether it be to collect a favorite player, have fun or just the feeling of accomplishment, it is a tremendous achievement to finish one.

Further reading

Interested in other Cardlines write-ups about the basics? Check out some of the pieces below.