The sports card landscape is changing. After the massive earthquake that overturned the hobby this summer, we don’t know what the future holds for Panini and other card companies. However, we thought the time was right to look back at the legacy of Panini USA and settle the ultimate question: Optic versus Prizm. Which is the better release with the most value?
If you’ve spent any time collecting sports cards, you probably know Panini’s most popular brands like the back of your hand: Optic and Prizm.
These two brands have a lot in common, but some differences make them special and unique.
Today, we’ll look at both brands to determine the strengths of each, and more importantly, which is the best investment.
First released in 2012-13, Panini Prizm changed modern basketball card collecting as we know it. It was Panini’s first product that went all-in on the opti-chrome look, and it paid off. It also introduced Panini’s version of the refractor, which we know as the Prizm. (So, yes, a Prizm refractor is a Prizm Prizm. An Optic refractor is an Optic Prizm Holo. See how it works?)
Prizm became Panini’s Topps Chrome, essentially, and it has continued to evolve while keeping the same opti-foil look and feel while offering an ever-increasing rainbow of parallels for collectors to chase, including the iconic silver prizm.
First released in 2016-17, Optic basically chromified the Donruss product, which had already been around for over a decade. The product is technically called “Donruss Optic” because of this, but most collectors call it simply Optic for short.
While Select was released alongside Prizm in 2012, Optic has become the second most popular Panini basketball product—although collectors still have lots of love for Select.
While everyone has their favorite, there are objectives advantages, and disadvantages to both releases.
Prizm is “the card” for many collectors. If you want one rookie card to invest in, a Prizm rookie is the way to go. If you’re feeling like spending big, a Silver Prizm is the most-desired non-numbered card on the market. Even, at times, disproportionally more valuable than its scarcer brethren. Prizm is the grandfathered product of so many offshoots that it will forever hold its place as an icon of sports cards.
All the clout surrounding Prizm comes at a cost. Quite literally, the cards can cost thousands of dollars for the highly-sought rookies. Sealed wax? For most collectors, you can forget about it. Hobby boxes sell thousands of dollars and therefore price out many. Additionally, Prizm has a reputation for being miscut or off-centered. This issue has been plaguing the product for years, seemingly more so than any other Panini product.
Optic features Rated Rookie cards, a series featuring unique top pick players that feel timeless and classic. These Rated Rookies are often less action-driven photography and more portrait-based. They’re eye-catching for sure, and some collectors like the design more than the Prizm rookies (I’ll lead the Optic parade seven days of the week).
Additionally, Optic cards still have excellent long-term value without costing nearly as much as the Prizm. While my recent Optic review discouraged against investing in sealed wax, I do encourage buying the singles if you’re looking to shop on a budget.
Optic also has a smaller rainbow than Prizm, so chasing all the parallels is much more achievable.
On top of that, Optic Prizm Holos are rarer than Silver Prizms, which elevates their value relative to the base cards.
As silly as this may sound, the biggest chink in Optic’s armor is that it is not Prizm. It didn’t come first, and while it’s a fantastic product with lots of offerings and upside, it probably will never have the buzz that surrounds Prizm. Since Optic came first, this makes sense.
If you’re holding an Optic rookie for the long-term, it will probably always be the second-best non-auto you can have. If you’re okay with that, Optic is the brand for you.
Prizm will always be worth more because it was the first to do it and has had fans for a longer time.
Think of it this way: Prizm refractors aren’t called “optics.” Optic refractors are called “Prizms.” This fact delineates the power dynamic between the two brands in a nutshell.
Additionally, Prizm’s stand-aloneness makes it more collectible. Optic, to some, seems like a more expensive version of Donruss.
Let’s look at the value of a few PSA 10 cards of each brand.
|2017 Tatum RC||$400||2017 Tatum RC||$180|
|2017 Tatum Silver RC||$2,000||2017 Tatum Holo RC||$800|
|2018 Luka RC||$800||2018 Luka RC||$400|
|2018 Luka Silver RC||$5,300||2018 Luka Holo RC||$4,000|
|2019 Zion RC||$440||2019 Zion RC||$150|
|2019 Zion Silver RC||$3,000||2019 Zion Holo RC||$1,400|
So, across the board, the averages indicate that Optic cards sell for about 60% as much as Prizm.
Also, fun takeaway: Zion base Optics seem undervalued compared to base Prizms (but there might be a reason for that, so keep reading).
No. If anything, Prizm seems to be separating, according to the chart from above and a bit of additional research.
Why would that be?
Prizm (assuming Panini USA survives) will always be Prizm. Likewise, Optic will always be the awesome, younger stepbrother. But now, thanks to Select becoming a retail product and the emergency of Mosaic basketball in 2019, Optic will have more competition at the “just underneath Prizm” level for holofoil cards.
Panini doesn’t care about long-term value. They care about selling as many cards as possible, so by adding more offerings to water down Optic’s tier, they’re ultimately watering down the value moving forward. That policy acts to perpetuate Prizm’s supremacy.
Both products are great, but Prizm will always be the best long-term investment.
Optic is a good investment too, but because of the Select and Mosaic competition just discussed, Optic cards from 2018-19 and older will be better moving forward. The population numbers in a few years will only reinforce this.
Either way, rookies from either of these sets will always be chased, valued, and collected. You really can’t go wrong either way.