1993 was a big year for the hobby. Sure, most of the cards from 1993 fall into the Junk Wax Era. However, it also marked the birth of an innovation that would revolutionize the hobby. The refractor. And to celebrate its role in our hobby, we give you the ultimate Panini refractor guide.
It first appeared in the release of the 1993 Topps Finest Baseball set. At the time, a refractor wasn’t even denoted differently from the base cards.
Fast forward nearly three decades, and refractors are among the most sought-after cards in the hobby. For many collectors, they have even eclipsed autos.
Given the demand, we’ll look at Panini refractors and answer the most burning questions. These include, what are refractors, what are the different types, and why you should invest in them.
Refractors are covered in a thin foil that refracts light in a variety of colors. Their refracting property is, of course, what gives them their name.
And, here’s a bit of history: The Topps Company, Inc. registered a trademark for their brainchild to prevent other companies from copycatting what they were doing.
Of course, other companies still mimicked the rainbow-foil, but they couldn’t legally call them refractors. Therefore, Panini started calling them “prizm” cards.
And with that in mind, note that technically even this article’s title is wrong since Panini doesn’t make refractors. But that doesn’t stop collectors from labeling them as such.
On top of that, Panini calling its refractors “prizms” adds confusion since Prizm is its most popular brand, and Prizm prizms are called “silver prizms.”
If you need to re-read that paragraph three more times, I don’t blame you one bit. The point is, Panini’s refractors are called prizms, and everybody wants them.
Oh, unless we’re talking about Panini Optic. Then the refractors are called “holos.” Yes, we know it makes no sense.
Not only do refractors look great, but they function to add scarcity to collecting. How so? Well, Panini doesn’t make life any easier by failing to disclose its odds or print run. Therefore, we will have to use some hypothetical numbers.
Just from ripping Prizm, it is clear that prizms are relatively scarce. For example, if you open an 80 card box of Prizm, you may only get two silver prizms. So from that alone, we can understand the impact on the price.
Imagine, for the sake of illustration, there are 100,000 base Ja Morant Prizm cards printed. In that case, there may be about 1,000 silver prizms cards printed. The limited number creates scarcity and makes the silver prizms sell for significantly more.
Then, compare the 1,000 silver prizms to, say, a /199 blue prizm. The blue prizm would be 5x more rare than the silver, meaning it will sell for even more.
And Panini knows what it’s doing as it continues to add different colors and designs of refractor/prizm cards to create even more scarcity within sets. As a result, building out a rainbow of all the prizms for your favorite player becomes more difficult every single season.
Identifying a refractor is easy. For the silver prizms, the card will reflect light with a rainbow-foil look, so all you need is a comfortable amount of light. With the colored prizms, it’s even easier to tell: the card’s border changes colors based on the set, so you’ll never make that mistake.
If you ever have any doubt, the Panini refractors are labeled prizm on the back. This fact can be beneficial when you’re looking through one of those eBay listings with an awful picture.
Panini’s list of refractors grows every year. Some colors have become staples, while others come and go. For example, here’s a list of the different types of prizms in Prizm 2020-21 basketball:
Some of the non-numbered prizms seem to have a print run in the thousands. Others in the hundreds. The great advantage to numbered prizms is that we know precisely how common they are. Generally speaking, numbered prizms are less common.
And, if you didn’t think those 31 different Prizms were enough, that’s not counting the Choice Prizms (featuring Nebula, Tiger Stripe, and more) or the Fast Break Prizms.
With this many options, how do you design what to invest in?
Your budget, for one, should be the best indicator of what you should buy, but if you can afford to go all-in, the lower-numbered (serial-numbered print runs, that is) cards are always more valuable. Or, if you are one to care about eye-appeal, buy a prizm that matches the uniform of your favorite player. A green pulsar of a Boston Celtic, for example, might visually pop.
Refractors are worth more than the base cards, but how much more precisely? It depends on the scarcity, and to illustrate just how much that matters, we’ve put together a table for Zion Williamson Prizm Rookies (PSA 10).
Remember, the market has been moving up and down a lot recently, but this table should still give you a feel for value:
|CARD||EBAY COMP PRICE|
|Neon Green /5||$54,000|
From the numbers in this Panini refractor Guide, we learn two things:
For one—and this comes as no surprise—but the numbered cards sold for the most, and for a generational talent like Zion, the lowest-numbered card sold for more than the price of a new truck.
What is surprising, however, is the strength of the silver prizm. While there’s no print run posted, it’s easy to assume the silver prizm is the most common of any of the colors, and yet it outsells every other unnumbered parallel on the table.
Best guess: it has a classic feel and a timeless appeal.
It might not make sense from a supply and demand perspective, but if silver prizms are the way to go if you’re looking to get the most investment bang for your buck.
Now that you’re a practiced refractor expert get out there and start shopping, ripping packs, or buying into your next break.