No matter who you are or what your eventual end goal is, you are limiting your options by not knowing how to properly ship a Magic card. There are some things you can do to make a package special but also some things that are not necessary. The most important thing is to make sure you are shipping something that doesn't damage the cards. Too many times I've received very makeshift packages that people got lucky and survived the mail system. While some of these points will be specific to people living in the United States, packaging is something that is universally lacking.
What do you need?
Ostensibly, you need a lot of things to mail a good secure package but the reality is that it's not nearly as much as you think. Here is my basic set of tools to send out cards. A box of plain white envelopes (often abbreviated "PWE"), a scissor, a bubble mailer, team bags, penny sleeves, stamps, toploaders, and the card you're mailing. Depending on where you purchase all of these things, you shouldn't end up paying more than $20 or so to start up. I'm sure some people are familiar with most of these things, but not with mailing best practices. Let's take it from the top.
What do I do?
I prefer to buy size 6 3/4 envelopes (9.2cm x 16.5cm) due to their shape and weight. They are large enough for a few cards to fit comfortably but not too large that a loose toploader will move around a lot and rip the envelope. Outside of this there are many varieties of envelopes but the most basic security lined envelopes cost you somewhere in the ballpark of $0.03 each. If you plan to do this a lot, I would recommend purchasing self-adhesive envelopes. It will save you a lot of stress and time not having to wet the envelope to seal it. Penny sleeves, as the name implies, are usually about 100 for $1 (or $0.01 each) and are where the process starts. It's a slang term but if you ask your LGS they should know what you are looking for. Alternatively, you can find them here.
The first step is for small orders (1-2 cards) put the cards upside down into the sleeve. Theoretically which side is up doesn't matter that much but it makes it easier to explain the later steps if you put the closed end of the sleeve on the top of the card.
After you put it into the sleeve, fold the open side over to create a small flap. Penny sleeves should be longer than your card and if you can't make a nice fold then there are probably too many cards in the sleeve for one toploader. You will need a team bag for this order.
Put the sleeve into a toploader with the folded side entering first. This will ensure the card doesn't move around much in the sleeve and get dinged up by the toploader. It also provides some tension to keep the card from sliding out of the toploader after being mailed. Many people will put tape at the open end of the toploader but if you put the card in this way you will not need to do this. Taping the end of a toploader makes it more difficult to remove the card and sometimes the tape can melt and make it more likely the customer damages the card while attempting to remove it.
After you finish you should be able to shake the toploader and see little to no movement. Now you may also notice the fit is pretty tight. You can probably fit a playset of cards in this toploader but I highly recommend you do not do this. While it may be possible to get into the toploader, it will be very hard to get out. Your packaging should be easy for the customer to open when they receive the card.
When you are mailing more than two cards you should start the same way as you would with just one. Put the cards into the penny sleeve upside down. Don't put the sleeve into the toploader. Team bags are what we're going to use to secure the cards. Team bags are pretty large self-sealing sleeves. They're called team bags because sports card stores use them to make bags of the same team. Instead of putting a team into our bag, we're going to put the cards we are shipping into it. Team bags are nice because they snugly fit all of our cards and our toploader without making it difficult for the customer to open the package. Team bags also keep a lot of moisture away from the cards and can help if a package gets wet. I live in Florida so sometimes it rains a lot and my mailbox can get a lot of water inside of it. Team bags help keep the cards dry in this case. Team bags also allow you make the package easy to open but also sturdy. I recommend this for 4-8 cards. I do not recommend putting more than one toploader into a team bag. The second toploader won't hurt but also doesn't really do anything. Anything that would damage the cards through one toploader won't get stopped by a second toploader. Since toploaders are not cheap, I would not recommend putting more than one.
Now to finish it all off, put a Post-it note on the sealed team bag with your order number or your buylist number and you have one nice package. For single toploader envelopes, you can fold the post-it over the open end of the toploader to help secure the card more without adding additional inconveniences when the customer opens it.
What is the point of all these weird procedures? To minimize the amount of tape you put on everything. It's a pretty big waste most of the time and gets the toploader all sticky for the next person. Ideally you will reuse the toploaders you get sent to save money and I'd rather my recipient not need to clean off the tape after they receive my card.
After you've finished packaging your envelope you can address the front and slap a Forever stamp on it and it's ready to be dropped into a local mailbox.
What's the total damage?
- Envelope $0.03
- Penny Sleeve $0.01
- Team Bag $0.03
- Toploader (Free or approx. $0.25 in bulk)
- Forever Stamp $0.55
Theoretically, the cheapest you can send a card is $0.62. That's pretty cheap but sometimes you want more protection for a valuable card. Bubble mailers can be available for $0.50 if you purchase them in bulk but the real extra cost here is in the shipping and time commitment to go to the post office to get tracking.
Cheat code shipping
Here is a link to the Paypal shipping service. It allows you to pay with your Paypal account (you must have a Paypal account to use this service) for a label that you can print out and tape to the bubble mailer. This saves money (it's actually cheaper than going to the Post Office) and tons of time (you don't have to go to the Post Office to mail it). I generally choose to ship the cheapest way with tracking. This is USPS First class thick envelope that weighs 3oz. That's typically enough for a small bubble mailer and packaging for up to 10 cards in a team bag. Shipping this way ends up costing $2.76 (at the time of writing) for shipping inside the US plus materials.
Where do I get this stuff?
Many of these things you can find at your LGS. The shipping supplies you can purchase online in bulk at a discount. Team bags are probably the hardest things to find and you can either ask your LGS to order some from their distributor or buy them on Amazon. You can find smaller quantities for close to retail but you start saving a lot once you hit case size quantities. While this is not an option for everyone, if you do decide to get into selling a lot of cards you can save a lot of money by buying in bulk. Unlike food, sleeves and envelopes don't spoil.
I hope this shipping tutorial was helpful. Do you do it similarly to me? Is there anything you think I might have missed? Please feel free to leave a comment below.