No, it's not easy. Pokémon cards come in packs, boxes, tins, promo packs, prizes and give-a ways.
And each one is different!
Worse yet, they have been manufactured by two different companies. Older cards were manufactured by Wizards of the Coast. Current cards are manufactured by Pokémon International.
This should help you get a little more familiar with the cards, but it is by no means an exhaustive description of all variations of Pokémon cards that have been made.
Each Pokémon card is associated with a set. Sets are released typically four times a year, and all the cards in a set will have the same symbol identifying the set.
For the older cards, the set symbol is on the right half of the card, just below the Pokémon picture.
Cards from Wizards of the Coast
Here we have an Articuno card from the Fossil Set, which was the third set printed by Wizards of the Coast. (1999)
The image has a semi-holographic background, we call this "Holo" for short in the US.
- Some sets, featured holo and non-holo (plain) versions of the same card.
In the lower right is the collection number 2/62. This means it is card #2 out of 62 cards in the set. Both companies produce secret rare cards that are numbered higher than the number of cards in the set. In the Team Rocket set, the Dark Raichu card was numbered 63/62.
Wizards of the Coast liked to print the first run of cards with the 1st edition symbol on them. These cards are more valuable than non-fist edition cards.
Pokémon International does not produce 1st edition cards.
- Base Set, the very first set printed has no expansion symbol under the picture.
- Promotional cards were initially given a black star Promotional Symbol, which started in the same location as the set symbol, but later moved to the lower right corner.
In General, Wizards of the Coast made 16 of the rare cards in each set Holo, and all the other cards were plain. Even some other rare cards.
Cards from Pokémon International
Here we have an Forretress card from the Call of Legends Set. You can see that the style of the card has changed considerably.
The image has a semi-holographic background. We call this a "Holo" in the US.
- Almost all of the Pokémon International cards come in Holo and Reverse Holo versions. Reverse Holo cards have the reflective foiling outside of the Pokémon Image - the reverse of normal.
- Promotional versions of these cards are usually given a unique number, such as HGSS01 - which means Heart Gold Soul Silver Series Promo #1
The Pokémon Company generally makes about half of the rares in a set Holo, the rest of the cards non-holo, and then in addition, makes a reverse Holo version of every card.
Secret rares are usually reverse Holo only.
Special cards, such as Level X, Ex and Legendary cards, have a silver holographic border, and never come in reverse Holo or non-holo versions.
Reverse Holo Version
Base Set cards from Wizards of the Coast
- This is a Base set, 1st Edition Charizard. Quite valuable.
- There is no expansion set symbol - so this is from the Base set.
- There were 102 cards in the base set, which is another way to tell.
- The card has the 1st Edition symbol
- These were the first English Pokemon cards printed.
- This is a Base set, Shadowless Charizard. Still quite valuable.
- There is no expansion symbol - meaning it is base set.
- There is no 1st Edition Symbol, and the frame around the Charizard picture has a beveled look.
- Unlimited Charizards (below) have a shadowed frame around the image, this card does not and for that reason is called Shadowless.
- Shadowless Base set cards were the second print run.
- Shadowless Base set cards have the Copyright 1995, 96, 98, 99 - this is how you tell the trainer cards apart.
- This is a Base set, unlimited Charizard. It is worth around $50.00
- The Charizard artwork has a picture frame around it with a shadow down and to the right - not the bevele as seen above.
- The copyright reads Copyright 1995, 96, 98 etc. (note that 99 is missing.)
- These cards were reprinted six times.
- The final printing says (C) Wizards 1999-2000 in the lower right corner. These are the 1999-2000 cards.