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Methods to Calculate Print Runs

Methods to Calculate Print Runs

This guest post came through our Article Submission Program. Thoughts and opinions are those of the author.


Using Serial-Numbered Cards and Case Breaks to Calculate Print Runs: 2017-18 Prizm Basketball

Prizm Basketball.

Since its inception in 2012-13, this set has grown into the standard for collecting recent basketball rookies and rainbows. But as I opened a box of 2017-18 Prizm Fast Break over the weekend, I wondered what many others have in recent years: how many of these base and parallel rookies are there? We know that rookie silver prizms are a popular, valuable target, but is that a product of low supply or high demand—or both?

As I have been diving deep into my collection over the last two months, I decided it would be worthwhile to research the different formats of 2017-18 Prizm Basketball and calculate the approximate print run of the base cards and their parallels. While the analysis of this year is not informative of the Prizm card population for other seasons, it does give a good indication of scarcity for rookie cards of younger all-stars, such as Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and Bam Adebayo, as well as cards of popular superstars, like LeBron and Giannis.

After hours of watching videos and doing math for fun, my findings are below. Keep in mind that the shorter print the numbered card is, the less likely the calculation is to be accurate with a small sample size. For that reason, take my estimates of retail products (which have few serial-numbered cards) with a grain of salt, but they will put us in the ballpark. And this process can be duplicated with many other sets if you have the time and desire.

*Note: This data only includes base cards and their parallels. Inserts and other cards were used as a reference in the process, but not the focus of this article. A quick recap of the overall estimated print run of base cards and their parallels can be found at the end.

Hobby Boxes

Let’s begin with hobby boxes, as this format is well-recognized among modern collectors. Important information to remember for 2017-18 Prizm Hobby Boxes:

-12 packs per box, with 12 cards each

-On average, includes 2 autographs and 22 prizm parallels

-In First Off the Line (FOTL) boxes, you receive 2 red shimmer parallels, both numbered to 8.

Other base prizm colors found in hobby boxes include:

-Silvers -Purple (to 75)

-Ruby waves -Orange (to 49)

-Hypers -Mojo (to 25)

-Blue (to 199) -Gold (to 10)

-Blue ice (to 99) -Black (to 1)

By watching a case break, thanks to a video posted by Cardsmith Breaks, I counted the occurrences of each color of base card in one of their 12-box cases.

SilverHyperRubyBlueBlue IcePurpleOrangeMojoGoldBlack
Box 1644211
Box 26442111
Box 364421111
Box 464431
Box 5644221
Box 6644211
Box 7644211
Box 8644311
Box 964421111
Box 106442111
Box 1164421111
Box 12644211

Every box in the case had six silvers, plus four packs with both a hyper and ruby wave. Each box also had four to six numbered base parallels, but if you removed the mojo and gold parallels, no box had more than five numbered cards. It seems likely the parallels below orange are not consistent from case-to-case, so I do not believe this is a large enough sample from which to calculate overall print run from those short prints.

However, using the frequency of other numbered cards, we should be able to calculate how many cases. Our formula:

(# of serial-numbered cards) * (base set) / (case frequency) = total number of cases

For example, we could add together the three most common numbered Prizm cards found in a hobby box (blue, blue ice, and purple), and discover there should be 373 total of these serial-numbered parallels for each base card. With a 300 card base set, that brings us to a total of 111,900 blue, blue ice, or purple Prizm cards in existence.

If these higher-numbered parallels cards occur at a frequency of 48 per case as detailed in the table above, there should be about 2,331 hobby cases of Prizm basketball (including First Off the Line, as they include about the same number of prizms but with the addition of the red shimmers).

(373 serial-numbered cards) * (300 card base set) / (48 per case) = 2331.25 cases

Other groupings can be used to calculate this as well. Based on just the blue parallels, there are 2,296 cases.

Blue ice, 2,285. Purple, 2,500. Orange, 2,450.

For today, we will go with 2,330 cases, since that seems around the most likely number based on my initial calculation using the most frequent numbered parallels. That would translate to:

2330 cases * 72 silvers/case = 167,760 silvers (559 silvers of each base)

2330 cases * 48 hypers/case = 111,840 hypers (373 hypers of each base)

2330 cases * 48 ruby waves/case = 111,840 ruby waves (373 ruby waves of each base)

Since there are an average of 2 autographs, 22 prizms, and 10 inserts in each hobby box, that leaves 110 base cards in each box, or 1,320 per case.

2330 cases * 1320 base/case = 3,075,600 base (10,252 copies of each base)

Already we see silver prizms are far more rare than the base cards, but we begin to see a trend that other unnumbered parallels (hyper and ruby wave) are even less common.

Retal Box

Now that we have gone over the process in detail, we can speed through the different retail formats available in 2017-18:

-Retail boxes (24 packs of 4 cards each; 20 boxes in each case)

-Blaster boxes (6 packs of 4 cards each; 20 boxes in each case)

-Multi-pack boxes (12 cello packs with 3 inner packs of 4 cards each and a 3-card red-white-blue pack for a total of 15 cards in each cello pack; 20 boxes in each case)

Each of these three formats includes a numbered pulsar parallel (pink pulsar to 42 in retail, green pulsar to 25 in blasters, red pulsar to 25 in multi-packs), along with retail-only green prizms and silver prizms. The 24-pack retail boxes also include ruby wave prizms (like hobby) and the multi-pack boxes contain the red white blue prizms.

Retail Case Breakdown (Nasty Breaks)

1440 Base121 Silvers80 Greens60 Ruby waves9 Pink pulsars

Blaster Case Breakdown (Blowout Cards)

327 Base40 Silvers20 Greens1 Green pulsars

Multi-pack Case Breakdown (Nasty Breaks Part 1, Part 2)

2160 Base350 Silvers60 Greens720 Red-white-blues6 Red pulsars

Using the formula from earlier with serial numbered cards found in hobby boxes, we can get an idea of how many cases were produced of these retail formats.

Retail: (42 pink pulsar) * (300 card base set) / (9 per case) = 1400 cases

Blasters: (25 green pulsar) * (300 card base set) / (1 per case) = 7500 cases

Multi-pack: (25 red pulsar) * (300 card base set) / (6 per case) = 1250 cases

Remember that the shorter print your numbered card is, the less likely it is to be accurate with a small sample size. These three formats were much harder to estimate than the hobby boxes.

For the 24-pack retail boxes, I adjusted the pink pulsar frequency to 10 per case, meaning there are now 1,260 cases containing 120 silvers, 80 greens, and 60 ruby waves each.

1260 cases * 120 silvers/case = 151,200 silvers (504 silvers of each base)

1260 cases * 80 greens/case = 100,800 greens (336 greens of each base)

1260 cases * 60 ruby waves/case = 75,600 ruby waves (252 ruby waves of each base)

1260 cases * 1440 base/case = 1,814,400 base cards (6,048 copies of each base)

7,500 cases of blasters would translate to 1,000 silvers of each card in that product alone, almost twice the number found in hobby boxes. In the case I saw opened, there were also two Sensational Signatures pulled, which are the only autographs available in the blasters. If each of the 7,500 cases had two autographs, that would mean 1,500 of each Sensational Swatch card in the checklist and all ten of the rookies had approximately 1,500 Sensational Signatures. Those numbers seem unrealistic at first glance, so I believe 3,750 cases with an average of 2 green pulsars per case could be closer to accurate (meaning there are 750 Sensational Swatches for each player in that set and each rookie has 750 autographs; still high, but appears more plausible).

For that reason, we will use 3,750 cases to calculate the population of silvers, greens, and base found in blasters.

3750 cases * 40 silvers/case = 150,000 silvers (500 silvers of each base)

3750 cases * 20 greens/case = 75,000 greens (250 greens of each base)

3750 cases * 327 base/case = 1,226,250 base cards (4,088 copies of each base)

With the multi-pack cases, you are guaranteed 720 red-white-blue prizms because there are 20 boxes with 15 cellos. If the break is an accurate ratio of silver base to green base, there are almost six times more silvers found in the multi-packs.

1250 cases * 350 silvers/case = 437,500 silvers (1,458 silvers of each base)

1250 cases * 60 greens/case = 75,000 greens (250 greens of each base)

1250 cases * 720 RWB/case = 900,000 RWB (3,000 RWB of each base)

1250 cases * 2160 base/case = 2,700,000 base cards (9,000 copies of each base)

It should be noted that if the average number of red pulsars in a case is lower than 6, then the population of both silver and RWB prizms found in this product increase substantially (even 5 red pulsars per case would add nearly 300 silvers and 600 RWB of each base card). I did my best to count the number of other parallels during the video, as they were not all included in the recap at the end.

Fast Break Boxes

Returning now to the Fast Break boxes, which started my train of thought. 2017-18 was the first year Prizm Fast Break was produced, and included 8 exclusive parallels:

-Fast break -Pink fast break (to 50)

-Blue fast break (to 175) -Bronze fast break (to 20)

-Red fast break (to 125) -Neon green fast break (to 5)

-Purple fast break (to 75) -Black fast break (to 1)

You may note that no silver prizms were printed with this product. Each box does contain seven unnumbered fast break base cards and four numbered fast break parallels. Using the formula from earlier one more time (adding together the total of every serial-numbered card), we can determine the approximate number of cases, then  the unnumbered fast break and base cards.

(451 serial-numbered cards) * (300 card base set) / (80 per case) = 1691.25 cases

1691 cases * 140 fast break/case = 236,740 fast breaks prizms (789 fast breaks of each base)

1691 cases * 1440 base cards/case = 2,435,040 base cards (8,117 copies of each base)

Conclusion: The Final Tally

If you read the whole article, you may already notice the general trend of the 2017-18 Prizm Basketball print run, particularly when it comes to silver prizms. If you did not read the whole article, but are more interested in the hard data, the chart below shows the approximate population of each form of a Prizm base card (including the white sparkle, which was an online exclusive that Panini confirms has a print run below 20 for each card).

Base37,505Pink Fast Break Prizm50
Silver Prizm3,021Orange Prizm49
RWB Prizm3,000Pink Pulsar Prizm42
Green Prizm836Green Pulsar Prizm25
Fast Break Prizm789Red Pulsar Prizm25
Ruby Wave Prizm625Mojo Prizm25
Hyper Prizm373Bronze Fast Break Prizm20
Blue Prizm199White Sparkle Prizm<20
Blue Fast Break Prizm175Gold Prizm10
Red Fast Break Prizm125Neon Green Fast Break Prizm5
Blue Ice Prizm99Black Fast Break Prizm1
Purple Prizm75Black Prizm1
Purple Fast Break Prizm75

Based on my calculations, the print run of silver prizms in 2017-18 is likely similar in number to the red-white-blue prizms. If you follow eBay sales, you will quickly discover there is however a significant sale price difference between the two parallels.

The most logical explanation for the difference in cost would be consumer demand and expectation. The silver prizms are a familiar product for most collectors, as it has been a fixture of the product since its first incarnation, when prizms were included at a rate of just two per hobby box. PSA records for this set show over 20% of my silver prizms estimation for Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and De’Aaron Fox—the most popular 2017-18 rookies according to PSA population—are already graded, which is a rate over 10% higher than their graded base rookies and a consistently higher grading rate than other five unnumbered prizms of those respective players. Clearly, the market sees silver prizms as a worthwhile commodity to invest in.

Can these values be sustained over the long term, while other, less common parallels are available for less? Time will tell. Maybe silver prizms will remain the most popular, yet accessible color in the Prizm basketball set. In the meantime, it may be wise to look at the relative value of each parallel as you consider your purchase, whether you are an investor or a hobbyist.

This was an excellent article that provided a valuable look at how to calculate print runs. If there is anything you would like to add to help the community, we would love to hear from you.

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View Comments (12)
  • Fantastic article. This is something I’ve been growing more curious about especially in relation to pack odds printed on hobby boxes and just in general for card sets. It’s interesting see that while the Silver Prizms tend to go for a lot higher, that the other ‘color’ variants (even the Green) are relatively far scarcer.

    If you’ve used the MM tool, have you compared going rates for a Silver Prizm against just a Green and Hyper Prizm? I’ve been trying to look for edges and I believe scarcity, especially in the future, may boost a card’s value even if they may not be numbered. It seems like getting a handful of Hyper Prizms for a PSA or even BGS 10 of superstars would provide similar (if not more) bang for the buck down the road as your quantity would be larger than owning say a PSA 9 of a Silver Prizm.

    • I have not used the MM tool, I have pretty much been doing it all myself while scrolling eBay. The tool would probably save me time though.

      And I agree, scarcity does seem like it would help a card’s value, even if it’s not from the “standard” set. However, it is important to keep in mind there’s a balance between that scarcity and what people want. But I think a shift in collecting may be possible in the near future. Thank you!

      • Smartest comment I have read on this forum. Always be aware because history teaches us going after today what’s not the “it” cards can be very very beneficial. Throwback Thursday cards in 2018, topps living sets at introduction, topps complete sets, early prizm cards, Lebron base cards, even project 2020 cards at release. These are all cards people skipped right over chasing what someone else told them to buy.

  • Absolutely applaud your research and review. I have NOT seen any estimates like this before. Could you use this formula and adjust as needed to run Prizm 2012 and 2019? I would recommend a larger sampling of data watching case breaks, but again I love this article.

    • You can do some similar calculations for other years, but I believe this year’s set would be rather difficult since they have added formats like the hanger boxes, that I don’t believe include any numbered cards. I also think they also got rid of the red pulsar from the cello packs in 2018, so there’s no accurate way to judge those numbers either. But using the other formats can give you a rough idea.

      I will say that using this method for the 2012 Prizm Basketball set should work pretty well. It’s not as easy to find good video feeds of case breaks from 7 or 8 years ago, but based on what I have seen, my guess is that the silvers for that year is around 75 card. If that’s true, then the base population from the hobby formats would be under 7,500. Of course there are retail boxes too which contain green prizms and more base cards, but that should give you an idea of the difference between recent years and the inaugural set.

      And you are totally right about getting a larger sample size! I did what I had the time for and tried to remind myself and the reader that there’s still a margin for error with these numbers. Hopefully I ended up in the ballpark!

  • Excellent article! I’ve been thinking of this for a while now and was excited to read such a detailed article about this! Great research and you definitely put the time in on this one!

  • Great Article! I think this would be very useful information to have on MARKET MOVERS (Hint! Hint!). I really think that card makers should have more transparency on their print runs as well. I dont trust that the almighty $ won’t bring a second coming of the junk wax era!

  • This was such an informative article, thanks for sharing. I must admit, I have been lazy in doing the math for new releases, and mostly relied on pop reports to estimate print runs for past releases, however this has motivated me to try and be more on top of things. I recently saw a comment from Geoff saying he thinks 2019-20 Panini Chronicles Retail Basketball has been heavily printed, has anything caused you to believe this at all? Thanks again for the article.

    • It’s a constant process of researching products I am interested in to determine if a certain card or parallel is of good value (especially if I am looking to add to my PC). As far as this year’s Chronicles set, I have not taken the time to look into that yet. It will be a challenge to accurately project print runs with so many formats, but it can probably be done. Likely an upcoming project for me, but I since I had a hard time finding the product at an affordable price I have not invested the time yet.

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