Pokemon card sleeve review

Pokemon Card Sleeves Review - Are Pokemon's Own Sleeves Any Good?

Written by Andrew

5 minute read

So, you’ve opened your ETB and the exhilarating moment of cracking the packs has come and gone, leaving you with a perplexing combination of an energy brick, a handful of dice, and a pack of Pokemon card sleeves. Now, some folks might consider selling off those extra goodies to recoup a bit of their investment. However, for the majority of collectors, these seemingly insignificant sleeves tend to be cast aside and forgotten in the darkest corners of their collection. 

But wait, are these Pokemon sleeves more than just an afterthought? How do they stack up against sleeves from the best sleeve manufacturers? We’ll put them through our usual array of tests to find out…

What are Pokemon card sleeves?

In the context of this article, when we mention Pokemon card sleeves, we're specifically referring to the pack of sleeves that accompany Elite Trainer Boxes, other specialty boxes, and those available for purchase directly from The Pokemon Center. 

Unsurprisingly, these sleeves are in the Pokemon card game size (66x91mm) but will work with any standard sized trading card game if you so desire. Each side measures 80 microns which is extremely thin for an outer sleeve.

How is the shuffle feel?

We split shuffle feel into 2 categories: buttery smooth with some friction and matte smooth with very little friction. The Pokemon branded sleeves fall into the matte smooth group. The shuffle feel is good but the seams tend to catch slightly, detracting from the otherwise smooth shuffling. Not unpleasant but also not as good as most sleeves on the market. We score this an average 6/10.

How strong are the seams?

To test the strength of the seams, we conducted a stretch test where we pulled on the fronts and backs of the sleeves to see the force required to rip them. The main point of this test is to see if the sleeves are sturdy enough to not split during the sleeving or double-sleeving process.

During the stretch test, we observed two different manufacturing processes used in making the sleeves. The first and stronger method involves incorporating the reflective layer as part of the sleeve pouch, with the artwork back glued on separately. In this variant, the seams exhibit exceptional strength and rank among the best we have tested. Under pressure, the seams often warp and stretch without splitting.  

Conversely, the second method involves the reflective layer being part of the artwork back, which is then glued onto the thinner back of the sleeve pocket. The seams in this variant are notably weak, and even a gentle pull is enough to cleanly split them along the seal. 

A diagram showing the 2 different manufacturing methods

All this sounds very confusing, we know, so we've included a handy depiction of the 2 methods above. Put simply, the seam of the sleeve is thicker and stronger when reinforced with the reflective layer. We're uncertain whether the stronger variant is more prevalent in newer sleeves or if both methods are still in use. Either way, this drastic variation means we cannot give a consistent score for seam strength.

How durable are Pokemon card sleeves?

For the next test, we sleeve up 50 cards in a variety of Pokemon sleeves and give them 1000 rough shuffles. During this test, we are really slamming the cards together in order to simulate prolonged usage. 

For the 'strong' seam variant, as explained above, signs of heavy damage were evident after just 300 shuffles, and after the full 1000, the sleeves were in very bad shape. While only 3 sleeves split all the way through, the artwork backs became frayed and began separating from the sleeve pocket. Add to that the scuffs and damaged corners and we have ourselves a very poor showing compared to sleeves from top manufacturers. 

For the 'weak' seam variant, damage was evident within the first 100 shuffles and by 300, we had to stop the test as the sleeves were completely split and destroyed. 

The results of the 1000 shuffles

The results of our rough shuffling test with the stronger variant on the left and the weaker variant on the right.

Our second test for durability is a scratch test to see how easy the sleeve backs are to mark. This is particularly important for competitive players who need sleeves to remain completely unidentifiable from one another. Unfortunately, it's another poor showing from the Pokemon card sleeves, with the sleeve backs offering no resistance at all to the scratching. Even very gentle contact will leave permanent marks behind. 

We would consider the official Pokemon card sleeves the weakest outer sleeves we have tested and would not recommend using them for game play. We rate them a lowly 1/10 for durability.

The results of our scratch test

Both sleeves have the same easy-to-mark material on the back.

How clear are the sleeve fronts?

As these are matte sleeves, they have a ‘frosted’ front and will dull the colours of cards as well as dull the shine of foils. As far as we know, all of the official Pokemon card sleeves, no matter what the artwork is on the back, have this same matte finish. We score these a 2/10 for clarity as they are not designed to display your cards clearly - and you shouldn’t use them to.  

Comparing the low clarity of the Pokemon sleeves to a high clarity alternative.

The matte Pokemon sleeves on the left compared to a high clarity outer sleeve on the right.

How opaque are the backs?

All of the official Pokemon card sleeves we tested are made with a reflective coloured inner-back which ensures that they are fully opaque. While we don't know if this is consistent across all Pokemon sleeves, we are confident that any sleeve featuring this extra barrier will have no opacity issues. 10/10.

Are they easy to double-sleeve with?

We combined 7 different inner sleeves with the Pokemon outer sleeves to see just how compatible and easy they are to double-sleeve with, totalling 700 sleeving attempts. When double-sleeving, we consider a fit as bad if the inner sleeved card slips out when being inserted into the outer sleeve. This tends to happen if the outer sleeve is too tight or the inner sleeve is too loose - or a combination of both. 

Out of the 700 sleeving attempts, only 44 came back as bad, leading to a fairly impressive showing in relation to other outer sleeves. We believe this is mainly due to the looseness of the Pokemon sleeves with the space inside being noticeably larger compared to most others. 

While this all sounds good, there is a hiccup in the process. Even with the generous space and the small amount of bad fits, we would not describe the double-sleeving experience as smooth. The insides of the sleeves have a very grippy texture which makes the inner sleeve catch when going in, making the sleeving action jittery and unpleasant. This is very strange and not something we have seen in any other outer sleeve. 

All in all, despite the lack of fit issues, we can only give an average 6/10 for ease of double-sleeving.

How much do Pokemon card sleeves cost?

The price of official Pokemon sleeves is £6.99 from The Pokemon Centre, but the sleeves that come in Elite Trainer Boxes are a part of the overall ETB package. We would hesitate to call them ‘free’ but it leaves their value somewhat ambiguous. Normally, a sealed pack of 65 sleeves from ETBs can be found on the secondary market for around £3.  

A sample of the different artworks available for Pokemon sleeves

Pokemon's official sleeves are available in a variety of beautiful artworks.

Closing thoughts

Overall, the official Pokemon card sleeves are a lacklustre option, both for playing, as well as displaying. The sleeve backs are simply too easy to mark to be used in competitive play, and the frosted matte fronts do not lend well to showing off your best pulls.  

Shuffle Feel
Seam Strength
Varies depending on artwork
£6.99 from The Pokemon Centre

So, where does this leave these sleeves? Unfortunately, for most enthusiasts, it is best to consider them as collector's items - but this is not to say you should never buy them! If one of the fantastic artworks appeals to you or the person you are buying for, that is always a valid reason to make the purchase. Just keep in mind that they may not match the quality of sleeves from brands such as Dragon Shield, Ultimate Guard, Gamegenic, or Ultra Pro.  

Speaking of the latter, Ultra Pro themselves have a fantastic range of licensed Pokemon artwork sleeves that are of a much higher quality if you desire beautiful sleeves without the compromise. Otherwise, if you are looking for a high performance sleeve as a Pokemon player or collector, then our Best Pokemon Sleeves Guide may help. 

We hope we have shed some light on these little talked about Pokemon card sleeves. For more informative product reviews, check out our extensive writings here. As always, thank you for reading!

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