Three years ago, Panini and Topps started offering print-to-demand products on their websites.  Some of the more popular sets are Panini Instant, Topps Now, Topps Living and Topps Project 2020.  For those new or returning to the hobby it works like this:

  • Cards are for sale on the company’s website for a limited time period, which can range from 24 hours to a week
  • After the sale window closes, the cards printed are limited to the number purchased
  • Finally, cards are mailed to the buyer

When the print-to-demand concept was first initiated by Panini and Topps, I admit that I was skeptical.  As someone who grew up in the 1990’s ripping packs to find the players I wanted to collect, the idea was totally foreign.  Clearly, I was wrong on this one.  As we have seen with Topps Project 2020, collectors and investors will embrace a print-to-demand set.  

The clearest example of this is the Ermsy Mike Trout (print run 2,911), which earlier this year was selling consistently on the secondary market for more than $3,000.  While prices for this and most of the other Project 2020 cards have declined recently, the Ermsy Trout demonstrates that money can be made through print-to-demand products.

One set of this type that is especially appealing to me is the Topps UEFA Champions League (UCL) Living Set.  The UCL Living set is composed entirely of soccer players, with three new players available for purchase on the Topps website each week.  If you read my articles last month, you know that I believe soccer cards are a good bet right now.  However, there are three additional reasons to look at the UCL Living set.

First, unlike many other products in the hobby, the print runs for Topps UCL Living are disclosed.  This means that as a collector or investor, you know exactly how many total cards Topps has made for a given player.  Furthermore, the print runs for some Topps UCL Living cards are unbelievably low when compared to what is typical for the industry.  #100 Kylian Mbappé has a print run of 402, while only 211 of #111 Jadon Sancho were made.  Both cards currently have Buy It Now prices of more than $200 on eBay.  Clearly, these prices are mainly because Mbappé and Sancho are two of the most exciting young players in the game, but at least some of the value is related to the perceived scarcity of these cards.

Second, some of the most compelling young stars have Topps UCL Living releases before they are included in traditional sets like Chronicles, Prizm, Select, Chrome and Finest.  Examples are #45 Frenkie De Jong (Barcelona), #117 Rodrygo (Real Madrid), #121 Rodri (Manchester City), #174 Federico Valverde (Real Madrid) and #180 Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund).

Third, if you like a player, you can buy as many of his cards as you want directly from Topps during the purchase window.  If you have been collecting for any period, you have likely experienced the frustration of wanting to purchase a specific player or card, only to discover that only one or none are available for sale.  Even worse, is bidding in an auction and waiting for a week, only to be outbid in the final seconds.  If you are watching the Topps site and purchasing within the availability time, these issues are not in play with Topps UCL Living.  The number of cards you buy is limited only by your budget and love for the player on the card.

So, is Topps UCL Living the next Topps Project 2020?  Admittedly the print runs for Topps UCL Living have started to creep up.  Earlier this year, 5,749 of #184 Kai Havertz were issued, and in early August, 10,942 of #200 Cristiano Ronaldo were printed.  Ultimately, if you are looking for cards in this set that will increase in or hold their value, I would focus on the ones that have print runs of less than 5,000.  Will a Topps UCL Living card ever sell for $3,000 like the Ermsy Trout?  Doubtful.  However, it is realistic to make three to five times your money if you keep an eye on the print runs and pick the right players.

And speaking of the “right” players, here are some who do not yet have Topps UCL Living cards, and would be good ones to buy when Topps releases them:

  • Mohammed Salah (Liverpool)
  • Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
  • Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)
  • Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan)
  • Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad)
  • Ansu Fati (Barcelona)

How about you?  How do you feel about print-to-demand products?  Are you collecting Topps Project 2020 or Topps UCL Living?  I would love to hear from you.  Please leave your comments in the section below.

Dan is married, has a daughter and son, and spends most of his days engaged in financial compliance activities for an insurance company.  He has been known to overuse caffeine and has been collecting and trading sports memorabilia since 1985.

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