Skip to main content

A tiny problem

I got my first look at 2021 Topps in person yesterday.

It was just one card. I received the above Tony Gonsolin from Jeremy of Topps Cards That Never Were, plus a wish that this would be the first of many 2021s in my collection. Thanks, Jeremy, I think your wish will be granted.

Usually when I receive the first cards of the season, I go about dissecting the design, etc. But I did most of that six months ago and there's not a lot new to say (nor any packs to buy). I will mention that this design could have been better if Topps did not add the extra slash bars on the left side. Those are pointless and they also infringe unnecessarily on the photo. I don't think having a shelf where the rookie cup logo can sit is enough of a reason.
It's a very Bowman-esque design with lots of unneeded doodads (why is there a height measurement chart on the left-hand side?). But the only thing I want to write about in detail for this post is the size of the name font:

Why the f**k is it so small?

Usually, when I see online complaints about the look of Topps' new set, much of me dismisses it as over-the-top reaction to the newness of it all. If you haven't noticed, social media sites like to overreact to things and, yup, card design is definitely one of those things. I read the complaints about the tiny names and I figured folks were exaggerating. They're surely better in hand!


People probably think I'm overreacting right now. But I don't think it's asking too much to make the name on the front of the card readable. And it's not readable!

I'm at a stage in my life where tiny type is now almost impossible for me to view. It's gotten to the point where I can't read agate type in my own newspaper if the lighting isn't right. And I've started to come to terms with not being able to read card backs, especially modern-day card backs -- the font size used is both smaller and not as bold as some of the card backs from my younger days.

But I never expected this to be a problem on the front of the card! With the player's own name!!

Here, I did a little impromptu experiment.

I took a picture of a 1987 Topps Traded Mickey Hatcher card, just because I had an envelope from Baseball Cards Come to Life! queued up next.

This is Hatcher's card taken with a distance of 16 inches between the phone camera and the card. I kept the photo frame size about the same size as what's on my phone so you can see what I saw. The team name is difficult to read, but I could probably guess at the name if I didn't know whose card it was (and my brain hadn't memorized the image already).

Here is the Gonsolin card from 16 inches away. I have no hope of reading the team name. I can't read the team logo either, although I couldn't read the logo on the '87 Traded card either.

Moving in to 12 inches away with the Hatcher Traded card. The letters in Hatcher's name are not distinctly clear to my fading eyesight, but if I was at the optometrist staring at an eye chart that was the Mickey Hatcher card, I'd be able to make out the "Mickey" and then my brain would blurt out "Hatcher!" So, I can see it pretty much.

There is Gonsolin at 12 inches away. No chance, eye doctor. No idea. Just a blur. Go to the next line on the chart.

Here is Hatcher at 8 inches away. I can definitely read that name. Maybe the T and C in the last name is a bit muddled but the brain can put it together easy enough.

Gonsolin at 8 inches and no more clear than anything previous to this. At least I definitely know that's a rookie cup under his foot.

Hatcher from 6 inches away and why are we even still conducting this experiment? No problems name-reading at all.

Gonsolin on the other hand? Man. We're getting to the point that I can see separation between the first name and last name and I know the last name is longer than the first. I can sort of see that the first name starts with a T. But really, I shouldn't be straining at this point. And, no, my vision is NOT THAT BAD.

Finally, with the phone camera at 4 inches away, at 1:30 in the afternoon, on a sunny, bright day with two feet of snow on the ground to reflect even more light shining through the windows that are not even three feet from where the card is sitting, I can read Tony Gonsolin on the card -- if I squint a little.

Here is a shot I took of Gonsolin and another card just sitting randomly on my card table before I conducted the experiment. I even enlarged the photo a little. I can read the Baylor name on the '75 mini card (granted, it's closer) even though black-type-on-red isn't the most friendly read. I can't read the Gonsolin name.

I have gone my whole life with decent vision. I didn't need glasses until my early 20s and that was just for driving and distance-vision. Every trip to the eye doctor has been fine and any decline in vision I've experienced has been typical for someone in his mid-50s.

But why in the world do I feel like I should explain myself? The card name shouldn't be that difficult to read!

There is no reason to make the font size that small and condensed. This is my complaint with recent Topps design: design elements with no purpose. Design elements should have a function. The function of the name on the card is that people can read it so they know who it is. How will they know who it is if they can't read it?

I'm not sure of the point-size dimensions of the name font but if I had to guess I'd say 10-point and that's just too damn small, especially when a lot of baseball card collectors are in their 50s, 60s and 70s!

The 1987 name font isn't exceptionally bold or anything. It's fairly typical for the time. Most of the Topps flagship name fonts have been quite readable, if I had to point one out that wasn't that great, I'd say 1999 Topps. 1995 Topps is another one, but for a different reason (foil glare).

Anyway, let's see the rest of the cards Bo sent so we can read names on cards again.

Here are the other Dodgers from the '87 Traded set that Bo sent me after I realized I didn't have dupes of these cards already in my collection in my effort to finish off the Traded set (Bo had sent me most of the set earlier).

He also generously sent me the Greg Maddux card from the set. I thought I already had this card but I had confused it for the '87 Fleer Maddux. Set is now complete!

Bo also sent some welcome Bills cards, mostly from the '70s. How about that player name? No problems reading that!

More readable Bills from the 1974 Topps set. This design looks rather prehistoric, but at least you know what it is.

And three more Bills from the 1978 Topps set, which I ignored when I was a kid. I collected a lot of football in '77 and '79 but nothing in '78. Just as well, the sideways names and enclosed design doesn't do it for me.

A couple of more Bills from the early '80s. I remember when Joe Cribbs was the only thing Bills fans had worth bragging over.

There are a couple things I like about 2021 Topps. I like that it has borders and the silver 70th anniversary thing. But the more I think about the names on 2021 Topps, the more perplexed I get. How did that get past anyone? (Or maybe the question is: Is there anyone for it to get past?)

Considering how many rookies they jam into sets currently, being able to read names is particularly important because I don't know who some of these players are.

But I guess it's OK to make type that small now. It's only Topps' flagship set.

If we're making type whatever size we want now maybe I'll just make the type on my blog this size. You can all read that, right?


John Bateman said…
That is just the glossy front that the cards from the last 25 years have been. I long for the thin brown backs of pre 1992.
John Sharp said…
I've had glasses 🕶️ since I was ten.
That's 51 years of not seeing well.

The person at Topps, as well as the person who "okayed" the design shouldn't be allowed to do it again.

I agree about the bars on the left as well, it's just unnecessary.

Maybe they can fix it before Series 2.;

Good Job. 👍
I say nothing. I know nothing, but yeah it's tiny!
Nachos Grande said…
You are correct about the team names. I've now ripped two boxes of 2021 Topps as part of group breaks and it was a giant PAIN to try and read the names, never mind trying to read them quickly. (and my vision is perfectly fine as well for those that might ask)

As for the slashes, if you put two 2021 Topps cards side-by-side, the slashes on each side line up. Maybe they'll look nifty in a binder if you collect the full set? Still too Bowman-y for me but it was cute discovery I made while sorting group break cards last week.
I can't read the card backs anymore either. I have resorted to keeping a magnifying glass nearby. For some releases the color scheme is so bad (Hello Prizm Basketball), that even with a magnifying glass I still can't read anything.
Billy Kingsley said…
This has been a problem for quite a while, consider yourself lucky that it's only hitting what you collect now. Some of the Panini sets have been like this for years. It's lucky I recognize the faces of the players on them.

This set is pretty much a knockoff of several Panini sets merged together, specifically 17-18 Prestige and several years of Donruss, but the name is smaller here.

A set that has tiny names that drives me nuts is 90-91 Bowman NHL. Smallest name font I've ever seen.

By the way I'm just about blind. Can't see well enough to drive even with my glasses. Been wearing them since 1st grade, without them I can see colors and shapes but no details.
You're right. I think there's no one at Topps that cares enough. Many of their design decisions in recent years seem to reflect that. It's unfortunate in this case because this font is truly unreadable.
night owl said…
@Billy Kingsley ~

Then why the hell aren't people who collect Panini (I don't) making noise about it like I am? That's garbage to half-ass the main identifying feature of the card.

1990-91 Bowman hockey is the same design as 1990 Bowman baseball. The name font is small but it is also in black on a light background, so it's easier to read than 2021 Topps, which is tiny, condensed, in color and ON A SLANT.
simpson said…
agreed completely, just baffling that such a small font for the nameplate could be approved.

since I don't know where else to post this rant, I just want to say I'm really put off by topps' extraordinary laziness on the back design. they have used this same back design since 2012: minor graphics mirroring the front, text blurb above the stats, typically the team logo. supremely lazy! even back in the junk wax era, the backs had their own design even if they were essentially the same. say what you will about mid-late 90s through 2000s tops, but the backs were colorful, creative, and packed in lots of interesting information in different ways. topps now just does the same back every year, even for their 70th anniversary. I'm shocked they haven't put a photo on the back since 2011. the 2010 backs are revolutionary compared to this rut. /rant over
Jeremy said…
I'm happy to see boarders back on the flagship set and I can live with the slashes but the tiny print was a huge blunder.

The thing that really bugs me is that people complained about the fine print when Topps first unveiled the design in August. Why didn't they fix it?
Fuji said…
The first time I saw the 2021 Topps design was when they announced Tatis would be card #1. I didn't love or hate the design at the time. But the more I see it, the more I dislike it. But that's okay... I'll still collect them (well the ones that are sent to me) since I doubt I'll go out of my way and try to buy any blasters of this stuff (or even find them if I wanted to).

P.S. Enjoyed your baseball card version of the DMV's vision test.
Bo said…
Check the backs of those '74s. If they have 1972 stats instead of 1973, or two stars on the bottom instead of one (for those with no stats), they are from the Parker Brothers game, not the '74 Topps base set. Turns out many of the cards from the lot I pulled those from were Parker Brothers and not Topps. It's like '68 Topps baseball, they produced a game with almost identical cards.
night owl said…
I checked them. They're all regular '74s. I wasn't aware that was a thing.
GTT said…
Yikes. I haven't been collecting modern cards much since 2018, and the only year I've been tempted to get more than my 40-ish cards a year was 2019. 2021 makes me think it'll be a long time before Topps makes a set that will interest me.

This is reminding me how grateful I am for glasses. I certainly don't have as bad eyesight as Billy Kingsley, but I've worn glasses since second grade, and it's a blurry world without my glasses.
Nick said…
I said it in my post about 2021 Topps, and I'll say it again -- if the card community is, on average, mostly older in age, then why are card fonts getting SMALLER? I don't get it. I'm lucky enough to have fairly good eyesight, but 2021 Topps is even a strain for me.
bryan was here said…
I see what you mean. I've only needed glasses for the past three years (I'm 49 and farsighted), but I can barely read the small front type on this year's Topps set. It reminds me of Panini's crappy baseball sets from recent years. (I noticed someone else sees them the same way.) When I need a magnifier to read the name, it's TOO DAMN SMALL!
I thought the late 2000s-early 2010's base sets were hard to read with that obnoxious foil, but this is ridiculous. If they'd done the names in foil, it would have been impossible.
Matt said…
Not only is the font size too small but what’s going on with the placement of the rookie cup? Why have it crammed up under his foot, just floating there? Seems like it would have a perfect home, anchored on the bottom in the left hand corner.