Topps recently gave the collecting world a peek at the 2016 base card design. We'll look at that in a moment. In the meantime, I started thinking about the base card designs over the past handful of years or so, deciding that the designs are finally starting to catch up with the times.
In 2009, Topps essentially went MIA in the design department. The cards featured a weird colored top corner with silver dots in it with a matching element in the opposite lower corner. A black, angled accent ran across the bottom in which the player's name and team were typed. Covering a portion of the lower dotted corner thing, the team's logo appeared on a "home plate" design. The card keeps the white border that is traditionally a Topps feature. Some might argue it is the one design element used by most card makers. Overall, this card was minimalistic and, well, looked like someone had just learned how to do photo editing for the first time. At least the images were large, if a bit blurry (as though they were digital images taken with an old 320x240 pixel camera and then blown up to fit the card template).
In 2010, things got a little better with a team-related color swatch that ran down the side of the card in a curve that resembled a vignette effect. The team name script sat prominently displayed in a bottom corner, covering part of the vignette effect. Players' names appeared typed at the very bottom of the card. Some folks thought that gradient border cut off too much of the photo, which again suffered from quality issues. The white border remains in place. This design marks the beginning of a "curvy" era in card graphics.
Things return to the minimal in 2011, as Topps foregoes team scripts and gradient fills for a simple arched banner than ran along the bottom of the card. Inside this curved, team color-inspired, bit e find the player's name. At the end of the, er, rainbow, a baseball icon with the team logo and team name sits in the lower corner. Under the rainbow, Topps adds the player's position, seemingly as an afterthought. On the plus side, the images filled the card. Again, white borders surround each card.
2012: Attack of the blob. I don't what was going on in 2012. I think maybe someone spilled paint on a mock-up up the card and someone else decided it needed to stay on the card. There is a huge, oval-ish team-colored blob that comes onto the card from the lower corner. It features the team logo, the player's first name on the colored blob's background and the player's last name in a black line that cuts the blob essentially in half. Well, it might be half, if the whole blob was on the card. To offset things a little, a couple of thin lines were added above the oval. Again, at least the images took up the majority of the card.
I specifically remember when the 2013 design first appeared. It was clean, kinda fun, different. Minimal? Sure. But, we finally had something that we hadn't seen before. The card featured a stylized home plate in the lower corner. Coming off of that, a first base and third base line that curved up and away from the plate. The player's name was printed below the design. A team logo filled the space under the first base line swoosh. Granted, this design meant a slightly smaller player image due to the bordering, but that didn't seem to be a bad thing. Someone at Topps was getting the hang of graphic design in the modern era.
The 2014 Topps base set takes the curvy design flow further by creating a wave at the bottom of the card (something akin to the "dynamic ribbon design" of a particular soft drink company) and a far-reaching arch that travels from the lower corner of the card to the upper corner on the same side. In one of the bottom corners, we find the team logo. In the opposite, under the crest of the wave, we see the player's position and name. In the vertical arch, the team appears with a team-colored background. This design, however, marks the end of the curvaceous nature of Topps cards - at least for now.
In 2015, Topps made a major leap forward in design. Topps dumps the curve appeal. The bottom text area of the card features clean text with the player's name and team name. In the opposite corner, the team logo is surrounded by a rounded-corner line. Behind the logo, a radial pattern gives the feeling of motion and/or focus. The bottom border itself is based on the team's main color and is filled with digital-looking, modern effects. The player's position appears in a small, solid-filled circle. Gone is the all-white border. Instead, the fill pattern from the bottom works its way up the outer edges and fades into a textured-looking light color.
Recently, Topps revealed the new base set design for 2016. This time, photos take up the entire card. The bottom of the card has a "smoky" effect which contains a combination of banners. In the horizontal area, we find the position, first and last name. Beneath that, in smaller text, the team name. On a diagonal banner in the lower corner, we find a "carbon fiber" style background with the team logo in the forefront. The diagonal is bordered by a line on each side that appears to match team colors. For me, this is one of most effective designs I've seen out of Topps in years (excluding last year). Some folks will undoubtedly make comparisons to Stadium Club, Fleer Ultra, and the like. I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.