What are Shadowless Pokemon Cards?

Over the past few years, and particularly during the Covid lockdown, a lot of people found themselves getting back into old hobbies and pursuing new interests. As a result, the Pokemon Trading Card Game exploded with prices reaching crazy new highs. One Shadowless 1st edition PSA 10 Charizard, for example, sold for $369,000 in December of 2020. If you are looking into the hobby and keep coming across the term Shadowless, you might be wondering what this refers to. Today, we are going to be covering what Shadowless means, as well as touching on a few other frequently used terms in the Pokemon TCG world.

Base Set Shadowless Pokemon Cards

What Does Shadowless Mean On A Pokemon Card?

It is important to know what you have and, often more importantly, what you DO NOT have. A quick eBay search for vintage Pokemon cards will show you that many inexperienced sellers don't actually know what they are selling. Phrases like "1st edition" and "Shadowless" are frequently inaccurate, and claims of a particular card being "EXTREMELY RARE!" are often misleading. It turns out that just finding a vintage binder of Pokemon cards doesn't mean you have won the lottery - it likely doesn't mean you can buy a new house or a car. Although some particular vintage cards might be able to sell for crazy highs, they are very hard to come by. Stay tuned for a post soon on which Pokemon cards are most expensive!

On the other hand, if you manage to come across a vintage binder that is stuffed full of Shadowless Pokemon cards, you probably have come about as close as you ever will to winning the lottery. This is because Shadowless cards are the first version of Base Set - The original set released in English in 1999.

How Can You Tell If A Pokemon Card Is Shadowless? 

Shadowless literally refers to the lack of shadow found in the shading of a Base Set card. The difference between a Shadowless and a regular Base Set card can be hard to tell if you don't have experience handling these cards. Looking at a picture of a Shadowless version and a regular version can help you to see the difference. It is especially noticeable on the right-hand side of the Pokemon box border, though it is visible throughout the entire background.

Base Set Shadowless Alakazam vs Regular Unlimited Alakazam

In case this seems confusing, allow me to make it simple - Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) came out with the Base Set of Pokemon Cards, sold lots of packs of these cards, then decided that the cards would look better if they added a shadow to the background. Therefore, we ended up with the first few runs being "Shadowless" and every run after having a shadow.

WOTC = Wizards of the Coast. This is the company that was responsible for translating and distributing Pokemon cards until 2003. These cards are viewed by most to be the true "vintage" Pokemon cards. WOTC also was responsible for Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons.

What Are 1st Edition Pokemon Cards?

If you are lucky enough that these Shadowless cards also have the 1st Edition stamp, then you really have something on your hands. 1st Edition is the first run of a set of cards. So you can imagine that a 1st Edition Shadowless Base Set Pokemon card is the Rookie of Rookies - It's the first edition of the first print of the first set. Some inexperienced sellers use "1st Edition" interchangeably with "90s cards." This is not the case. For something to be 1st Edition, it has to have the stamp!

1st Edition Shadowless Base Set Machamp

1st Edition is the first run of a set of cards. Several sets have 1st Edition stamps - so just because you find a 1st Edition card does not mean it is Base Set. You can tell something from Pokemon is Base Set if the total set number in the bottom right is #/102 and if there is no set symbol on the right side of the card. Additionally you can check the bottom of the card for the copyright information. Shadowless cards will say "© 1995, 96, 98, 99" While Unlimited Base Set cards will exclude the "99" from that line of text.

Unlimited is the term given to cards that do not have the 1st Edition stamp. It really is that simple!

Shadowless Base Set Unlimited Poliwrath

Here is where it can get a bit confusing with Base Set - if you are following so far then you are doing great! Let's recap:

  • 1st Edition cards have the stamp. They are the first run of cards for the set.
  • Shadowless is the first "version" of the Base Set card. They don't have shading in the background.
  • Unlimited simply means "Not 1st Edition"

But Shadowless and 1st Edition cards have their own unique timelines, or in other words, 1st Edition ended before Shadowless ended. This means that the chronological order of Base Set cards looks like this:

Shadowless 1st Edition (All distributed 1st Edition base set cards are Shadowless in English)

Shadowless Unlimited (The stamp is removed but they are still Shadowless - most people simply call these Shadowless as opposed to "Shadowless Unlimited")

Regular Unlimited (Stamp still removed, but then they also added a shadow)

Base Set Shadowless Unlimited 1st Edition Differences

So there you have it! Dust off your old binders and check to see what you have - if you find something Shadowless be sure to let us know in the comments, and check back soon for more Pokemon price guides and reviews!



  • The Hobby Bin on

    Hi Tom,

    You can identify 1st edition as they will have the 1st Edition stamp on the front of the booster pack. Shadowless is a bit trickier.

    On shadowless packs the “Trading Card Game” text in red shows up on the bottom of the pack art and on unlimited packs it shows up at the top. Additionally, Shadowless packs can be either short crimp or long crimp style.

    The position of the text is the main giveaway.

  • tom Donahue on

    Can you identify 1st edition and shadowless on an unopened blister pack?


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