2018 Panini Diamond Kings Review by J-Dub

2018 Panini Diamond Kings

The 2018 Panini Diamond Kings Hobby Box

I started collecting baseball cards heavily in 1989, when I was 12. At the time, collectors had a pretty good selection of companies to choose from when searching for product. We actually have more products available today but have only a fraction of the companies churning them out. I could write for days on my thoughts on the hobby when I joined it in the late 80’s versus the hobby today. I am that guy that will ask the kids to get off my lawn and turn the radio down when it comes to hobby changes. I like cards the way they used to be produced. I like subsets and inserts the way they used to be. I like wax and gum. I like set building.

This is not to say that there haven’t been some great innovations that have improved the hobby over the years like the introduction of autographs and relics. There are even some that went beyond the normal relic card and brought us locks of hair from former Presidents and kisses from WWE Divas. Every innovation can’t be a winner but we’ve come a long way. The kid version of me would be blown away pulling a Printing Plate or a “Super Refractor” or “Cracked Ice” parallel. In fact, I wouldn’t even know what any of those things were.

No team logos here

One change that has had a tremendously negative effect on the hobby, in my opinion, is the introduction of license exclusivity. As I said above, there were several companies to choose from; Fleer, Donruss, Topps, Upper Deck, Score, Sportflics and even oddballs like Circle K, Rite Aid and KMart. The hobby was certainly flooded by the mid 90’s but it wasn’t because these companies were competing against each other with their flagship brands. It was because Topps introduced Stadium Club and Finest, and Donruss rolled out Leaf and Triple Play while Fleer pumped out Ultra, Flair, Tradition and everything else under the sun.

Again, let me explain that those individual companies or sets didn’t necessarily bring on the end times. There was more to it than even that. Production numbers were absolutely through the roof! If you open a box of 2018 Donruss, you are likely going to pull a parallel that is numbered to 50 somewhere along the way. You are pulling a card that has only 50 copies. In 1992, I opened case after case of Donruss and never once pulled an Elite Insert, numbered to 10,000. That alone speaks to the level of production in 1992 vs today. I’ve done the math in another post on ‘91 Donruss on my personal blog and I roughly came up with a production number of around 4 BILLION cards. This is not a joke!

After several lean years in the hobby, brought on by this mass production and inundation of products, Topps secured an exclusive MLB License that went into effect in 2010. Panini (who now owns Donruss) would do the same with the NBA and NFL while Upper Deck got the rights to the NHL. Leaf didn’t get any of the league exclusives but they continue to produce some of the highest quality cards in the industry, in my opinion, sans team logos. Panini still dabbles in baseball, as we will discuss in a moment, but Topps has abandoned Football and Upper Deck produces only Hockey and some multi-sport/celebrity sets.

With that, you would think that the number of options available to collectors would have dwindled. That’s not exactly the case with Topps producing 40+ baseball sets and Panini doing the same with football each year. I think we have the same inundation today but we have less quality in some respects because we are expecting one company in each sport to produce the variety. So while Topps is pumping out Chrome, Bowman, Tier One, Museum, Archives, Heritage, Gypsy Queen and others, Panini is pumping out Optic, Donruss, Certified, Classics, Prizm and their other usuals.

1 Trading Card Frame Kit

Black Aluminum. Outside Frame Dimensions: 5-3/16 x 7-3/16″ Windows: 2-3/8 x 3-3/8″ Each kit includes: * Clear acrylic front sheet; 3/32″ thick; blocks 98% of UV rays * Outer front window mat (specify color) * Inner front window mat and outer back window mat, both the same color (specify color) * Appropriate number of PAT-tested, crystal clear, polypropylene sleeves, to mount cards * 4 aluminum frame pieces * 4 backing corners with 8 screws * Hanger Note: All mats are white-backed with cream cores.

In essence, it feels like the companies are competing with themselves as much as they competed with each other in 1995. In the end, I think the collectors are the ones who lose out in this deal. Let’s take Ford and Chevy for example. That’s always a hot topic in my neck of the woods. There are some people who refuse to buy Ford and will only be seen in the presence of Chevrolet. There are some people that are the exact opposite. So imagine for a moment that Chevy has decided that they are going to produce all trucks and Ford is going to produce all cars. If you want a truck, you’ve got to go with Chevy and if you want a car, it’s Ford. But in order to try and compete in the truck market, Ford starts producing trucks with no emblems or air bags or seatbelts because they don’t really have a license to do so. People who really like Ford are stuck with an inferior product just because of the company they like.

I know that is a bit far fetched but it’s really not that far off base if you feel like I do about the current license exclusivity in the sports card hobby. It actually supports my thoughts on the set I’m reviewing today, 2018 Panini Diamond Kings. Before card companies were scrambling to come up with 40 offshoots of the same product, they were focusing on making their flagship product the best it could be. And one of my favorite parts of my favorite product, Donruss, was the Diamond King Insert. Yes, I admit that Donruss was my favorite product growing up. I loved everything they produced, except their ’90 offering. My favorite Ken Griffey Jr. rookie is the Rated Rookie from ’89 Donruss as opposed to the UD version. I love them both actually.

Donruss hit the scene in 1981, at another point in the hobby where Topps had an exclusive license, but it wasn’t until 1982 that they debuted the Diamond King. These cards featured paintings of the best (or most popular) player from each team in the league and were created by Dick Perez. Perez is an icon in the hobby as having once been the official artist for the Philadelphia Phillies, the MLB Hall of Fame and Donruss. I remember the first original 1982 Diamond King I saw, Dave Parker. I first saw the ‘89s as this was when I started collecting but I made a point to go back over the years and pick up some from each year to try and build the sets. This was a beauty to me in the early ‘90s so I know it was breathtaking in 1982!

There were some hits and misses over the years on the Diamond Kings as far as design and player selection but they have always been a favorite of mine. By 1984, Perez was splashing in a little more color. This Wade Boggs was always one of my favorites.

Diamond Kings went with a dark border for the first time in 1985 and I think it really made the painting pop. Donnie Baseball is a great example!

We got the Max Headroom border in 1986 and Doc Gooden does not look like he’s very happy with something.

My least favorite Diamond King of all time is one of my all time favorite players. As much as I loved this set and Mr. Perez’s work, I think this ’87 Jose Canseco was way off.

Diamond Kings got a big upgrade in 1992 and this is probably my favorite set in the series. These aren’t to be confused with “Gallery of Stars” that were found in Triple Play. These looked unbelievable to a 15 year old card collector!

Then, like most things, too much of a good thing starts to take its toll. Diamond Kings turned into somewhat of a parody of themselves by the mid 90’s and I started to lose interest in the new and long for the retro.

2018 Panini Diamond Kings Hobby Box

All of this brings us to 2018 Panini Diamond Kings. Amid all the jockeying for product production and trying to provide something unique to collectors, Panini has a full set that is named Diamond Kings and all the cards have a “painted” type look to them. These aren’t your father’s Diamond Kings by any stretch of the imagination but they are on a canvas style card stock and they have all the features of a painted photo. They are a little too busy for my preference and are too different from the original to carry the legendary name in my opinion.

The set this year has 150 cards with the usual short prints, framed versions, nicknames and other chase cards that are popular today. The checklist does feature some names that are not commonly found in releases today. Some of these names are Harry Hooper, Kiki Cuyler, Carl Furillo, Herb Pennock, Gabby Hartnett and others. I had to look up a couple of these players to see what they did in the league, though that is probably a good thing. It never hurts to study players from yesterday and learn more about the game.

Trading Card BOXES – White Corrugated. One-piece boxes. LxWxH

Holds 330 cards 5-3/4 x 3-3/4 x 2-3/4″ (I.D.) Cards store sideways. Made from 200# test corrugated cardboard. Just fold together; needs no tape or glue.

There are autographs and relics in the set as well, typically found a total of 2 per box. Each hobby box has 12 packs with 8 cards per and multiple inserts and variations expected. While I ultimately am not a fan of the checklist or the design of the base card, the inserts is where I have my fun. We’ll cover the inserts more thorough with the box break but these included Aurora, Gallery of Stars, Past and Present, Portraits, Royalty, The 500, and Trophy Club. I picked up my first box of the season recently so let’s see what we can find!

Card #1 in the set is this Babe Ruth. If you look closely, you can see the small dimples on the card that give it a canvas feel. As you can see, the cards look like sketches but also have a lot of fog/smoke in the border that make it look a little too cluttered.

You can’t have Babe without another Yankee Legend, Mickey Mantle.

The border color changes with the team. This Ted Williams has a red border to match the Boston colors.

Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks

One of my favorite Legends in the set is this Jackie Robinson.

One of the greatest college football players ever, Jim Thorpe!

There are more recent legends in the set too, like this Kirby Puckett.

Then there are current stars like Mike Trout.

Everyone is still chasing this big guy, Aaron Judge!

The cards at the end of the checklist are the rookies. The best rookie I pulled in my two boxes was this Rhys Hoskins.

Here is an example of the Sepia Variation. The image is also slightly different.

This is an awesome nickname variation of one of my favorites as a kid. Frank Thomas will always be known as “The Big Hurt” to me!

The final variation I pulled was an image variation of Roberto Clemente.


The Red Frames return from previous years in the Diamond King set. I liked these when they were introduced but they haven’t evolved much over the years and aren’t very special anymore.

Here is where Diamond Kings separates itself from some other sets to me. The inserts are really nice. I especially like this Aurora Insert.

As much as I like the Aurora, you simply can’t beat this Gallery of Stars set. These are from the early 90’s Triple Play set and were a variation of sorts to the Diamond Kings. These are SWEET!

Past and Present depicts a past and current star from various teams.

Another of my favorites from the Insert category is the “Portraits”. These are very nice looking cards and the border is really classy.

The 500 Club celebrates hitters who mashed 500 or more home runs in their career.

Finally, “Trophy Club” brings together players who won various awards from the previous season.

The two relics I pulled were young stars in the making; Amed Rosario and Clint Frazier. Even though Rosario gives us two different color patches, all of these swatches are plain and rather boring.


The autographs were each numbered to 299 and feature jersey swatches. Anthony Banda is a young pitcher with a lot of promise and Derek Fisher is a big hitter in Houston.

Here is where things got a little weird for me. I opened two boxes of Diamond Kings, which equated to 24 total packs. I pulled 9 DIFFERENT Shohei Ohtani cards in those two boxes. I am a little concerned that his cards are going to flood the market and this set only makes that concern more real. I do like the Gallery of Stars card though!

Overall, I am not as big of a fan of Diamond Kings as a lot of collectors seem to be. I haven’t had a ton of luck with the hits over the years and I can’t help but feel like they have taken a once beloved insert card and made a less than stellar set out of it. It has its positives with the insert sets and the inclusion of players that you might not otherwise find in today’s market, like Jim Thorpe. I have seen some pretty big hits come out of DK but I haven’t personally been that lucky. The price of $75 is reasonable for this type of set but I think 2 boxes will probably be my max this year.

What do you think of 2018 Diamond Kings?


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  1. I think, because of the lack of logos, this product should only be about retired/HOF players.

    There are plenty of old uniorms and caps from the early days without logos, and I like the cards of Cobb, Ruth, Williams, etc.

    The Gallery of Stars and Portraits are nice, and I’d certainly add that Cabrera to my collection.

    As usual, you make me jealous with your terrific writing style…well done.