The magazine was launched in April 1984 by store owner Ernie White, who named the magazine for his ability to offer the "tough stuff" to find in his store and to write about in the magazine. The magazine was originally an 11¼ by 15½-inch newsprint publication. It grew to a tabloid-sized, glossy-covered magazine in the late 1980s before shrinking back to standard magazine size (8 by 10 7/8) with a glossy cover in 1990.
The Richmond, Va.-based magazine was sold to Landmark Communications, which sold it to Krause Publications in 1999, publisher of the competing Sports Cards Magazine. The two magazines' content merged in 2000, taking the Tuff Stuff name. The magazine took on the F+W Publications Inc. label after that company obtained Krause in 2002.
In addition to columns and feature stories, the magazine includes yearly pricing for cards in six sports — baseball, basketball, football, hockey, golf and auto racing — with roughly 100 pages of card pricing in each issue. This approach differs from its major competitor, Beckett, which publishes magazines devoted specifically to each sport. Issues of the magazine also include values and checklists for sports autographs, figures, and other sports collectibles.