How to Choose Table Tennis Ball

Here I am standing near a table tennis table, a table tennis ball on it. And I ask myself why I bought that ball. The dimensions, weight, sizes, stars on it, even the material of the ball… Does the table tennis ball make any difference in playing experience? I did a bit of research to find out.

So How to choose the table tennis ball? While considering to buy a table tennis ball, you should consider the dimensions(40mm, 2.7gr), the stars on it, the material it’s made of, the color and the price of course. Let’s deep dive each property briefly.

1. Table Tennis Ball Size (40+, 40, 38)

What is the table tennis ball size? The ball shall be spherical, with a diameter of 40mm, as stated in ITTF 2019 Handbook(2.3.1). The size of the ball changed from 38mm to 40mm in 2000 October 1st. So you should buy a table tennis ball writing 40 or 40+ on it. 

The reason behind this decision is to slow down the game and improve visibility. The improvement in racket production technology and speed glue had increased the speed of the game. Increasing the ball size from 38mm to 40mm helped to slow down the game, increased the length of the rallies which helped television appealing. Also, large balls are not as receptive as small balls which is another effect on the length of the rallies.

What is the difference between 40 and 40+ table tennis balls? The real difference is the material; 40 balls are made of celluloid whereas 40+ are non-celluloid or called non-flammable, such as “Plastic Polystyrene”(Poly) or “Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene”(ABS), etc. You may hear it as non-flammable plastic, too. They transport more safely and more environmentally friendly.

Are 40+ table tennis balls larger than 40? Mostly, Yes. The 40 balls typically measure around 39.7mm in diameter while the 40+ celluloid balls are about 40.2mm in diameter. The reason is, 40 table tennis balls (Celluloid) are allowed to be between 39.50mm – 40.50mm. Whereas 40+ (non-celluloid) balls are allowed to be between 40.00mm – 40.60mm. 

The ITTF raised the lower tolerance limit for the ball up to 40.0mm minimum(this is why they are called as 40+), forcing manufacturers to make a larger plastic ball. The ball is measured using a calibrated electronic device with a precision of at least 0.001mm and measures the diameter with a precision of 0.01mm to provide the related rule of “The ball shall be spherical, with a diameter of 40mm“.

2. Table Tennis Ball Material (Celluloid, Poly, ABS)

What is the table tennis ball material? The ball shall be made of celluloid or similar plastics material and shall be white or orange, and matt, as stated in ITTF 2019 Handbook(2.3.3). Celluloid ball was first introduced and used in the early 1900s in table tennis. In 2011 ITTF decided to promote plastic balls, and in 2014 July 1st, ITTF events started using Plastic Polystyrene ‘Poly’ balls. Now both, celluloid or similar plastics materials, are being used.

The reason behind this decision is the issue in the manufacturing process of celluloid balls. The raw materials itself or the manufacturing process outputs hazardous materials to health. And many countries do not allow manufacturers to use these materials, which may occur shortage of balls(due to required raw material shortage to make celluloid balls).

Although the playing characteristics of the new balls are unique, it is very similar to celluloid. They transport more safely and are more environmentally friendly. It is up to national and regional table tennis governing bodies to determine what type of ball to use for their tournaments.

As of 2017 manufacturers started using a new type of plastic – ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) – for table tennis balls. ABS offers improved roundness and durability over poly balls and is more environmentally friendly.

3. Table Tennis Ball Weight

What is the table tennis ball weight? The ball shall weigh 2.7g, as stated in ITTF 2019 Handbook(2.3.2). The ball weight is allowed to be between 2.67g – 2.77g. No more than 1 ball out of 24 sampled may be outside this range.

4. Table Tennis Ball Quality

What do stars in table tennis balls mean? The quality of a table tennis ball is represented by a star rating system that ranges from one to three. The best table tennis balls are 3-star (3*) balls that are ITTF approved.

  • Three Star balls are the highest quality and most durable balls available and are the only type which is authorized by ITTF.
  • Two Star balls are not the highest quality, but good enough to substitute for three-star balls in a non-match play situation. Suitable for improvers, multi-ball practice, robot usage, etc.
  • One Star balls are generally softer, less round, less durable and tend to break when hit hard. Suitable for school, youth club usage.
  • Practice/Training balls are not very durable and tend to break when hit hard. Suitable for young children and beginner for practice. These balls don’t require any sort of approval, or official system to determine their quality.
  • Fun/Novelty balls are in lots of different colors and sizes for fun.​​​​

Here is a small tip: If the same manufacturer makes both 1,2 and 3 star balls and ITTF approved, the 1* and 2* balls are basically the same ball, but marked after sorting. Those that meet the strict quality requirement of ITTF approval are marked as 3*, those don’t quite meet the weight, size, roundness & veer requirements become 2* or 1*, depending on how close they are. So they are perfectly fine and very similar to 3-star. If the ball manufacturer does not make 3* ITTF approved balls, and only makes 1* or 2*, or even “no star” balls, there is no way to know how good the balls are.

By the way, some companies market their balls as 4 or 5-star to outdo others. Know that 3-star ball is really equivalent of a 5-star ball of another brand if they are both the brand’s highest tier rated balls.

As a customer, we will be able to choose the brand and the star for quality purposes while buying a table tennis ball. If you question how the producers and ITTF take the actions on quality, here they are:

If you want some more for the production process you can find it in here; How Table Tennis Balls are Made on YouTube.

  • 1.Sphericity: Sphericity is calculated by the difference between the ball's minimum and maximum diameters.
    The sphericity must be less than 0.35mm and the sample mean sphericity must be less than 0.25mm for celluloid
    The sphericity must be less than 0.25mm and the sample mean sphericity must be less than 0.20mm for non-celluloid.
  • 2.Bounce: All balls must rebound to a height of not less than 240mm or more than 265mm when dropped from a height of 305mm on a standard steel block.
    For non-celluloid balls, all balls must rebound to a height of not less than 240mm or more than 260mm when dropped from a height of 305mm on a standard steel block.
  • 3.Veer: Veer is the total sphericity of the ball and measured by rolling the ball down a slight incline onto a horizontal surface, and measuring the distance by which deviates from a straight line as it rolls across the surface.
  • 4.Hardness: Hardness is measured with an automated computer with a 20mm diameter pin pressing against a pole of the ball. The indentation is recorded to the precision of 0.01mm. After measuring on each pole, the average provides a measure of the hardness.

5. Table Tennis Ball Color and Markings

Which table tennis color is approved by ITTF? The ball shall be white or orange, and matt, as stated in ITTF 2019 Handbook(2.3.3). In 1926, the Original law(rule) stated that the ball must be “pale in color”. Then changed to “white and not brightly reflecting” in 1947, “white or yellow” in 1971, “white or orange/yellow” in 1993, “white or orange” in 1997.

The stamp on the ball may cover an area no greater than 280mm² and in maximum two colors. The same color and combination must be used for all balls of the same brand. The mark must also include ITTF initials or logo, brand name, made-in country, 40/40+ data.

6. Seamless vs Seamed Table Tennis Balls

What is the difference between seamless and seamed table tennis balls? Seamed balls (all celluloid balls and most plastics) are constructed from 2 halves glued together, that forms a visible joint or a seam. Seamless balls have an almost perfect sphere. 

A seamless table tennis ball came onto the market in 2012 (by Xushaofa). Seamless balls are a lot more durable and floaty, however, the manufacturing process for these balls is still the subject of refinement, so sometimes only half of your balls will be viable for serious play, though most defects are removed at the factory. The very first produced seamless table tennis balls bounced quite high, sounded horrible as if they were broken, and really lacked in the spin.