What makes table tennis racket different?

What is the best table tennis racket for me? What makes table tennis racket different? A very simple question; but the answer is not that easy. There are 300 million table tennis players in the world, and these questions are asked by at least half of them. The answer to these questions helps us “how to choose the right table tennis racket for you”. There are more than 50 producers and each has more than 10 products or product components. If you are a beginner, there is too much to learn and is a bit complicated. If you are an intermediate or advanced player, you know the basics but, this time, options(brand, component, etc.) varies too much.

Speed, spin and control attributes are the most important ones that make table tennis racket different. The remaining ones are the surface of the racket, grip shape, blade, rubber, and the sponge.

It is easy to list 10 or 15 paddles and throw a title “the best 10 table tennis Paddles” and give the specifications. But don’t you need to ask “Why?”, “Why this paddle?”, “the reason behind it?” and choose the best fit racket for you?

One more question might be: “Is it that much important to select the right racket?”, Yes!!, believe me, wrong table tennis racket selection will block your playing, you will not enjoy and perform. And this may be the end of your playing, or at least makes you perform worse.

To give a comprehensive answer to the question of “What is the best table tennis racket for me?” I divided the question into 3 main parts, each part of an article. This is the first article which explains player types, speed/control/spin triangle, the surface of the racket, grip shape, blade, rubber, important properties, etc.that needs to be considered, in table tennis.

The Questions we will answer:

  1.   1. What are table tennis playing styles? Do they affect racket selection?
  2.   2. What are the parts of a paddle?
  3.   3. What are grip types?
  4.   4. What is the relation between speed, spin, and control in table tennis?
  5.   5. What are blade properties like reaction, vibration, etc.?
  6.   6. What is rubber properties like pimples-in, long pimples, sponge thickness?

These are the technical data and very, very few brand specific. I just used illustrations and some numeric values from some brands. The remaining parts are non-brand.

The next article is producer and brand specific. I will give some details about known producers, like origin, experience, market share, product specs/prices, usage in tournaments, etc.

In the third article, I will combine the technical data in the first article and the brand/producer data in the second article. And I will try to give exact brand/product names for you.

I wanted to make this summary, so that if you already know the technical details, or you are one of the “to the point”, “just give me the answer” reader, you can jump to the related article. I hope you enjoy the articles and have some guidance. Let’s begin…

1. The Playing Style

The Playing style is the first and the most important factor in choosing the best table tennis racket. The terminology used in this heading is very similar in every other web page of the most common producers like butterfly, Stiga, Joola, Killerspin, etc.

Simple Question: “How do you (want to) play table tennis? Offensive? Defensive? Something in the middle?

Offensive Players or Attackers (OFF): Speed is more important than control for these users. They have some distance from the table and always try to attack. Do not forget The more speed you have, the less control you have.

OFF+ rackets have more speed and less control than OFF rackets. These are not for beginners as beginners should focus on the control. OFF- rackets are slower than OFF rackets and has more control.

Defensive/Blocker Players (DEF): Control and “waiting opponent to make mistakes” is more important than attacking and speed for these players. DEF- is slower and DEF+ is a bit faster than DEF rackets. The rule is similar: The more control you have, the less speed you have.

All-round Players (ALL): The importance of speed and control is equal for such players. These players are not first attackers, they wait for the right time. And whenever they have the chance, they do attack immediately. So they need speed as well as control.

ALL+ has more speed, ALL- has lower speed and tries to force the opponent to make mistakes.

Speed-Control Relation

Let’s make a conclusion and a summary for the player type.

i. Choose Your Playing Style

If you are a beginner, I do not recommend you OFF+ and DEF- rackets. Because OFF+ is too fast to let you understand the basics, like spinning. And the ball will fly over the table most of the time. And DEF- will not figure out the attacker side inside you, as you will not be able to hit faster. So choose something between that suits you.

Still not sure? Get an All-round(ALL).

ii. Do not Forget the Rule

The more speed (and spin) you have, the less control you have. You have to give up something at least (speed, control or spin). There is no racket having all of them perfect in one racket.

iii. Keep the ball on the table.

If you are a beginner, your very first aim should be “keeping the ball on the table”. Work on the fundamentals of table tennis and develop your stroke. Speed and spin will come after a while.

2. Grip Style (Holding Type) and Handle(Grip) Shape

Before going deeper on grip shapes and holding types, let’s understand the parts of the paddle and some related terminology.

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RacketComponentView-PlayerOnSite

What is paddle, bat, racket, handle, sponge, rubber, blade in table tennis?

  • Racket, Paddle, and bat is the same thing in table tennis. It is the whole object we hold and play the game. Racket or paddle or bat, you can use any of them, consists of some parts:
  • The Blade is the inner hard part of the paddle, made of wood or special materials(carbon fiber, ZL Fiber, Arylate, etc.)
  • The Handle is the place we hold the paddle. It is a part of the blade. So when we say blade, it includes the handle, too.
  • Rubber is the covering plastic over the blade. Mostly red on one side and black on the other.
  • The Sponge is between the blade and the rubber. It is a part of the rubber. So when we say rubber, it includes sponge, too.
RacketisBladeRubber-PlayerOnSite

What are Grip Styles and Grip Shapes in table tennis?

There are two main grip styles in table tennis: Shakehand and Penhold. If you are a shakehand player, you can use any of below handshake grip types (ST, FL, EN, etc.) that you feel comfortable. The difference between these grip types is not huge.

If you are a Penhold player, I recommend you experience it first before buying, as the Chinese grip is very different from Japanese.

On the other hand decision between the Shakehand and Penhold is huge. For instance, although I have been playing table tennis for years, I can’t even play the game in Penhold grip style. I used ST, FL and AN and enjoyed all of them. In fact, you get used to all.

GripStyles-PlayerOnSite

There is no right or wrong for table tennis grip styles and shapes, it is your personal decision and feeling. There are pros and cons of course, but to keep this article short I do not want to go deeper.

Notice: There are more variations of Grip styles like Korean penhold grip or unorthodox grip (shakehand with thumb and pointer finger) and Grip shapes like SI (Straight Inclined) which inclines toward the inside end of handle, Donic Dotec, RST(Rounded-ST), SQST(Square-ST), Flat-ST, CO (Connical or Champ), etc. I prefer to keep it short in here.

3. Speed, Spin and Control

Speed, spin and control are the most important properties in table tennis. Under this heading I will summarize the importance and relation between those, then we will use this data in blade, rubber, sponge, etc.

  • – You are able to keep the ball on the table, and you want more..
  • – You want more speed,
  • – You want to attack,
  • – You want to hit the ball with the paddle and send the ball faster,
  • – You want to spin the ball so that even if the opponent hits back, the ball will bounce out of the table.
  • – If you will not hit the ball with more speed or spin the ball and let the opponent fail, then why do you play?
  • – But how will the paddle help that?

Speed in table tennis and why is the speed that important in table tennis?

When you hit the ball with exactly the same amount of force, two times via different paddles, sending it to a near or far place can be explained by speed property of the paddle. Different blades, rubbers, sponges affect the speed.

Speed is important in table tennis because to hit the ball, you have to react in a very short time. The more speed you send the ball, the less time for the opponent to think and react, and the more chance for you to score the point. But what about control? Will you be able to place the ball on the table or will it just fly over?

SpeedAttributeButterfly-PlayerOnSite

The measure for speed shown in Butterfly. It is shown as 10.

SpeedAttributeStiga-PlayerOnSite

The measure for speed shown in Xiom. It is shown as between “high” and “Very High”.

There are scales created by table tennis racket producers to measure which one has more speed when you hit the ball “with exactly the same amount of force”. While Butterfly (a table tennis products producer) uses a 1-15 point scale for blade and rubber, Stiga (another producer) uses a 1-160 point scale, Joola uses 1-4 as extreme, fast, medium, defensive. Killerspin uses 1-10 point scale and mentions power instead of speed (just in paddle selector as low, medium, high).

Do not forget;

  1. 1. Higher numbers represent a higher level of that feature (speed),
  2. 2. Even if racket producers give the same scale (for ex. 1-100), you cannot compare those numbers between the paddles of different producers. You can just compare Butterfly with Butterfly, Stiga with Stiga, etc.(Sorry not to mention all producers, but there are nearly 50 producers in Amazon).

Spin in table tennis and Why is the spin that important in table tennis?

Spin-PlayerOnSite

Spin is the number of revolutions (or rotation) of the ball per second. Rubber properties affect the spin which we will explain later.

Spin is important in table tennis in two main aspects.

i. The trajectory of the ball.

More curved trajectory (Green trajectory in the image) which provided more spin, will have more space to place the ball on the table.

Trajectory-PlayerOnSite

ii. Movement after touching the table.

Depending on the spin, the ball will go in different directions with a different speed which will affect the opponent’s stroke

Just like the speed, there are scales created by the table tennis racket producers to measure which one is able to create more spin when you hit the ball “with exactly the same amount of force”. 

Do not forget;

  1. 1. Higher numbers represent a higher level of that feature (spin),
  2. 2. Even if racket producers give the same scale (for ex. 1-100), you cannot compare those numbers between different producers. You can just compare Butterfly with Butterfly, Stiga with Stiga, etc.
  3. 3. The higher and more curved the trajectory, the more spin is on the ball (Green line).
  4. 4. The straighter and lower the line, the faster the ball (Red line).

While speed is important only for attacking players, spin is important for most types of players. The reason is offensive players need spin to perform faster forehand loops while defensive players use spin to backspin while chopping the ball.

SpinAttributeButterfly-PlayerOnSite

The measure for speed shown in Butterfly. It is shown as 10.

SpinAttributeStiga-PlayerOnSite

The measure for speed shown in Xiom. It is shown as between “high” and “Very High”.

Control in table tennis and relation between speed, spin, and control

It is not easy to explain Control like we did in speed and spin. It is a combination of these two and a bit more complex.

Let’s assume a case.. Opponent hits the ball, the ball is spinning a lot and fast and you are in that second to hit the ball…

  • – If your racket’s spin value is high, then it will be very responsive to the spin on the ball. And the ball may go in a different direction you want. This is the downside of high spin value. The good part is you can give a huge spin and let your opponent fail. So spin responsiveness or spin ability bring you more attention. You have to be careful on opponents stroke, spin, etc. We call this “the higher the spin, the less the control you have”,
  •  
  • – If your racket’s speed value is high, then the ball’s trajectory will not be much curved as your racket speed is high. And the chance that the ball flows without touching the table will be high. Also, this is the downside of the speed which makes “the control value” less.
  •  

Key Sentence: “The higher the speed and spin values are, the less control you will have.

  • – If the racket (Rubber) supports/creates higher speed or spin, it is more difficult to direct the ball to where you want.
  • – Thicker sponge gives you more speed with less control. For more control, you need a thinner sponge.
  •  

Beginners should aim for paddles, not too fast or spinny but do have plenty of control. As your technique improves, you should improve the quality of your paddle too. Otherwise, you may find it difficult to control the ball, as the rubbers on these bats are very responsive.

4. Blade in table tennis

Blade, rubber, and sponge are the basic 3 material that affects the performance of the racket as these are directly creating the previously mentioned properties; spin, speed, and control.

Under 2nd heading “Grip Style (Holding Type) and Handle (Grip) Shape” I explained the parts of the racket; handle, blade, sponge and rubber. Now we will go deeper and try to answer questions like “What are the specifications of the blade?” “What are materials?”, etc.

Speed, control, weight is the main properties of a blade. To help with the success of the game and to improve the performance of the blade, producers focused on improving these properties. With this purpose, the material, layers, glue process changed in the last 40-50 years. I will summarize these improvements, but please keep in mind, whatever these operations are, the aim was to improve the performance of speed, control, and weight.

7ply-PlayerOnSite

Layers (Plies) of Blade

Blades are made of layers which are called plies (ply). At first, the blades were mainly one-ply wood which is still in use in some blades. Then for better quality and performance the ply number (and materials) increased. Nowadays there can be 1,3,5,7,9 layers (majority 3,5,7). As always, there is a layer in the middle, the layer count is an odd number. If the plies are of different materials, they should be the same symmetrically. For example, in a 7 ply blade if the 1st one is wooden then 7th one should be wooden too. And If 2nd one is carbon fiber, then 6th should be carbon fiber too.

There are some limitation rules of the ITTF, stating that:

  1. 1. The blade must be made of 85% natural wood,
  2. 2. Materials other than natural wood must be less than 7.5% of the total thickness or 0.35mm (the smallest)

 

More plies (7-9) tend to support more rigidity and increase the speed and power of the blade which best fits for offensive players. The reason behind that is, rigid blade (more plies) will transfer the stroke’s energy to the ball more.

The materials of the Blade Plies

Other than all-wood blades, there are composite blades made of carbon, zylon, kevlar, aralyte, fiberglass, compressed paper and some mixture of these materials. You can find articles explaining the materials used in producers’ websites. Here is a good example if you want to go deeper: Designing Blades with Special Materials

Without going too much deeper, I want to underline Carbon material evolution in the blade. Carbon fiber layers add speed to the blade, increase the size, reinforces, strengthens the blade and makes it best fit for offensive players.  

The Weight & Dimensions of the Blade

The average weight of a blade varies between 70gr – 100gr. The average dimensions (length and width) are 150 – 160mm.

Reaction, Vibration & Elasticity Properties of the Blade

Reaction and vibration properties are used in butterfly and elasticity in Stiga serving the same aim. I will explain the reaction and vibration properties.

Reaction property is the speed of the ball after bouncing off the blade. The higher the speed of the ball bouncing off the blade, the higher the reaction property.

Vibration is the number of swings the blade creates in a player’s hand. The higher the number of swings produced by the blade, the higher the vibration property. A higher number equals less feedback from the blade, making it more difficult to control.

Technology in Blades

From the first day of blade production, the technology evolved in a very considerable way. Every blade producer developed in their own way. For instance, whereas Stiga uses technologies like Carbon tech, WRB system, CR system, Oversize, Tube, Crystal tech, NCT tech, etc. for blades, Butterfly uses superZLC, Arylate-Carbon, Zlfiber, Zlcarbon, Hinoki wood, Tamca5000, etc for the blade.

BladeTechofButterfly-PlayerOnSite
BladeTechofStiga-PlayerOnSite

Which properties are considered by Blade Producers?

ShakehandBladeMatrix-PlayerOnSite

In above Shakehand Blade Matrix you can see that:

  • – Blades with special materials have more reaction property which means has more speed in average (black box),
  • – Blades with the same speed (Reaction property), has different vibration property which means you feel less vibration (yellow boxes).
ShakehandBladeSpecChartButterfly-PlayerOnSite
Blade Specification Chart by Butterfly
BladeSpecChartStiga-PlayerOnSite
Blade Specification Chart by Stiga

In the specification Charts above, you can examine the specifications that Butterfly and Stiga give lists on choosing a blade.

5. Rubber & Sponge

Rubber-PlayerOnSite

Rubbers, mostly a combination of the top sheet and sponge (if exists), play a very important role on players’ playing style as it affects speed, spin, and control.


Do you know you can be irresponsive from opponents spin or even reverse spin? Rubbers are that much important. Moreover, what kind of rubbers is there? What makes the rubber different? Color? The surface like smooth or pimpled?

Under this heading, I will focus all of these questions and more. Keep in mind that “Playing Style” which was our first headline is very important for choosing the right rubber and the sponge as they affect speed, spin, and control. So before beginning, you may take a look to remember.

Rubber Color

ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) stated in 1986 that one side of the blade (top sheet) should be covered with red rubber and the other side with black. After anti-spin rubbers created and used in competitions, the rule created to let opponent understand which side player hit the ball. For this reason most of the rubbers are black and red, however, there are rubbers in green, blue, yellow, etc. You can enjoy these ones too, but not in competitions.

The surface of the Rubber

There are 2 main surface types: Inverted and Pips-Out. And under these main types, there are subtypes.

I. Pimples-in (Inverted, Reverse, Pips-in, Smooth)

PimplesinRubber-PlayerOnSite

These rubbers are smooth on the outside and they are the most common choice as it fulfills an extensive range of playing. These rubbers are more suitable for new table tennis players as they have an extensive range of playing; OFF, DEF, ALL. Once they develop their playing style they can decide to stick with inverted or switch to pimples-out or anti-spin.

As they have a large contact area for the ball and have tacky or sticky surfaces, this makes reverse rubbers very powerful on spinning. So their spinning values are higher than pips-out rubbers.

AntiSpinRubber-PlayerOnSite
Anti-spin Rubbers

* Anti-spin Rubbers are pips-in type rubbers developed in the ‘70s, which has a “no grip” surface that invalidates the spin. These rubbers can be used to cover your weakness of opponents oncoming spin (If you have trouble with spin).

Anti-spin rubbers give high control and easier to use when compared to pimple rubbers. Your returning strokes will create confusion for your opponent like in long pips. Anti-spin rubbers have a slick top sheet with a dead sponge layer which helps you to block and return serves easier.

II. Pimples-Out (Pips-out)

These rubbers have pimples on the outside of the surface. Rather than focusing on the spinning of the ball, these rubbers manipulate the opponent’s spin as they grip the ball differently. Pimples can be short, medium or long.

PimplesOutRubber-PlayerOnSite
Short pimples

Short pimples generate less spin and capable of absorbing spin when compared to a reverse(pips-in) rubber.

The space between the pimples helps to get rid of the opponent’s spin which allows you to attack your opponent's strokes regardless of oncoming spin.

This makes short pimples great for hitting, blocking and returning serves for OFF (offensive) playing style. Close-in for a fast game, the lowest risk with having more control. The downside is you are unable to produce as much spin as an inverted rubber.

LongPimpledRubber-PlayerOnSite
Long pimples

Long pimples are spin reversals of the rubber. When opponents ball contacts this surface, the long pips bent and reverses the oncoming spin. And you force the opponent to guess what type of spin is on the ball. Long pips are for DEF (defensive) style playing for those who build their game relying on the opponent to make mistakes.

Medium pimples have properties between short and long. Some spin reversal properties of long pimples and some offensive properties of short pimples.

The Sponge

First of all, know that, if you order a rubber considering its properties such as speed, spin, control, etc., you also order the sponge as the sponge and the top sheet is glued together during the manufacturing process. Of course, there are exceptions, like buying it separately and assembling it to the top sheet but not common. If we ignore this exception, the properties you observed in the properties of the rubber are the properties of rubber and sponge together.

How does the sponge change these characteristics? How does sponge affect table tennis performance?

Sponge Thickness

The sponge layer which is between the top sheet and the blade (wood), acts like a trampoline and throws the ball back out.

SpongeThicknessvsSpeed-PlayerOnSite

Thicker sponges have a soft feel and offer more speed and spin but less control. If you are an attacker and have an OFF (offensive) style, you should use thicker sponges; more than 2.0mm. The logic under this thickness property is “The ball sinking deeper into the sponge layer and then catapulting out back with a huge speed and spin”.

ThicknessAttributeButterfly-PlayerOnSite

Professionals choose thicker sponges for one more property: glue-effect. Table tennis professionals reglue the rubber each time they play. And thicker sponges absorb more glue and increases the “speed-glue” effect. * ITTF states that the rubber and sponge combination can have 4.0mm thickness max.

Thinner sponges have a harder feel and offer more control but less speed and spin. Defenders (DEF playing styles) may use thin sponges; less than 1.5mm. The logic under this thickness property is “the ball generally sinks to the wood surface, without catapult effect, which produces less spin and speed”

No Sponge (without Sponge, OX) is another alternative if you are using a pimples-out rubber; as it is not legal in inverted rubber for again defenders.

Sponge Hardness

HardnessAttributeButterfly-PlayerOnSite

Harder sponges produce less spin and offer more control than the softer sponges if you strike the ball with the same power. The logic under this hardness property is “the harder the sponge, the less distance the ball sinks into the sponge”. So you can not produce enough spin with the same power. Let’s be more specific.

The higher the number, the harder the sponge.

The number represents the hardness of the sponge; the low number for softer. Rubber-band hardness is 25, the car tire is 80 and table tennis rubbers are between 30 and 45. A lower number will provide more spin even at lower speeds; but to provide spin in higher hardness numbers, you need to stroke faster.

Sponge Density

SpongeDensity-PlayerOnSite

Sponge density behaves similarly to sponge thickness and hardness. The denser sponges have more stored energy. To benefit and release this stored energy, you need more racket speed to compress the sponge. If you are an all-round player or you have shorter strokes, you may prefer medium or softer sponges.

!! Be aware that if you plan to cover your blade, you need to order 2 sheets of rubber as rubbers are sold per sheet and one sheet covers only one side of the blade. Also, do not forget to buy glue and a bat side edge tape.

The Weight & Dimensions of the Rubber (with Sponge)

For the weight of the table tennis rubber, I have two answers.

  • – The first one is “Table tennis racket weight is around 140g – 200g. As we said before, The Average weight of the blade varies between 70gr – 100gr, so the remaining weight is rubber and sponge’s weight, which is 70g-100g.”
  • – The second answer is more specific, “The average weight in grams per square cm is between 0.14g/cm2 – 0.25g/cm2. You can find the whole weight if you multiply it with the surface (2 Rubbers x 190cm2 surface x 0.19g/cm2 = 72.2g)”.

The average dimensions (length and width) are 160 – 175mm.

Surface, Speed, Spin, Control, Hardness and Sponge Thickness Properties of the Rubber

I explained surface property at the beginning of the rubber section with pimples-in, pimples-out headings. Speed, Spin and Control explained under 3rd heading “Speed, Spin, Control” and sponge properties under Sponge too. I will just mention some numeric values of butterfly and Stiga.

RubberSpecChartButterfly-PlayerOnSite
Rubber Specification Chart by Butterfly
RubberSpecChartStiga-PlayerOnSite
Rubber Specification Chart by Stiga

Which properties are considered by Rubber Producers?

RubberMatrix-PlayerOnSite

In above Rubber Matrix you can see that:

  • – Pimples-in (Pips-in) Rubbers have more spin property in an average (red box),
  • – Long pimple rubbers have less speed and less spin, but more control as it is not very responsive to the opponent’s spin and speed (green box)
  • – Short pimples-in rubbers have much spin than long pimples, but less spin than inverted rubbers. For the speed property, they have more speed than long pimples and half of the inverted rubbers, but not the fastest of course (blue box)
  • – Anti rubbers are best for those who love control and waits for the opponent to fail.

Technology in Rubbers

Rubber technology developed in recent years very much. Here, I will just mention some technology names from butterfly and Stiga. Maybe we can review some technologies in other articles. Butterfly names high tension, high friction, spring sponge, etc. Stiga names ACS-technology, synergy tech, OCS, APS, Long Trajectory, NCT tech, etc.

Tips & Tricks on Rubber Selection

It is possible to slow down a fast racket by using a rubber with a thinner sponge. Some players will use a fast offensive rubber on the forehand and a slower, more controllable sheet on the backhand.

6. Conclusion

Now we know comprehensive knowledge to help us guide on the way of “selecting the best table tennis racket”. We know all parts with specifications, playing types, etc. What’s next? The next step is to learn the known table tennis equipment producer companies and their brands. And then we will choose a table tennis racket for you…