Choosing Your Table Tennis Rubber: The Ultimate Guide

Choosing Your Table Tennis Rubber: The Ultimate Guide

So, you’re saying goodbye to your “off the rack” rackets and investing in a custom setup — a very wise move!

Tailoring your racket to your play style is a fantastic way to take your game to the next level and beyond, but there’s a slight problem… not many players know how to fine tune a racket for themselves, especially when it comes to rubbers.

The sheer variety of rubber types can hit you with some gnarly option paralysis. Just how in the heck of it are you supposed to narrow it down to just one or two from such a vast selection?

To navigate this rubber labyrinth, many simply buy the most expensive rubber expecting it to be the best, but this almost always has a detrimental effect on your game, so what should you do?

Well, not to worry, for today, I’m coming at you with a comprehensive table tennis rubber selection guide. Let’s get to it!

The Two Color Rule Of Table Tennis: What Is It? Why Does It Exist?

The two color rule was introduced on July 1st, 1986, in response to the growing popularity of combination rackets in the professional game throughout the 70s and 80s. It stipulated that one side of a table tennis racket should be black, while the other should be bright red.

Before the implementation of this rule, players were using mono-color rackets with a different rubber on each side. “Twiddling” during serves and throughout rallies meant their opponent had no way of knowing which rubber was in play.

Being that the rubber type determines the nature of the strike, including ball speed and spin, to say not knowing which rubber is being used puts you on the back foot is a massive understatement.

The beauty of table tennis is in its lightning-paced, tension-building rallies, and with this form of racket, the game had become exceedingly stop-start, short, and not all that enjoyable for players or spectators.

Seen as an act of mild deception, this form of play was ousted when the two color rule was introduced, reviving the game and leveling the playing field table; however, as of October 1st, 2021, the rules changed again!

You no longer have to choose red rubber. Instead, you can choose between bright pink, purple, green, or blue, as these vivacious colors form just as stark a contrast with the black side of the racket.

So, when choosing your rubber, remember to stay within the authorized color list!

Authorized Rubbers: What Are They? And How Can You Tell If A Rubber Is Authorized?

If a table tennis rubber is “authorized”, it simply means that it’s been given the International Table Tennis Federation’s (ITTF) stamp of approval, giving you the green light to use it in official table tennis events — woo!

You’ll know if a rubber is certified by the ITTF if it has the ITTF logo printed somewhere on it. It looks a little something like this…

Found at wikipedia

However… it’s not just the logo you should be checking for. The ITTF update their catalog of approved rubbers on a trimonthly basis, and they don’t just extend the list; they remove certain rubbers, too.

So, my advice to you is to check the updated ITTF list for your prospective rubber the day you purchase or apply them. It might also be best to hold off on the purchase until that third month when the revised list is published. That way, you get the most possible use out of the rubbers if they’re removed from the list three months later.

With those basics covered, we can get into the good stuff. Let’s discuss how you should be choosing your custom racket rubbers!

How To Choose Table Tennis Rubbers For Your Custom Racket

It’s critical to remember that you shouldn’t be trying to change your playstyle when picking out fresh rubbers; you’re trying to augment the style you’ve already developed.

The truth of the matter is that, although rubbers do have an impact on your game, their influence pales in comparison to your technique, style, and experience.

Granted, if you’re already a great player, they can polish your style a little once you’re used to them, but they will not make you a better player. Rubbers, or any hardware for that fact, are no substitute for hard work, practice, and passion!

The key to melding with a rubber-type is consistency, so instead of trying out every rubber you can get your hands on, you should be picking carefully the first time around and spending plenty of time familiarizing yourself with it.

Now onto the more technical aspects of picking a table tennis rubber.

Table Tennis Rubbers: What’s The Difference?

When choosing your fresh rubbers, there are three primary aspects to consider…

1. Sponge Width

As I’m sure you’re aware, table tennis sponges arrive in a variety of thicknesses. How does thickness translate in a game? Well, it has to do with the offensive/defensive dichotomy.

Generally speaking, the thicker the sponge, the more aggressive your rubber will be, and the thinner the sponge, the more defensive your rubber will be.

For instance, a rubber with a 2.5 mm sponge will typically feel decidedly snappier than a rubber with a 1.5 mm sponge, ergo, the 2.5 mm is a shoo-in for attacking play, while the 1.5 mm should be your go-to for pristine control.

Going thinner still to, say… 1 mm, will slow things down even more dramatically, boosting the defensive aspect of your playstyle.

Now, sometimes you can purchase sponges and rubbers separately, but it’s incredibly unusual. Most of the time you’ll be buying these components pre-assembled, so you should almost always be considering sponge width when shopping around for new rubbers.

2. Pimples-Out Rubber

Next on the agenda is deciding between the various pimple (pips) formats. Pimples-out rubbers are exactly what they sound like: the pimples are external on the striking surface, while the smooth side of the rubber is fitted against the sponge.

There are three subcategories of pimples-out rubbers — long pimples, short pimples, and medium pimples.

  • Long Pimples

Long pimples are considered the best choice for defensive play. They’re perfect for slicing away from the table to take the venom out of loops (fast-spin offensive strokes) and dealing with a sneaky ball-killing backspin stroke. Long pips should also be your weapon of choice for close-up pushing or blocking action.

  • Short Pimples

Short pimples are way more aggressive and far less sensitive to the spin of an in-coming stroke. If you like to strike the ball at lightning speed, then short pimples are the ones for you!

Often employed during super aggro, close-up playing, short pimples are just the thing an attacking player needs to force their opponent further and further from the table before landing that final death blow and winning the point.

  • Medium (Half-Long) Pimples

Medium pimples sit in the Goldilocks zone between their long and short counterparts. They combine some of the disruptive defensive properties of longer pimples with some of the speed of short pimples.

These rubbers really pay off in close-in encounters. They’re not quite as fast as short pimples, but their excess spin-reversal qualities give you more control over your returns, helping to keep your opponent from mounting a counterattack.

Side-Note — Pimples-out rubbers usually arrive with sponges of varying widths, but there are pimples-out rubbers out there known as “OX”, an abbreviation of orthodox, a form of rubber that has no sponge beneath whatsoever.

3. Pimples-In Rubber (Reverse Rubber)

Racket rubbers can also be assembled in a reverse fashion, with the pimples embedded in the sponge and the smooth surface on the outside for striking the ball. This is the most common rubber type, especially for those still developing their style, as it’s the most versatile format, allowing a wide range of both defensive and offensive strokes.

Reverse rubbers are essential to refining your technique and really finding your feet as a player, while pimples-out rubbers are mostly utilized by seasoned table tennis maestros trying to play in a very specific manner.

Choosing Rubbers: Why Always Going For The Latest And “Greatest” Option Is A Bad Idea

Choosing Rubbers: Why Always Going For The Latest And “Greatest” Option Is A Bad Idea

I mentioned earlier that many are tempted to go for the latest and most expensive rubbers on the market for their custom racket, assuming that the more money they throw into the equation, the higher their racket will elevate their game, but this simply isn’t the case.

Following this ethos will mean that you’re constantly switching out your rubbers for the next “big thing” with a premium price tag. It’s a search for that secret sauce that’s going to transform your game and set you on the champion’s path, but there is no such thing as a secret sauce.

There is no magic ingredient or quick fix that will guarantee success. The only way you’ll achieve greatness is through, you’ve guessed it… practice, practice, practice!

But, with a revolving door of rubbers, that practice will be stunted, as you’ll be shifting your technique every month or so to suit a new component, giving you no time to refine your technique — You’ll fall victim to the classic Jack of all trades, master of none status.

Now, I know I’ve unloaded a lot of information on you quite quickly here, and you may be feeling more lost than you were when you arrived at this article, which is why I’m going to help you out with a few suggestions.

My Suggestions

My first recommendation is that you stick with reverse rubbers for now. As I said earlier, they’re the most popular choice, and there’s a good reason for that.

Furthermore, I’d advise that you use the exact same rubber on each side of your racket. This will help you develop your stroke at a faster pace, as you won’t be splitting focus between two distinct rubber reactions.

I know you were probably excited to diversify your play with different rubbers, but there’ll be plenty of time for that in the future. Besides, using the same rubber on both sides can be a pretty neat tactical move.

Your opponent doesn’t know that you’re playing with one rubber. They may assume one side is an aggro setup, and the other is a defensive setup, throwing them off when you twiddle, and both sides are equally disruptive and offensive.

Next up, being that your rubber should compliment your play style, you first need to have a good idea of what that playstyle is.

Once you’ve determined what sort of style you’re leaning towards, picking your rubber is actually relatively easy, as specialist suppliers categorize their rubbers by play style.

Simply choose one from that category that appeals the most to you and your game, and voilà; you’re good to go!

If you’re not yet sure what sort of player you are yet, you should always select from the “Allround” category, and use it until you develop a more personal approach to the game.

Alternatively, you may want to forget about custom gear for the time being and carry on using high-quality, pre-assembled rackets until you have a clearer idea of what you bring to the table.

Just so you’re aware, once you’re ready to move on to a custom racket, rubbers are typically sold in 18 x 18 cm squares, so you’ll have to trim it down to your blade size by hand (or have someone with more experience do it for you).

Now let’s consider the primary playstyles and which rubber I’d recommend for each of them.

1. The “Allround” Style Of Play

Most players naturally develop an all-round style of play, which is precisely what should happen as you develop your core table tennis skills across the board.

This form of table tennis plays into the ebb and flow nature of the game and prioritizes counter-attacks over all-out offense or defense.

The right rubber for this class of player is a medium-speed variant with lots of control. If this is your first time purchasing discrete rubber for a custom build, nine times out of ten, this is the one for you.

Here Are My Medium-Speed Rubber Recommendations

A sheet of Butterfly Sriver rubber (1.5 mm), on both sides of your blade ensures you’re working with the highest quality materials, and the width will give you tons of control for defending against gnarly spin as well as for shaping your own show-stopping shots.

Butterfly Sriver rubber is considered something of an industry-standard, used by a number of pros at the top of their game.

If you were hoping to test yourself with a slightly faster rubber, feel free to go for the 1.7 mm Sriver, as it’ll give your stroke a little more zip without sacrificing too much control.

If, for whatever reason, you’re just not much of a Butterfly Sriver fan, 1.5–1.8 mm Joola 4 You rubber might be just the ticket. It’s well-crafted and super budget-friendly — you can’t go wrong!

2. The Attacking Style Of Play

The more advanced table tennis player may well have developed a very aggressive, incredibly speedy style of play.

To facilitate this form, you’ll need a fast rubber with a thick sponge, but bear in mind, with this kind of rubber, you’ll be sacrificing a certain degree of control.

Here Are My High-Speed Recommendations

Yasaka Mark V rubber is some of the snappiest in the game, especially if you choose the 2 mm sponge variant. One of the first products to blend natural and synthetic rubbers, it completely changed the game over 2 decades ago, and, much like the great white shark, hasn’t had to evolve since — it’s that good!

If 2 mm is a little too fast for you, I’d recommend opting for the 1.8 mm sponge instead, as it will dial back the pace and increase your control.

Alternatively, if your bank account has some serious clout, I can’t speak highly enough of Butterfly Bryce rubber (2.1 mm). Not only is the sponge super thick, the specialist rubber is formulated to increase surface tension, giving the ball even more juice on the rebound. It is quite pricey, though.

3. The Defensive Style Of Play

For those leaning towards a more defensive style, you should be looking for a more relaxed rubber with a thin sponge and a slower rebound. You’ll find it tricky to generate as much speed as all-rounders and attacking players, but you’ll also be more capable of handling what they dish out.

Here Are My Slow Speed Recommendations

Tackiness Chop II rubber (1.5–1.7 mm), from Butterfly, is designed to produce tons of backspin and give you ultimate control, no matter how fast your opponent likes to play.

As you can tell from the name, the rubber has an exceedingly tacky quality that deadens spin on contact, allowing you to dictate the flow of the game at all times. It also has a nice bite on the rebound, so you’re not completely sacrificing pace.

… So, you’ve learned the basics, you’ve chosen rubbers that suit your playing style; now let’s finish things up by discussing when your racket rubber should be switched for a fresh sheet.

When Should You Change Your Table Tennis Racket Rubbers?

As is the case with everything in life, table tennis rubbers deteriorate over time, and their beneficial qualities fade, so you’ll need to switch them up periodically in order to keep your game razor sharp.

This degenerative process is mostly the product of dust particles infiltrating the rubber, compromising the tacky feel, thereby reducing both defensive control and shot shaping potential.

Exposure to light and heat will also take its toll on your table tennis rubbers, drying them out, reducing rebound, and compromising the speed of your stroke. If left unaddressed, the rubber will eventually crack, which, needless to say, will not be good for your performance.

The question is, how often should you change your rubbers in order to optimize your abilities?

Well, the pros change them all the time. Some will change them once every few days, others will change them once every other day, and some change them every single day, but this is time-consuming and ridiculously expensive.

What you have to remember is that pros are sponsored athletes, and thus, don’t have to pay for their gear.

Here’s My Fresh Rubbers Recommendation

For average Joe and champ-to-be players, I’d recommend changing your rubbers when the tackiness of your current setup has noticeably faded.

To put a frequency on it, I’d say, changing them once a year is probably enough for most players, but if you’re playing every day or most days of the week, you may want to up that rate to twice or three times a year.

…And that brings us to the end of my table tennis rubber guide. Now you’re one step closer to finishing that custom racket and dominating the table — hooray!

Dave White