We all know the basics of what happens when you play table tennis, it’s a fantastic sport and game which can be played competitively, or for a bit of fun on your next family holiday!
The sport actually originated in Victorian England, where it was often played amongst the upper-class people as an after-dinner parlor game.
Make-shift versions of the game were developed by British officers in India around the mid-1800s, who brought it back with them. And now, we have these British military officers to thank for a wonderful game.
You can imagine how outdated the game would have been back then, a row of books could be used as a net along with the table, and two more books could be used as rackets to play with.
A golf ball served as the ping pong ball that we all know and love today. Can you imagine playing this make-shift version of the game today? You’d be mad!
The game actually has a long history, but it gained popularity in 1901 when changes were made to the so-called “rackets” and tables to form a structured game with rules and equipment.
From Golf Balls To Celluloid Balls: How Did They Develop The Table Tennis Ball?
There are so many types of table tennis balls out there to choose from and finding the right one may seem like an easy job, however, like most sports.
It’s a little more complicated than that! Also, with every type of table tennis ball, comes its own separate rules.
That’s incredibly in-depth for the makers of this sport but makes selecting the right one more difficult than we first thought.
So, as we spoke about before, early versions of the game consisted of often using anything that was around, such as golf balls.
Until, roughly 1901, where the game went through some modifications to become its own sport in its own right. Some would say that early versions of the game were unsuccessful or a bit futile, but that’s what develops any sport or game out there.
Footballs were once made of a very durable rubber, which for 1855, was quite innovative! However, because of its durability, this made football a rather tough game to play.
The ball was simply a risk of breaking a few delicate bones in your feet.
So, saying that previous versions of the game were unsuccessful, seems a bit harsh. Every first edition of a sport was unsuccessful because it needed modifications to become what it is today.
What the British military soldiers did in roughly 1860, gave us the game we all know and love, and that is something to applaud and appreciate.
They were unable to search for a ball that was adequate for ping pong to be successful, until 1901. When the celluloid ball was introduced to the scene and made the game popular.
Ever since then, the search has been made for a better ball to improve the game. Different manufacturers have experimented with a variety of materials in an attempt to improve the characteristics of the ball itself.
A lot of changes occurred during 1926 and the year 2000 to develop the efficiency of table tennis and the ball used to play it, as well as the rules to the game.
So, the original laws in 1926, stated that the table shall be in surface rectangular, which is 9ft long by 5ft width.
It shall be supported by the upper surface which should be 2ft 6 inches above the floor, and it shall lay horizontally. Many of these rules were left unchanged until the year 2000. The turn of the millennium.
In 2000, the specified color f the ball was altered many times, in the original law, it stated that the ball must be “pale in color”. In 1947, the rule was changed to “white and not brightly reflecting”
My guess is that there were a few issues with the ball sabotaging the game because of its shine in the pale color, and somebody competitive wasn’t happy about this.
At the start of 1971, it was changed to white or yellow under law, and in 1992, to white or orange/yellow. 1997 saw this change again (we know this is getting ridiculous) to white or orange.
They were just subtly pushing the yellow out, weren’t they! Since the year 2000, less than 3 years later, there have been another two changes to the ball.
Changes To The Ball Most Recently
The first major rule took place in 2000, where the change of the size went from 38 mm balls to 40 mm balls.
There were trials in the 1990s that were amended with effect from October 2000. The International Table Tennis Federation said that the following were issues that needed to be viewed.
- The speed of the game had been increased because of the use of something called speed glue, this is a glue that is used to re-apply the rubber surfaces to the paddle, and is usually applied 30 minutes before the match. This addition needed to be slowed down, according to the ‘ITTF’.
- Slowing the game down meant that the length of the rallies would increase, this made it more appealing to viewers who watch on TV.
- Larger balls travel slower through the air and are not as receptive to heavy spins. The new balls were also printed with a 40 to signify the size change.
The Change To Plastic
The second change took place in 2014. Where Celluloid was replaced with plastic balls.
It was a major change deciding to promote plastic balls instead of the usual and favorite celluloid balls, this increased levels of anxiety in the lower ranks of the game.
The ITTF said that the issue was held within the manufacturing process of making the balls. The raw materials were considered slightly hazardous to one’s health, and countries do not allow them to be manufactured anymore because of this.
By changing the balls to plastic, they hoped this would avoid shortages in the supply of table tennis balls in the future.
In 2012, the ITTF came to an agreement that events would only be using table tennis balls that were manufactured with plastic, from the first day of July 2014. IN 2012, they did however state that the use of celluloid balls would remain legal for two years and possibly longer.
There were some issues with the new addition of the plastic ball, however. It could be potentially slightly larger than the 40 mm balls.
Celluloid had the inscription of 40 on them while the new plastic had 40+ inscribed for obvious reasoning, despite the size change only being roughly 0.5 mm. This game is turning out to be rather dramatic with its rules!
The New Rules As Of Today
- The ball must be spherical.
- It must have a diameter of 40 mm and weigh 2.7 grams.
- Be made of celluloid or other plastic materials.
- Must be white, orange, or matte.
Types Of Balls
Table tennis balls are not all the same by a landslide, they have different qualities that make them ideal for specific games and purposes. Whether competitively played, or for leisure.
There are many types of novelty balls you can find on the market for your games if you’re looking for more of a fun element to the sport.
Many individuals who keep a table at home for table tennis like to change up the balls they use if they have guests over. It’s become a game of leisure at heart, and that’s where these balls come in handy.
Since the first military soldiers picked up this game and brought it back to Britain, the game has been originally meant for leisure and enjoyment.
It was through our competitive nature during the Victorian age that this changed. Much like many other sports. British football was for fun as of its origins!
Novelty balls are available in countless sizes and colors because they were made for children’s play originally. They’re fun and colorful, exactly how children enjoy them for game time.
They can vary from being made out of soft textures and tougher exteriors, and are usually purchased in packs of one size or mixed. There’s no need for specific numbers or sizes in a fun pack.
However, just a warning. Unless they are 2.7 grams in weight and 40 mm diameter balls, they must not be used for competitive playing!
That seems like a reoccurring segment in this article. It’s the sentence of nightmares for table tennis.
This is much like the training wheels of the table tennis world. These are generally suited for smaller children to practice with and are softer in texture for fewer injuries and a more enjoyable practice time.
They’re not typically very durable, so are susceptible to breakages and won’t last too long. Therefore, investing in a few packs may be a wise choice first starting out!
Just because these are designed for practice by younger children, needless to say, that does not mean an adult cannot make use of them.
They’re not a specific rule to practice, and if you are a beginner, regardless of age, you can use these if you wish to.
And remember, they must be 2.7 grams and 40 mm diameter to be considered legal in professional playing! We wouldn’t recommend this though anyway, they’re not sturdy enough.
One-Star Ball Type
We begin diving into the world of the table tennis balls ranked by stars! There are the balls that are classified by professionals as one-star.
They are most suitable for use at youth clubs and schools for genuine table tennis events, however, because schools do not pay competitively with younger children in that way, they’re a step above the practice balls, and a step closer to professional balls.
They are similar to practice balls in the way of they’re softer in texture and break easily when hit with such a force. However, they are legal if they’re white or orange and are the usual 2.7 grams and 40 mm diameter.
Overall, they’re a great ball for beginners too, just starting out.
Next Rank Up: Two-Star Balls
And then there were two. These are, you guessed it, two-star ranked balls!
This stage of the ball is mostly made use of by improvers and can be used in a robotic piece of machinery or for multi-ball training.
They do not have the same quality as the three-star, however, they can be substituted out for them in non-matches as long as they meet the requirements of the game balls.
These are most likely the balls that failed to meet the high standards of the game played professionally and competitively, but they’re still legal to play with.
So, if you’ve got a match that’s going to be played at home, look no further than these two-star balls, as they are still great for playing with.
The All But Famous Three-Star
These are the table tennis balls with the highest quality for games and are actually the only type that can be authorized by the International Table Tennis Federation.
So, if you’re serious about table tennis playing, these are the type that you will need to play.
We actually recommend the Xushaofa 40+ three-star seamless poly balls because, well, they are the best available if you want to play a jolly good match!
They’re available on the following sites for you to find, and they’ve been three-star approved, so you know they’re a good quality table tennis ball.
These balls meet all the requirements from the International Table Tennis Federation, and they certainly are 2.7 grams in weight and the standard 40+ mm.
There is nothing to fault with these table tennis balls.
They are the most durable choice, although celluloid and plastic balls can both still be used as long as they meet eh requirements of 2014, three-star plastic balls are the only ones that can now be used in ITTF events and games.
Rules On Appearance
So, the balls must be white, orange, and matte in appearance, they must also have one seam and appear to be uniform.
This is where things really get specific, we didn’t think there could be so many rules to the balls you must use for table tennis!
The stamp on the ball itself may cover an area no greater than 280 mm squared.
This is beginning to make us sound like a military colonel stating how their army is to be run. Although the British military soldiers were the first to make this game possible, this seems rather fitting!
They must be printed in one or two colors and the same color combination must be used for the same brand, the wording must also comply with again, you guessed it, the International Table Tennis Federation.
This basically means that the coloring or one brand of table tennis balls must all be the same in the pack.
Each brand’s table tennis balls must be packaged appropriately, in paper or plastic materials and inboxes.
Or in a blister pack alternatively. The wording on these packaging must contain 40 or 40 mm for the celluloid balls and 40+ for non-celluloid. Also, they must have a date or date code as protocol.
So, we know that the official weight must be 2.7 grams for all the certified professionally played table tennis balls. But there may be more to it than that.
No surprise. Any weight between 2.67, and 2.77 grams is actually acceptable for the balls.
I suppose it would be rather difficult to obtain an exact weight for every match if the balls are manufactured elsewhere. There’s another rule.
No more than one ball out of a pack can be outside this range of the 24 sampled.
The sample mean must be between 2.69 and 2.76 grams. If you like numbers, you’ll really like playing table tennis or being a part of the manufacturing team for making them!
The International Table Tennis Federation produces their own list of approved and certified 40 mm by 2.7 gram balls for players and the public to view and choose from, so if you’re still stuck on what t choose, stick with the three-star modified plastic balls and check with the ITTF list before purchasing.
Albeit, this is based around what your purpose for them is, if it’s for leisure, go ahead and pick a two-star if you cannot obtain three-star or simply do not want to.
Just because the rules apply to the professional game, that does not mean you have to go by them for your own personal leisure. If you get enjoyment out of the game in your own time, use whatever balls you want.
We hope we have answered your inquiry about how to choose your table tennis balls in this article, we’ve been as in-depth as we can for your own well-being around choosing a ball for table tennis!
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