So many racket coverings (rubber types) >

Which one should you use ?

 

Your table-tennis racket consists of two major components :-

  1. The wood (or composite material) portion of the racket known as the blade. The blade consists of 1 to 12 or more layers of various types of wood glued together. Some layers may also be of composite materials such as carbon, arylate, glass, kevlar, titanium etc. Rules require however that “ At least 85% of the blade by thickness shall be of natural wood; an adhesive layer within the blade may be reinforced with fibrous material such as carbon fibre, glass fibre or compressed paper, but shall not be thicker than 7.5% of the total thickness or 0.35mm, whichever is the smaller. ”. Therefore it seems that one layer by itself cannot be more than 7.5% in thickness but you probably have 3 layers (one carbon, one kevlar, on arylate) each with 5% ? There definitely are many stock manufactured blades (therefore legal ?  I say this because while only the racket coverings (rubbers) are regulated by ITTF by going thru a process testing and stamped with ITTF logo as tournament legal,  there is no such requirements for blades. One can buy a mass manufactured blade from a vendor or a player is free to make their own blade as long as it meets above requirement of wood content).  Also note that while there are regulations related to the total thickness of the rubber coverings (4 mm maximum, each side of the blade), there is no regulation on the width or diameter or thickness of the blade either. (As long as you can find an ITTF approved racket covering you can have the blade as wide or as thick you like……but since it is hard to find larger rubber coverings other than standard size, you will not find extra large diameter blades but you will see many players using blades much thicker than normal as this is perfectly legal.)

             The design of a table-tennis blade is extremely complicated and high technology & for the most part well kept industry secret. The types of wood or composite materials & their designs used for various layers, the glue used, techniques to bond layers etc are very complex and not discussed here. This is why some blades alone can cost more than $500 as compared to a cheap 99 cent racket you find is a toy store. The selection of a blade for you to use is just as complicated & not discussed here in this article.

The discussions in this article is limited to racket covering ONLY.

             

  1. The racket covering (or rubber) :  This consists of two sub-components.  2a The top sheet  2b The sponge  

       The racket covering is usually made up the top-sheet that contacts the ball during play and the sponge that is glued to the top-sheet.  The top-sheet and sponge are usually glued together in the factory and sold as such to the end user. & called the racket covering or rubber . The various types of racket coverings available is the subject of this article below in the table.

 

If you are a tournament player, you need to design your racket to match your “natural playing style” as closely as possible. This means selecting the right blade as well as the right rubbers for either side of the racket  ( in most cases where a player uses both sides of the racket to strike the ball). You can make your own blade or  but it from a manufacturer and blades are not regulated by the ITTF. However you can only use rubbers that are on the current list of ITTF approved rubbers (racket coverings). This list is called LARC (List of Approved Racket Coverings) and this list is located at https://d3mjm6zw6cr45s.cloudfront.net/2018/03/LARC_2018A.pdf

This list and location on web changes every three months on ITTF website http://ittf.com

Please note that a rubber may have ITTF approved logo due to approval in an earlier period but if it is not listed on the most current LARC then that racket covering cannot be used in an ITTF tournament. (The regulation of equipment in table-tennis is an extremely complex as well as a controversial issue and not discussed here).

 

       It is of paramount importance that you choose your racket-covering to match your natural playing style and not choose your racket covering and try to match your playing style. This is a huge mistake done by many newbies due to peer pressure or even bias towards a certain rubber on the part of coaches. Yes, the selection of racket covering to match your natural playing style is not easy and most cases an evolving ongoing lifelong process (unfortunately or interesting …..however you want to view it). On the flip side however a large percentage of competitive tournament players in table-tennis are wasting away not paying enough attention to this aspect mostly due peer pressure of using what other players recommend due to all the wrong irrational reasons.

       The various types of racket coverings in table-tennis thru history is described below.

 

#

 

Covering (rubber) type

 

 

Introduced in year (circa)

ITTF Tournament Legal  ?

Rubber Description

Useful as Primary or secondary rubber ?

Remarks / Comments

Which type of player (playing style) must use this type of covering

 

1

No covering

Introduced in  1910s

No

Just the wood (blade) without any covering. Interestingly, used to be ITTF tournament legal until 1980s.    Pickleball

n/a

You may leave one side of the racket with no covering and wood showing. However it should be painted black if other side rubber is red (or painted red if other side rubber is black). Also you cannot use the wood side to strike the ball and if you do, you lose the point.

An interesting devolution of table-tennis has happened in recent year in the form of another sport called pickleball , which is becoming increasingly popular (especially among elderly) in the USA and many other countries. Either by accident or very clever design, pickleball has chosen to use rackets that have no covering (just like first table-tennis rackets with no covering). Additionally, by choosing a court size half as tennis &  also greatly reducing the two key elements of table-tennis, spin and speed by using rackets with no covering (used in table-tennis) or strings (like used in tennis or badminton or racquetball etc) , pickleball makes it easier for older people play this sport. Additional clever design is that pickleball can be played on indoors courts (in winter) as well as on outdoor courts (in summer).  Older table-tennis players who grew up in the pre-sponge era use the need in reduction of spin and speed and need to use only sandpaper or hardbat rackets (items 2 & 3 below) as the excuse for devolution of table-tennis to good old days despite the simple fact that table-tennis will never ever revert back to old days due rubber manufacturers making a living by selling thousands of types rubbers. 

None :-  Since table-tennis rules no longer permit the use  uncovered wood to strike the ball.

 

2

Sandpaper / Cork etc

Introduced before  1900s ?

No

The blade is covered with a layer of sandpaper paper or cork . Contrary to popular belief these types of coverings were never ever ITTF tournament legal and continue to to be illegal for ITTF tournament play

   n/a

Not exactly sure why sandpaper or cork were used as coverings or why players still want to use it these days.   

None :-  Since table-tennis rules never  permitted (or currently permit) the use  sandpaper or cork covered  rackets in ITTF tournaments.

 

However there are separate organizations in  few countries that have either chosen to live in the past (or due to irrational hatred of sponge domain table-tennis) that run sandpaper only events either during regular ITTF tournaments as another event or run entire sandpaper tournaments

 

3

Hardbat

Introduced in  1902 ?

Yes

The blade is covered with a sheet of rubber with pimples pointing away from the wood and pimples make contact with the ball. There is no sponge in between the wood and the layer of rubber

    n/a

This was the ONLY ITTF tournament legal (covering) till 1952  (in addition to of course no covering, use of which was legal till early 80’s or so). Hereafter you will see references to sponge “domain” table-tennis (after introduction of sponge in 1952) and hardbat “domain” table-tennis (prior to 1952). This distinction is necessary because there are a group of people  (who were seduced by the charisma of one person who now passed away) who keep on insisting on devolving to the hardbat days and moronic associations like USATT etc add fuel to the fire by promoting sponge bat events at regular sponge domain event for no valid and justifiable reasons. These folks keep deluding themselves and live in a fantasy world that sponge domain table-tennis will somehow vanish and only hardbat domain table-tennis will exist. While hardbat must remain legal rightfully in ITTF tournament play as a legitimate surface, it is offensive to sponge domain players if the hardbat players keep demanding special entitlements separate events as well, which is childish (pun very much intended) because children should never ever start playing using hardbat (or even much worse sandpaper).

It is perfectly OK for older players leftover from hardbat era to continue with hardbat but it is silly to ask everyone else especially younger players to do so. Many younger players use smooth rubber sponge (see below) and the strokes are VERY different (The racket is very much CLOSED in the sponge for smooth rubber  for most of the play but the racket is close to very much OPEN for most of the play for any pips out rubbers for most of the strokes) . A talented national class athlete may adapt to switching back and forth between sponge domain and hardbat domains easily but lesser talented players (especially children) will only be confused and will effect their development in either domain, especially sponge domain where 95% table-tennis now exists & will NEVER regress to hardbat. Table-tennis is an extremely precise sport played at extreme speeds with insane spins and it is not easy for an average amateur schmuck to switch between sponge domain and hardbat domain (racket angles etc) 

     

Play pickle-ball not table-tennis  ( no offense meant to pickleball which is growing leaps and bounds worldwide)  .  What is meant  here is that  table-tennis for the most sport is primarily a sport of excessive spins and may not interest players who prefer hardbat (for all the wrong reasons in the table-tennis domain that is)

 

4

Short pips (out)

Introduced in  early 1950s

Yes

The blade is covered with a sheet of rubber with pimples pointing away from the wood and pimples make contact with the ball. But unlike hardbat, there is a layer of sponge in between the wood and the layer of rubber. The “rubber” usually comes assembled with the top-sheet of pimpled-rubber sheet and the sponge underneath glued together. The “rubber” is glued to the wood (blade) on the sponge side, thus using the pimpled top-sheet (facing outward) to strike the ball. The maximum total thickness allowed including glue of rubber (top-sheet plus sponge) is 4 mm. The sponge thickness varies from 0 mm to 2.5mm (when sponge thickness is 0 mm it is hardbat) .

Rubber sheet = top-sheet+sponge

  This is called short-pips because compared to next 2 rubber types (known as long-pips and medium-pips), the pips are the shortest and also the stiffest

Primary (only)

The style of play using pips-out rubber with sponge underneath was dominant in the 60 and 70’s and slowly became less dominant towards the end of 1990’s. This style of play is referred to as “block & smash” style of play because this type of player is a natural table-tennis athlete and had excellent reflexes and stands close to the table and plays the ball right off the bounce most of the time either blocks with no spin (mostly) or smashes the ball with little or no spin. The emphasis is on speed rather than spin to blow the ball by the opponent at maximum speed.

Theoretically speaking this is the best style of play because if you can deliver the ball with 100% of the energy focused on the speed (with no energy loss for spin)  you are mot likely to prevail every time. But very few humans can play at that level of speed with very high consistency and this is where spin comes in. Spin is needed by most humans to both to control and keep the ball on the table as well as a tool of variation (of spins & speeds) to outwit the opponent

 Additionally as the speed of the sport has increased, players have been pushed away farther and farther from the table and this style is all but extinct in table-tennis as well as tennis.  The last great true flat-hitter of the ball in tennis was Jimmy Connors who played in 70s and early 80s. In table-tennis the last great players of this style were in the 80’s and one remained in 90’s and another in the 2000’s (discussed below).

Interestingly most of the great block and smash players were penhold style players who beat the hell out of any ball that they can their hands on with their forehand but mostly had a deadball (no spin ) block on the backhand using same side of the racket (You will hear reverse penhold or RPH later in modern table-tennis in another section). The last great player left-over from this style is He Zhiwen, a Chinese-born player who moved to Spain. “He” has the most incredible reflexes of any player who played this sport and hardly leaves the table even in his 50’s and has lasted for more than 35 years in the sport. Another Chinese-born Canadian, Johnny Huang,  is even more of a rarity as he is a shakehands player with short-pips with sponge both sides of the racket. He also rarely leaves the table and simply beats the hell out of the ball from the forehand and amazingly with backhand as well with such consistency that he was in the top 10 in the world for many years. But he is probably the only known pips-out  shakehands hitter at such high level. 

There were few women players leftover (almost all penhold)  after 90’s who used short-pips but the point is that this style is all but dead at higher (professional) levels.

Though this style of play (block & smash) is all but dead at higher levels, this style of play may still be highly suitable for older or any other players who cannot or do not want to top-spin the ball (on the primary side which is usually forehand) .

If you are a young player starting to play, stay away from this rubber.

All young players MUST start with smooth lively rubber on both sides of racket FIRST and then transition to rubbers like this later ONLY if their NATURAL tendency on forehand is ONLY to hit and not top-spin (loop) and cannot be rectified

 

This rubber is NOT recommended as a secondary rubber (on backhand) because you may want to use medium-pips which is far more effective as a secondary rubber. 

 

5

Long pips(out)

Introduced in  late 1970s

Yes

Same as item 4 (short-pips) except that the pips are longest and most flexible aa legally allowed. The sponge thickness varies from 0 mm to 2.5mm. When it is 0 mm (meaning no sponge) , the rubber sheet (with no sponge) is referred to as OX

Secondary (only)

This rubber was invented in the 70’s to help chop (or backspin) defensive players to handle the extremely powerful top-spins( known as loops) of attacking style players. Unlike short-pips which are shortest and stiffest, these long-pips are the longest legally allowed (which is far from enough, unfortunately for defenders and also been astonishingly reduced even further by a highly political extremely & ill-conceived rule in 1998).

When a defender chops against a top-spin ball, the ball bends the long and flexible pips and the pips bend towards the back and the ball is retained on the racket much much much longer than for any other stroke (the time is referred to as dwell-time) . All the energy of the incoming top-spin is sort of “stored” rather than dissipated and reversed as back-spin & returned to the attacker. The back-spin is actually lot more than a defender would get even compared to a high-dwell time smooth spinny rubber , the defender may have on other side of the racktet.  The long-pips however cannot generate a lot of spin (any spin) on their own. But they can actually “amplify” any incoming spin especially incoming top-spin due to energy-storage mechanism facilitated by long and flexible pips.

The spin amplification is somewhat exponential rather than linear, which mean the defender can send back less spin by not chopping but can send back a whole lot of spin by even a slight chopping motion. This is what is hard for an attacker to read coming back from a crafty defender and turns many an attacker into haters and robotNazis.   However the spectrum of spin varitions had been greatly reduced by 5 rule changes since 1998. Before 1998, it was harder even for a professional male player to top-spin (loop) two or three balls in a row and they have to push the second or third ball and start over. But these days an attacker can comfortably loop 10 to 20 balls in a row from forehand or even loop balls in between with backhand. Before 1998 , backhand looping against an incoming long-pips chopped ball was almost never heard of.

 

The long-pips by design cannot be used as a primary rubber like short pips, mostly because your stroke is not entirely controlled by your racket angle or stroke mechanics etc because you need to adjust your stroke depending on spin and speed of incoming ball as well.  With a smooth spinny rubber, you can reverse the incoming top-spin comfortably by overpowering the incoming tp-spin with your own powerful top-spin by this is not possible with any pips and especially long-pips (because by design pips are not meant for generating spin on their own).

 

If you are a defensive players who chops the ball on either side , this is the ONLY choice in the modern sport at any level. Most choppers usually chop on the backhand and  you want to use this rubber on the side you chop the most from.  However you must NOT have long-pips on both sides of the racket.  If you chop a lot from both sides, pick a side you are less comfortable (or less consistent ) to chop and use a smooth lively rubber on that side and use long-pips on your better chopping side. Usually for most players this means long pips on backhand and smooth rubber on forehand. However there always had been strange cases of players chopping with smooth rubber on backhand and chopping with long pips on forehand (or hitting with medium pips of forehand as was the case of In Sook Bhushan , the most times (10 or so)  US Women’s Champion). It is also quite possible that you may be a looper (lobber) on backhand with smooth spinny rubber  on backhand and long-pips chopper on forehand.

Or maybe a block and smash hitter on the backhand using short-pips and long-pips chopper on forehand.  As you can see , designing a combination racket is a bit more involved but inevitable if you want to play at your potential  using the best possible style from both backhand and forehand as well as racket twiddling combinations thereof.

 

   Probably more than half the  players who are blindly and religiously using smooth spinny rubbers for no logical reasons should not be using smooth spinny rubbers at least on one side, if not both.

 

  A players needs to evaluate both their backhand and forehands independently as well as synergistically and then choose rubbers for either side. This must be done without any peer pressure or what rubber your hero or whoever else is using,  This may most likely mean choosing a rubber other than smooth spinny rubber at least on one side of the racket most likely the backhand in most of the cases.

 

 

 

 

6

Medium pips (out)

Introduced in  late 1970s

Yes

Same as item 5 (long-pips) except that the pip length is somewhere in the middle in length compared to short and long pips & the flexibility (or stiffness) are also in between compared to short and long pips. The sponge thickness varies from 0 mm to 2.5mm. When it is 0 mm (meaning no sponge) , the rubber sheet (with no sponge) is referred to as OX

Secondary (only)

 

The pips were developed for close to the table blocking style. Usually the length of pips is not as short as short pips but also not as long as long pips. Also the stiffness of pips may be in between short and long pips.

This is also a secondary rubber however because they cannot generate lot of spin on their own but are a little better suited than long pips for hitting and blocking almost (but not quite) similar to short pips.

 

This is a very good secondary rubber for those players who are good at playing block and smash on their secondary side (usually backhand) .

Definitely much better than short-pips as a secondary rubber because of its all around & twiddle capabilities and variations in spin and no spin. 

 

7

Spinny Inverted

Introduced in  early 1950s

Yes

This is a rubber sheet consisting of sponge and top-sheet but the top-sheet is glued to the sponge on the pimples side with the smooth side of top-sheet facing outward and is used to strike the ball.

The “rubber” is glued to the wood (blade) on the sponge side, thus using the pimpled top-sheet (facing outward) to strike the ball. The maximum total thickness allowed including glue of rubber (top-sheet plus sponge) is 4 mm. The legal sponge thickness varies from 0.1 mm to 2.5mm (unlike items 2 thru 6) you cannot just have an inverted top-sheet only glued to the wood. Rules require that there must be a sponge in between the wood and top-sheet.

This type of covering is also referred to as reversed or backside or pips-in or smooth rubber .

The smooth side of the rubber that is used to strike the ball is usually sticky or grippy to very sticky or grippy and very “lively”

 

 

Primary (or secondary)

 

Most of the players in modern table-tennis use this racket covering. The top-sheet of the rubber is very grippy and can generate tremendous spins of any kind (either pure back-spin or top-spin or also combined with side-spins) all on their own. Players usually engage is top-spin to counter top-spin exchanges usually away from the table using both backhands and forehands. This rubber allows for the maximum error margins and thus maximizing control of the ball with spin.  

 

If you are starting in table-tennis, especially a very young player, you first start with this rubber on both sides of the racket. Then depending on how your style evolves you may or may not move to some other rubber on either side (forehand or backhand) . Ideally for most humans forehand is the dominant side even at the professional level. If your tendency is to hit the ball however badly you want to spin the ball, then smooth spinny  rubber is not for you from that side and if is the forehand you most likely want to use a short-pips on the forehand. If your tendency is to mostly block and smash on the backhand, again you do NOT want to use a smooth spinny rubber on your backhand but must use a medium pips rubber on the backhand.

There are a large number of groupies in table-tennis like in any other sport who blindly worship a certain player and try to emulate their hero’s playing style , their blade, their rubber, their wrist bands, their jock straps, their appetizer at dinner, same redhead girl-friend etc.(most men are in fact probably more psychotic than teenage rock-groupie girls). In general most males in table-tennis fantasize of being two-winged loopers using smooth spinny rubbers with maximum illegal glue & boosters  and it rarely works out for most.

 

8

Anti-Spin Inverted

Introduced in  early 1960s

Yes

Same as item 7 except that the smooth side of rubber that  is used to strike the ball is usually very dead or slick or un-sticky or un-grippy.

 

Secondary (only)

This type of rubber looks very much like smooth spinny rubber but the top-sheet is “dead” or slick and cannot generate spin on its own but also does not react to spin either. This was used by defenders before long-pips were invented but this may not a useful surface in high level modern table-tennis but still can be used as a secondary rubber at lower levels .

        Often you will see a player (trying to return to play after years) walk into a club with a racket that he left in his / her hot attic for 10 to 30 years. His old racket which is supposedly a spinny smooth live rubber (when he bought it first 30 years ago) has been thoroughly “cooked” and is now “dead” and can generate no spin (the player rightfully wonders why)

 Long pips & medium pips have replaced anti-smooth rubber for the most part because this rubber may not be that useful in modern table-tennis.