Hard vs Soft Table Tennis Rubbers and Blades

The world of ping pong (table tennis) paddles is vast, and there are plenty of decisions to make when selecting a new paddle.

One of the main choices you need to make is how hard you want the paddle to be. In this article, I’ll compare hard and soft paddles and their pros and cons, so you can figure out which is the best option for you.

The Quick Answer

Hard ping pong paddles offer more power and speed than soft paddles can feel easier to control the ball. The rubber and blade both impact the overall hardness. Soft rubber is easier to use but offers less spin capability than hard rubber. Hard blades offer better performance but offer less “feel”.

Rubber Hardness

The first thing we should discuss is the hardness of the rubber components of the paddle. This area of the paddle is very important because it impacts the speed at which the ball will bounce off the paddle, the control you have over the shot and the level of spin it will have with various techniques.

There are two layers to consider here: the sponge and the rubber. However, generally when talking about “rubbers”, most people are referring to the overall structure rather than the separate rubber layer.

Hard Rubber = more speed, harder to control

Soft Rubber = less speed, easier to control

There are two main types of rubber:

  • Tensor rubber (less tacky) – also known as Japanese or European style rubber
  • Chinese rubber (more tacky)

Chinese (Tacky) Rubber and Hardness

The harder the rubber the more spin capability it has. However, the softer the rubber is, the easier it is to actually apply spin.

That’s why some lower-level players find that softer rubber has “more spin”. What they are experiencing here is the ease of applying the spin. However, a higher-level player will usually be able to generate more spin from a harder rubber, since harder rubbers have more spin capability.

Some high-level players will still use softer rubbers despite them having less spin capability. The reason is that softer rubber is more forgiving, so in awkward situations where you may be reaching or out of position, the soft rubber will give you more control and make it easier to apply spin.

With regards to speed and control, hard and soft rubber differ considerably. Harder rubber offers more speed but less control. This relates to the point we just discussed.

The hardness of the rubber impacts the “dwell time” of the ball when it hits the paddle. Very hard rubber which makes the ball bounce of the paddle more quickly which generates more power and speed. Softer rubber allows the ball to dwell for longer on the surface of the paddle as it sinks into it more before being projected back off.

Check out this table below for an example using the different hardness ratings of Donic’s BlueGrip rubber. These ratings are taken directly from Donic’s website.

Donic BlueGrip RubberHardnessSpinSpeedControl
S2Medium119+7
R1Hard-1110+6
C2Hard11++10+6-
C1Hard11++115

Tensor Rubber and Hardness

Check out this table comparing the JOOLA Maxxx range of tensor rubbers. You’ll notice that with this style of rubber which isn’t very tacky, the harder the rubber the more speed but less control you have. This is the same as with tackier Chinese rubber.

JOOLA RubberHardnessSpinSpeedControl
Maxxx 400Soft11010890
Maxxx 450Medium11311182
Maxxx 500Hard11611770

Depending on which brand you look at, there can be a significant relationship between spin and hardness, or barely any. In the example above, the harder rubber offers more spin capability. However, with some brands the spin rating doesn’t change as the hardness increases.

Forehand vs Backhand

Many players will opt for a softer rubber on the backhand than the forehand side of the paddle. This is because it’s usually easier for a player to apply spin with the forehand motion as you have the help of your hips and waist movement as well as your wrist. With the backhand motion, you are reliant on your wrist motion which is often more difficult to master.

That’s why many players like the softer rubber on the backhand side of the paddle as it offers more control and makes it easier to apply spin.

Check out my comparison between European and Chinese rubber to learn more.

Blade Hardness

The second thing you need to consider is the blade.

Harder blades have more power but offer less “feeling” than softer blades. Beginners will benefit from using a softer blade because it will allow them to develop their techniques more quickly, as they can feel the vibrations that occur when the ball hits the paddle. Professionals may prefer a stiffer blade as it can offer better performance.

Hard BladeSoft Blade
More power (faster shots)Less power (slower shots)
Harder to controlEasier to control
Better overall performanceBetter for learning new skills
Less feelingMore feeling
Better for blockingMore spin capability

The hardness of a blade is affected by two factors:

  • Thickness
  • Material

Material

Blades can either be made from wood or carbon fibre and usually have either 5 or 7 layers. Carbon fibre blades usually have 2 layers made from carbon and 3 or 5 layers made from wood. Carbon blades are stiffer (harder) than wood blades.

The extra hardness allows you to generate more power but with less effort, resulting in a faster shot. However, stiffer carbon fibre blades make it difficult for the vibrations that occur when you strike the ball to transfer to your hand. In other words, they have less “feeling”.

When learning any new technique, no matter how good your overall skill level is, you should use a wood blade. It’s extra flexibility makes it easier for you to feel the shot and really get to grips with it.

Check out my comparison between carbon and wood blades for all the pros and cons.

Thickness

As I mentioned in the previous section, blades are usually made from either 5 or 7 layers. These are often referred to as either 5-ply or 7-ply blades. The more layers a blade has, the harder it will be.

This creates a similar effect to when using carbon instead of wood. The thicker blade results in better power, however this extra stiffness makes it more difficult to feel the shot.

That’s why it’s better for a player who is learning a new technique to go for a 5-ply blade instead of a 7-ply blade. This will allow them to develop and perfect the technique before they add more power with a 7-ply blade instead.

It’s not only the hardness of the blade which is important, but also the stiffness. Check out my article explaining blade hardness and stiffness to learn why these two characteristics are not the same, and the impact they have on the blade’s performance and feeling.

Which Composition is Best?

So we’ve now discussed the main components of a paddle (blade, rubber top-sheet and sponge) and how the hardness affects the performance of the paddle. However, you also need to know how this all fits together.

You can go for a hard blade and hard rubber combination, or soft versions of each component. You can also go for something that has medium-hardness, or a hard blade with softer rubber and vice-versa. There are plenty of options.

It’s all personal preference so there aren’t really any strict rules to follow, unless you’re a beginner where you’ll usually benefit from choosing a softer blade and rubber to allow you to develop your technique.

I’ve written a full guide to the different types of table tennis racket components so you can look at all the different variables and see where “hardness” fits into the bigger picture. I’d definitely recommend checking it out if you’re looking for a new paddle.

Game and Entertain

Hey, I'm Heather, the owner and creator of gameandentertain.com. I made this website to help you learn more about setting up a home entertainment and games room. My favourite games are ping pong, darts and pool, but I also have experience in other games which I aim to share using this website.

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