If you’re in the market for a ping pong (table tennis) paddle, then it’s essential to be clear on the different types available so you can choose the best option. In this article, I’ll go through the different types and component types associated with ping pong paddles and explain who they are best suited towards.
Types of Table Tennis Paddle Overview
There are three main types of ping pong paddle: defensive, offensive and all-round. Each type is designed for a different playing style. Defensive paddles are usually lighter and thinner which means they are easier to control but slower than offensive paddles which are designed to offer more power.
A ping pong paddle consists of four main parts: the handle, the blade, the sponge and the rubber.
The quality and types of materials used for each component will influence how the paddle actually plays. Paddles can be categorized into different “types” according to the different qualities of each component.
You can also get bats that just have the blade and rubber (without the sponge) and even bats that are just entirely wooden or plastic. You should avoid these types of paddles if you want to really improve your playing. They are simply designed to be very cheap and give casual players a low barrier to entry.
When selecting a paddle, you can either go for a pre-made, or custom-made option.
Custom-made paddles allow the player to select the desired blade, rubbers and sponge, and are preferred by most serious players. However, pre-made paddles are good for complete beginners who feel overwhelmed by the choice custom-paddles offer.
The choice for each of these components is pretty extensive (even if you go for a pre-made paddle) which can make the selection pretty confusing, but I’ll take you through each choice step-by-step so you can understand what type is best for you.
Paddle Ratings and Playing Styles
Manufacturers will provide a rating for four different aspects: speed, spin, control and stiffness.
Each manufacturer uses slightly different scales, so comparing the speed rating of two different paddles from different brands won’t be an apples to apples comparison. However, it’s important to understand these ratings when choosing a paddle.
These ratings are mainly dictated by the blade, sponge and rubber components of the paddle.
You can also categorise paddles according to playing style:
- Defensive (DEF)
- Offensive (OFF)
- All-round (ALL)
Some brands also use a plus and minus sign to provide another layer of differentiation. For example an OFF+ blade is more offensive than an OFF- blade.
These types differ according to their speed, spin, stiffness and control ratings. Defensive blades will favour control over speed, whilst offensive blades will favour speed over control, all-round blades have a more balanced rating.
The blade makes up the majority of the ping pong paddle. The blade is essentially the middle of the bat, and it is layered with sponge on either side, and extends through to the handle.
It is usually made from wood but can also consist of other materials such as carbon fibre. The ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) state that a paddle must consist of at least 85% wood and any other materials must total less than 7.5% of the thickness (or 0.35 mm). They can be any shape and size, but must be completely flat and rigid.
Remember the four ratings we discussed in the section above? Well, the blade influences the stiffness, speed and control ratings but does not impact the spin.
Blade Material Types
There are two main types of blade:
- Carbon fibre
Carbon fibre blades offer better speed but less control and spin than wood blades. Wooden blades offer less power but many players prefer their feel and responsiveness. Wood blades are recommended for new players or any playing who is learning a new technique, regardless of their current overall skill level.
Check out my in-depth comparison between wood and carbon blades for all the advantages and disadvantages.
|Better for practicing techniques||High performance|
|Easier to feel the ball||Harder to feel the ball|
5-Ply vs 7-Ply
Blades usually consist of either 5 or 7 layers, known as 5-ply or 7-ply blades. Of course, 7-ply blades are stiffer and heavier than 5-play blades. 5-ply blades are recommended when learning any new technique.
|Less powerful||More powerful|
|Better control||Requires more skill|
Harder and thicker blades will weigh more, which results in a higher speed rating since they are more powerful. On the other hand, lighter blades with more flex, will be easier to use and have a higher control rating.
For beginners, you should look for control over speed, so going with a defensive style blade will be more suitable. Whilst it may sound a bit boring, it’s essential to help you develop your skills. Going with a super fast carbon fibre bat sounds fun, but it is very likely to limit your progression if you’re not an advanced player.
|Heavy Blade (above 90 g)||Light Blade (below 90 g)|
|Slower strokes||Faster strokes (more reactive)|
|More power||Less power|
|Best when playing further from the table||Best when playing close to the table|
|Stiff Blade||Flexible Blade|
|More power (faster)||Less power (slower)|
|Less spin||More spin|
|Easier to block||Harder to block|
I’ve written a full guide to heavy vs light paddles which I’d recommend checking out if you’re after a new paddle because it’s not as simple as it may seem!
The rubber surface on a ping pong paddle is very important as it is the part that comes into contact with the ball. The type of rubber used affects the speed, spin and control ratings of the blade primarily.
Types of Rubber
There are four main types of ping pong paddle rubbers:
- Inverted: this has a smooth surface and is used by most tournament players as it provides the most spin.
- Short pips (pimples): this has a pimpled surface and provides a moderate amount of spin.
- Long pips (pimples): this has a pimpled surface and provides a low amount of spin.
- Anti-spin: this has a smooth surface but provides the least amount of spin.
It is not recommended for beginners to use long-pimple or anti-spin rubber as they have a low amount of friction which makes it hard to generate spin and learn different spin techniques. They are however quite useful for defensive players, because they offer a lot of control and help to reduce the impact of spin shots from the opponent by deadening the spin effect.
Inverted and short pimple rubbers are great for most types of players.
Chinese (Sticky) vs European (Tensor) Rubber
Chines rubber on a ping pong paddle is stickier than European rubber (tensor rubber). The benefit of the extra stickiness is increased control and ability to spin, however it is often harder for beginners to use.
European rubber tends to be less sticky and a bit more “bouncy” meaning it is faster to play with but some players may find it harder to control and limiting in terms of spin capability.
Check out my comparison between European and Chinese rubber to learn more.
Forehand vs Backhand Rubber
The different sides of a ping pong paddle have different types of rubber which is suitable for forehand and backhand shots. When you hit the ball using your forehand, the longer stroke creates more power and speed compared to when you hit it with your backhand.
For this reason, you may want to use a tackier rubber on the forehand side for more control, and a bouncier rubber on the backhand for more speed. The black side of the bat is generally used for the forehand as it is sticker than the red side which is often used for the forehand.
Some players also may prefer a smooth or short-pimple rubber to provide more spin on the forehand and then a long-pimple or anti-spin rubber on the backhand.
Check out my complete comparison between black and red ping pong rubbers to learn everything you should know.
Rubber Hardness and Thickness
This impacts the speed, spin and control offered by the paddle. The effect differs though depending on whether we’re discussing European (tensor) rubber and Chinese rubber.
- Chinese rubber: harder = slower with more spin capability
- European rubber: harder = faster with less spin capability
However, it goes a bit deeper than this with Chinese rubber. The hardness dictates the spin capability, and the ease at which you can apply spin. These are two separate things which is where the confusion stems from.
Harder rubber allows you to generate more spin, however it makes the spin more difficult to actually generate. That’s why lower-skilled players generally find that soft rubber has more spin. It’s not because the spin capability is greater, but because it’s easier for them to use.
When it comes to the effect of thickness on speed, thicker rubber will create more power and in turn, speed, but it can reduce the amount of control for some players.
Check out my article comparing thick and thin rubber and sponge layers to learn more.
As with the rubber, the sponge plays a key role in the way a ball responds when hit with the paddle. The two main things to consider here are the thickness and the hardness. Both of these factors dictate the speed, spin and control ratings.
Thicker and harder sponge feels faster but offers less control than thin sponge.
Here some general sponge thickness ratings and the player style they are designed for. Remember, that rubber thickness will also impact this as well. So it’s definitely possible to use a thick sponge and thin rubber to produce a more balanced all-round paddle.
|Sponge Thickness||Player Type|
Finally, it’s important to distinguish between the different types of paddles.
There are 3 main types of blade handles on a ping pong paddle:
|Easy to hold loosely without dropping||Cannot be help as loosely without dropping||Hard to play at distance|
|Great for forehand||Good for playing close to the table||Good for flat strokes|
|Hard to transition to backhand||Easy to transition from forehand to backhand||Not as good for looping|
Flare, Anatomical and Straight Handles (from left to right) – Image links to Amazon
Check out my article comparing straight, flared and anatomic blade handles to learn about all their pros and cons.