Buying table tennis balls should be an easy task. They’re just small balls which make a “ping-pong” sound, right?
Well, not quite. There’s a lot of choice available and a huge variance in quality.
There has been two significant changes to table tennis balls over the past 15 years. In 2000, the size of the ball was increased from 38mm to 40mm. The size was increased to make it more appealing to spectators. The larger ball is slower and spins less, which in theory should mean longer rallies, but I’m not sure this has ever been proven.
Then in 2014/2015, the material used to make table tennis balls changed from celluloid to a non-flammable plastic (often referred as “plastic balls”, “poly balls” or “40+ balls”). However, the celluloid balls are still available to buy and are often cheaper and more durable than new new plastic balls.
So, what balls should you buy? In this blog post I share my experience of the new plastic balls and give recommendations of which balls to buy. I also explain why I’m still using celluloid balls during my coaching sessions, plus a great tip on where to buy lots of celluloid balls for a cheap price. Lastly, I give recommendations on which balls to buy for casual play.
We’re still in a period of transition with the new plastic balls. The quality of the first plastic balls wasn’t great. Balls weren’t perfectly round, they would break very easily and it was harder to generate the same level of spin as the celluloid balls.
But the quality of the plastic balls is now gradually improving. Manufactures keep testing and iterating. Some brands of plastic balls are starting to play like the celluloid balls they replaced.
There are still issues with balls breaking quite easily. And there is still a big variance in quality between different brands. It could be another two to three years before we get a really consistent range of plastic balls.
There was a lot of concern that the new plastic ball would have a big impact on the game. But this hasn’t really happened. Professionals are still playing in the same attacking way. And after three years of using the plastic ball, the best players in the world are still the same. At the amateur level, I don’t think most players have noticed much of a difference at all.
What are the best plastic balls?
I’ll start with a disclaimer. I haven’t tried all the different plastic balls. So if a ball isn’t on my list below, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad ball. It may be that I haven’t tried it.
This is by far my favourite plastic table tennis ball. I first played with this ball in a tournament in 2016 and instantly liked it. It felt very much like playing with the old celluloid balls again. This season all teams at my club (Cambridge-Parkside) have been using Nittaku Premium table tennis balls in league matches. The bounce is consistent, you can easily generate spin and they don’t seem to break as often as other plastic balls. If you want to buy competition quality balls, I fully recommend Nittaku Premium.
Xushaofa isn’t a familiar table tennis brand, but their plastic balls have become popular because they were probably the best quality of the first batch of plastic balls. They are still very good to play with, although other mainstream table tennis brands have caught up with Xushaofa now. The Xushaofa 40+ is very close in quality to the Nittaku Premium ball. Either ball is a good choice.
I bought a batch of Butterfly plastic balls (made in China) in 2015 and wasn’t really happy with the quality. They felt very soft and slow to play with. However, the new Butterfly G40+ balls (made in Germany) are a big improvement. The ball is harder, faster and more durable. They do seem to make a slight metallic sound when the ball hits the table, but you soon get used to this.
Our club used this ball during the 2015/2016 league season. At the time I was fairly happy with the quality of the ball, as it seemed better than many of the other plastic balls I had tried. The speed of the ball was decent and the durability was ok. I think the three balls above heave the edge of the Stiga Optimum, but it’s still one of the better plastic balls.
I have played less with this ball compared to the other four on my list, but when I have played with it I’ve been impressed with the quality. It has a consistent bounce and plays with a good speed. It’s a perfectly decent ball.
Here’s my shock revelation. During my coaching sessions and when I train with my robot, I still use celluloid balls.
The main reason? Cost! It’s still more expensive to buy plastic balls compared to celluloid. When I buy a 100+ balls in a go, the cost difference can be quite significant. And since training balls tend to get broken and trodden on much more frequently, it doesn’t make much financial sense to buy the more expensive and lower quality plastic balls.
In an ideal world I would train and coach with the same balls used in competitive matches. But since there is still a large variation in the quality of plastic balls, there is no guarantee that if you train with one brand of plastic ball, it will help you prepare to play with a different brand of plastic ball.
So I’m sticking with celluloid until there is more consistency with plastic training balls and the cost is more affordable. I actually believe the plastic balls will end up playing very similar to celluloid balls, so it’s not a huge issue to use celluloid balls for multi-ball training and coaching sessions.
The balls I use, and very much recommend, are the Cornilleau Pro table tennis balls (buy in UK | buy in USA). You can buy 72 balls for a really good price and they are very durable. I have balls which are three or four years old and have been hit thousands of times and they still haven’t cracked.
If you are dead set on buying plastic training balls and don’t mind the extra cost, here are some options:
- Butterfly Easy Ball 40+
- Xushaofa Premium 40+ training balls
- Yasaka 1 Star Plastic Table Tennis Training Balls
Balls for casual play
If you only play for a bit of fun, then it’s not essential that you play with the best quality balls. Equally, you should avoid the really, really cheap balls. These don’t have a very good bounce and break easily.
If you just want to buy a few balls, with good durability, a consistent bounce and a reasonable price, any of these will do the job…
Recommended balls (UK)
- Joola Training table tennis balls
- Butterfly Skills table tennis balls
- Cornilleau Expert table tennis balls
Recommended balls (USA)
BEST-SELLERS: Also, take a look at my list of the most popular table tennis balls purchased by readers of my website.
For casual play it doesn’t really matter if you play with celluloid or the new plastic balls. How can you tell the difference between a celluloid ball and a new plastic ball? A celluloid ball will have “40mm” printed on it. The new plastic ball will have “40mm+” printed on it. The most important thing is that you have a ball to play with in the first place!
Where can you buy table tennis balls?
You can buy table tennis balls from any dedicated table tennis retailer. Take a look at my list of table tennis retailers to find a retailer near you…
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