Table tennis rubbers are critical to your game because they control how the ball behaves with every stroke. But there are hundreds of different kinds and options, and it can be difficult to understand how they work or what to choose for your game. Here’s a guide to choosing the best table tennis rubber to help you understand this critical piece of equipment.
The 7 Best Ping Pong Rubbers in 2020
Table Tennis Rubber Buying Guide
What is a table tennis rubber?
A table tennis rubber is the rubber surface of your ping pong paddle. It’s the part of the bat that impacts the ball with every stroke. It was first used on a racket in 1901 and then in the 1950s players started adding a layer of sponge between the rubber top sheet and the blade. When we talk about a table tennis rubber today, we’re often referring to the combination of the sponge and the rubber top sheet. They quite often come already stuck together although you can purchase them separately.
What does the table tennis rubber do?
The rubber has a big influence on the ball’s speed when you hit it. It can absorb and reduce the speed of the ball slowing down your opponent’s attacks or helping you go on the offensive by bringing more power. It’s also has a big impact on how much spin you can place on the ball. In short, the rubber determines how the ball behaves after you hit it.
The three parts of a table tennis rubber
There are two main parts to a table tennis rubber but there are many variations in thicknesses and tackiness or different types of pimples. We’ll break down each part below and talk about how this affects the ball.
The sponge layer
As we mentioned earlier, when people talk about a table tennis rubber, they’re not only referring to the outer red and black top sheet but also the layer of sponge between the rubber and the blade. As a general rule, the thicker this sponge layer is, the more powerful and faster the ball bounces off the face of the bat. The thinner the sponge is, the slower and more controlled the bounce will be. The thickness of the sponge tends to vary between 1.2mm to 2.5mm.
Offensive players will often prefer thicker sponge (over 2.0mm) as this causes the ball to ping off the bat faster and give them more power. Defensive players tend to prefer thinner sponge or no sponge at all as this slows the ball down. For beginners or all-around players, it’s recommended to use a bat with a sponge thickness of 1.5 to 1.9mm to give you more control over your shots.
The sponge layer can come in different levels of hardness as well. The harder the sponge the more it will bounce off the bat and the more power you’ll be able to generate. And vice versa, soft sponges will slow the ball down and give you more control.
The rubber top sheet
Sitting on top of the layer of sponge is the rubber top sheet. This is typically red or black in color and has pimples (which we’ll look at next).
All table tennis rubbers have ‘pimples’ (also called pips) which are little nubs of rubber that point out from the flat surface of the rubber background. Pimples help the rubber be more responsive while reducing the surface area that makes contact with the ball. However, the pimples can be facing inward so that the smooth side of the rubber is hitting the ball.
The different types of table tennis rubbers
There are a number of different variations of rubbers that are suited to different styles of players. Some suit more attacking players who want more power whilst others a better for defensive players.
When the pimples are facing inward beneath the rubber and the sponge with a smooth outer surface, it is called an ‘inverted’ or ‘pimples-in’ rubber. These are the most popular type of rubber, as they allow for a wider range of strokes and playing styles. Because the ball is making contact with a flat surface (as the pimples are all pointing inwards) the surface area to contact the ball is larger so you’ll get a lot more control over the ball. We always recommend going for an inverted pimples rubber when starting out as you’ll have more control and can get used to the types of strokes and movement of the ball.
Pimples-out rubber: Long and short
When the pimples are facing outward it’s called a ‘pimples-out’ rubber. Pimples out rubbers have less surface area in contact with the ball so they have less friction and grip. This means you’ll have less control over the ball which we don’t recommend for beginners. If in doubt go with pimples in to start with.
Pimpled rubbers can come with pimples in different lengths: short or long. Short pimples out have tacky ends with less grip and less friction. These kinds of rubber reduce the effect of incoming spin and are preferred for smashing and blocking.
The other type is to have longer pimples. This slows and reduces incoming spin giving you greater control when returning shots. It can also allow you to reverse the direction of the ball’s spin and create unpredictable spin. Long pimples with little to no sponge are preferred by defensive players who want the greatest amount of control.
What is a tacky rubber?
Tacky rubbers are the most popular type and it means that rubber is sticky. They have a lot of surface area impacting the ball, with a smooth, slightly sticky surface that allows the player to generate more spin as the ball grips the bat more when making contact. The downside to using very tacky rubbers is that they are affected by your opponent’s spin.
The video below shows how tacky a rubber can be. Tacky rubbers, however, pick up a lot more dust and can wear out quicker than others. You’ll need to clean your ping pong paddle more regularly if you have a very tacky rubber.
What is an anti-spin rubber?
Anti-spin rubbers are made to have a slippery surface that reduces friction and generates little to no spin. This kind of rubber will tend to cause the spin to reverse. For example, if your opponent sends a topspin shot at you, returning it with an anti-spin rubber will often have backspin on it. They tend to be coupled with a very soft sponge which slows the ball down and is popular with defensive players
ITTF approved rubbers
If you want to play in an official tournament you’ll need to get an ITTF approved rubber. This requires that the rubber you use meets two requirements.
It has to be the approved colors
The rules of table tennis require that one side of the paddle be bright red, and the other be black. It’s common for professionals to use a different style of rubber on each side of their paddle so they can vary the type of shot they want to hit. Players will ‘twiddle’ their bat during play to use the side that best suits the particular stroke they want to hit. This is why the bat has to be different colors so that their opponent can know what sort of shot to expect.
It has to be an ITTF authorized rubber
Only rubbers with the ITTF logo (shown in the image above) can be used during tournament play. This means that they’ve reviewed the specifications and it meets all the requirements and so can have the logo. However, the list of authorized rubber is updated about every six months, and simply having the logo doesn’t mean that your rubbers are still authorized. For tournament play, you need to check the list of authorized rubbers on the ITTF website periodically to make sure that your rubbers are still allowed to be used.
Changing and replacing your rubber
There are two types of table tennis paddles: those made with a permanent rubber which cannot be replaced when it wears out and those made with a rubber that can be replaced over time when it gets old or damaged. This is a great option if you have a blade that you like and works well in your hand, but the sponge or rubber has broken down over time and doesn’t impart the desired amount of speed or spin. If you want to change your rubber check out our step by step guide to replacing your table tennis rubber here.
For newer or intermediate players who may be looking for the “best” rubber, it is not a good idea to change rubber as you try out different types. Because different rubber types behave so differently, your playing style has to adapt with every new rubber, and it isn’t a good way to learn. Instead, it is a better idea to work on your technique and basic skills, and then choose the rubber that is best suited for your playing style, and not the other way around. Even if you are happy with your rubber, it will naturally deteriorate over time. Most casual players need to replace their rubber once or twice a year.
To read more about pairing rubbers and blades check out our post on the best table tennis blades in 2020 here.
The Top Table Tennis Rubbers Reviewed
Now that we’ve learnt about rubbers we’ll take a look at some of our favorite rubbers in 2020.
#1. Butterfly Tenergy 05 (Our favorite)
- The first in the Tenergy line, with both Spring Sponge and High Tension technologies
- This Butterfly rubber is best-suited for offensive all-round play, both near and far from the table
- Get the most out of your game as a looper with easy power and spin from this Japanese rubber sheet
- Pairs best with Butterfly Timo Boll ALC, Viscaria, Zhang Jike Super ZLC, or other Butterfly blades
- Butterfly Free Chack II table tennis glue recommended when assembling Tenergy table tennis rubbers
#2. DHS NEO Hurricane 3 (Budget choice)
- Powerful"NEO" sponge and hurricane 3 rubber with special glutindsity could create stable and...
- Fitted play: Control / Loop (Pimples in)
- high speed and low fast loop，Black or Red available
#3. Butterfly Tenergy 64
- The fastest rubber in the Tenergy line, perfect for the player that relies on fast attacks from mid...
- Perfect for the ultimate attacker, but also superior for short pushes, especially with heavy spin,...
- Tenergy 64 is well-suited for blocking, smashing, and power topspin shots
- Best when paired with Butterfly Timo Boll ZLF, Mizutani Jun Super ZLC, Yoshida Kaii CS, Harimoto...
- Butterfly Free Chack II table tennis glue recommended when assembling Tenergy table tennis rubbers
#4. Yasaka Rakza 7
- High quality table tennis rubber from Yasaka
- Made in Japan
#.5 Tibhar Evolution MX-P
#6. Xiom Vega Pro
- Professional Spin Weapon
- Innovative Enlarged Attack Window
- New Black Carbo-Sponge To Generate More Power
- Double Lifetime And Max Durability
#7. Yasaka Mark V
There are hundreds of different types of table tennis rubbers and there is no ‘best’ rubber. Only the best rubber for your particular style of play, ability and your needs. Knowing all the different options will help you consider and choose the right rubber for your table tennis game. If you have any questions get in touch or post a comment below.