Before we get started, let’s acknowledge that there are a ton of names for ping pong paddle, which can get a bit confusing, like paddle, racket, bat or racquet. Table tennis is regulated by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) (https://www.ittf.com/). The official ITTF handbook (https://www.ittf.com/handbook/) calls it a table tennis racket. We use a bunch of terms in this guide, but don’t worry, they all refer to the same thing!
In this guide, we’re going to explain everything you need to know about buying a table tennis racket, and how to select the right one for your playing style. Check the table of contents below if you want to skip the science and head straight to the paddle recommendations.
The Anatomy of a Table Tennis Racket
While you’re pondering over ping pong paddles, it’s helpful to first know what one is and the components that go into it.
The blade is the main part of a table tennis paddle. It is usually made of wood, but official regulations from the ITTF allow it to also contain a small percentage of other fibrous material, like carbon fibre or compressed paper. To be competition standard, a table tennis blade must be at least 85% wood, and additional materials must be less than 7.5% of the total thickness or 0.35mm, whichever is smaller.
You might be surprised to learn that a ping pong paddle can be any size, and shape or any weight, as long as the blade is flat and rigid.
Blades usually comprise of 5 or more thin layers of wood or other material. 5-ply and 7-ply blades are most commonly found on the market, and the mixture of soft and hard woods and composite materials help to create a paddle’s performance.
The side of the blade used to make contact with the ball must be evenly covered in rubber. There are two permitted types:
Ordinary pimpled rubber
Single layer of non-cellular rubber, it can be natural or synthetic, with evenly distributed pimples (known as ‘pips’) with a density of between 10 and 30 per square centimetre. The pimples can face in (so you hit the ball with the pimples) or out, so the pimples face the ‘sponge’ (see Sandwich rubber below).
Single layer of cellular rubber (sometimes called a ‘sponge’), covered with a single outer layer of ordinary pimpled rubber, with pimpled rubber thickness of less than 2mm. The thickness and density of this sponge layer of rubber affects the speed of the ball.
Thicker sponge = More speed (because the ball bounces off the bat quicker)
Thinner sponge = More control (because the ball is slower to bounce, giving you more time to react).
The density (or ‘hardness’) of the rubber also has an affect on your game. Rubber hardness is measured in degrees
You’re allowed to have two different rubber coatings on each side of your table tennis blade, or you can choose to keep the front and back of the bat the same.
If you’re buying anything other than a budget table tennis bat, look out for the ITTF logo on the rubber: this will indicate that the rubber meets ITTF competition standards so you won’t have to get too technical about the rubber thickness.
Oh, and one more thing: the rubber has to be black on one side and red on the other. And it’s not just to look cool. The ITTF added the colour rule so that your opponents can tell which side you’re using and anticipate speed and spin better.
The handle of a table tennis bat is attached to the blade. It can be straight, anatomic or flared, covered or uncovered – it’s completely up to you. Many players choose to use a racket with grip on the handle, to help provide better control. See more on grip types below.
Table tennis rubber is attached to the blade using glue. There are specific types of glue used in table tennis (not just normal superglue or craft glue), and a relatively new type of glue called speed glue is used by professionals before a match to increase the elasticity of their rackets.
The final part of a table tennis bat is the side tape, or edge tape, that seals the edges of the rubber and covers the edge of the blade. The thickness will depend on the thickness of the blade and rubber. Some players use power tape, which adds weight to the bat.
Choosing a Racket to Suit Your Playing Style
Types of Grip: How Do You Hold Your Paddle?
The way you hold you paddle determines the type of blade handle it should have. There are two ways to hold a table tennis bat:
– The Penhold grip
The Penhold grip gives XX
– The Western grip (or handshake grip)
The Western grip gives XXX
You will see professional players using the penhold grip, for example XXX, while beginner players usually start with the handshake grip. There is no single consensus on which table tennis playing style is superior, and there’s a wide variation found on the professional circuit. When choosing a paddle, you must therefore prioritize your own comfort and playing goals, rather than copying the racket style of other players.
Table tennis aggression is roughly categorized into the following categories:
– All-rounder (or Counter-Attacking)
– Aggressive (also called Offensive, Attacking)
The majority of beginner and intermediate table tennis use an all-rounder style of play. On a sliding scale, the more aggressive a table tennis paddle is, the heavier the racket is
Speed, Spin and Control
With the infinite number of table tennis racket options available, it might seem impossible to choose the right one. To make things easier, there are three main functions of a ping pong paddle; by understanding each one, you can select the right bat:
Rackets can help you hit ping pong balls fast or slow. This will depend on the type and thickness of rubber that covers the bat.
The design of a table tennis racket will give you more or less control over the ball. There’s usually a trade-off between control, spin and speed: the more control you have, the less speed and spin you can create. A beginner should look for a high control rating, and then graduate to more speed and spin and they progress.
Choosing a type of ping pong paddle
The most important part of a table tennis racket is the rubber.
There are 4 main types of ping pong paddle you can buy:
– Recreational (fun player) paddle
– Beginner table tennis racket
– Intermediate ping pong bat
– Custom professional paddle
Cheap recreational table tennis bats
If you’ve just bought your first table tennis table or you’re only looking to play for fun, you can buy a pack of 4 cheap table tennis bats (with balls) for less than $20. These will be better quality than the plastic moulded bats that won’t allow you to achieve any kind of spin.
Abco Tech Table Tennis Set
Price range: around $20
Includes: 4 paddles, 6 table tennis balls
Best ping pong paddles for beginners
A step up from a recreational player, beginners need an affordable but reliable bat that allows them to improve their game and learn new skills. A good all-rounder is key.
STIGA Titan Table Tennis Racket
Price range: around $35
DSP ACE 860 Table Tennis Paddle
Price range: around $30
Butterfly Timo Boll 2000 Table Tennis Racket
Price range: around $25
Intermediate table tennis rackets
As an intermediate table tennis player, you can start to think about finding a paddle that suits your playing style.
STIGA Pro Carbon Table Tennis Racket
Price range: around $50
Diamond Stallion Ping Pong Paddle
Price range: around $60
Price range: around $75
Customising your own unique table tennis paddle
The ultimate way to select the best ping pong racket for your game is to customise every element yourself. You will need to source the blade, rubber, handle, grip, glue and side tape separately and assemble them together yourself. This option allows to have to complete control over every little detail and tailor a racket that can take your play to the next level. Custom paddles are recommended for advanced players, who are at competition level.