You may have noticed a change to how our table tennis balls are labelled, new terms like “ABS” and “40+” now adorn the packaging. But what do they mean?
Quick History of Table Tennis Balls
To find out what the new terms mean, it’s best to start with some context. The history of the table tennis ball starts off with mainly rubber or cork variations prior to 1900. Then a 38mm ball made from a celluloid was introduced to England for the first time and from that time up until 2000 this style of table tennis ball was used throughout the world.
In 2000 the International Table Tennis Federation ("ITTF") changed the size of the ball to 40mm, this innovation was led by Chinese brand DHS. The reason for the change of size was to slow the game, being deemed to be too fast to be television friendly.
In 2014 the ITTF made the use of plastic balls legal for competition use. Manufacturers quickly saw the writing on the wall and switch over to plastic rather than celluloid balls.
Why Plastic balls over Celluloid?
The ITTF decided to start emphasising the plastic table tennis balls for a couple of reasons.
Firstly Celluloid as a material was harder to justify, both due to its relative scarcity and because it is deemed more dangerous than plastic as it is flammable, which also makes it harder to transport.
Secondly the ITTF thought the introduction of the plastic ball would slow the game down more and lead to longer rallies.
When the plastic balls first appeared, they were mainly made from “Cellulose Acetate”, which had durability problems with frequent breakages. Recently a newer material has come on to the market called ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) which is much more durable and has a bounce much more similar to the old celluloid ball. So you will see ABS labelled on the packaging to let you know that the plastic balls are made from the better material.
The reason the balls are labelled with 40+ is that when the ITTF made the plastic balls legal for competition, they also allowed the balls to have a bigger size tolerance. So via the ITTF rules a celluloid ball must be between 39.5-40.0mm however plastic ones have to be between 40.0 to 40.6mm. In practice a celluloid ball tends to be around 39.6mm whereas the new plastic balls measure around 40.2mm, making the plastic balls about 0.5mm bigger. As the celluloid balls were labelled 40mm the plastic ones are therefore labelled 40+.
Does the change in material make a difference?
In a general sense the plastic balls are a little bit slower than their celluloid counterparts because of the increase in size. The plastic balls will also spin less because the plastic material is harder than celluloid.
Characteristics like the bounce trajectory, grip, rotation and sound have also changed but how much depends quite a bit on the individual type of ball.
For competition level balls we have the DHS D40+ balls available, and in alignment with the shift to the plastic balls at an international level, we have also moved all our Alliance balls both at the training and recreational to ABS plastic 40+ balls.