What's the difference between types and colours of rubbers?

This question about different types and colours of rubbers was submitted by
Val from Colchester, UK

Table tennis questions

My question is about the difference between types and colours of table tennis rubbers.

I organise a table tennis group where we meet every fortnight and play on 3 tables in a village hall.

Although ranging from beginners to quite good, we are all fairly confused about the difference between types and colours of rubbers used - is one side a spin side, one side for backhand/forehand?

Please advise.

(I had my bat made for me by a league player using rolls of rubber!)

Thanks for any help.


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----- Martin's Reply -----

 By Martin Hughes
 Owner and Editor

Val, thanks for your question.

Red and black table tennis rubbers Red and black table tennis rubbers

The colour of the rubber is solely to distinguish one side of the racket from the other.

Since 1986, the Laws of Table Tennis (commonly referred to as the rules of table tennis) state that one side must be bright red and the other side must be black.

But why is that necessary?

Let me explain...


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A very brief history of racket coverings (rubbers)

Hardbat Table Tennis Racket with short pimpled rubber

Rather than going into too much detail, I'll keep this simple...

When table tennis (as we know it today) began in the 1920s, the most popular racket covering comprised short pimpled rubber with no sponge underneath it.

This type of racket is generally referred to as a "hardbat" and was used by almost everyone who played table tennis.

NB. The official Laws of Table Tennis refer to a racket, rather than a paddle or a bat.

You can read my articles about the history of the racket and the history of table tennis here.

 

But as the game developed, and in particular from the 1950s onwards, new sponge backed rubbers became popular ... and the sport of table tennis changed forever.


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Hundreds of different types of racket coverings (rubbers)

Since the 1960s, hundreds of different types and varieties of table tennis rubbers have been produced (and this trend continues today).

Every rubber is designed to complement a particular style of play, so we can categorise each rubber into one of four generic types.

These 4 generic types / categories / styles of play are...

  1. attacking / offensive
  2. defensive
  3. allround
  4. disruptive
  1. Rubbers which are suitable for an attacking / offensive style of play generally have a smooth outer surface and a thick sponge underneath.
    (These rubbers will help you to impart maximum topspin and sidespin)

  2. Rubbers which are suitable for a defensive style of play generally have a smooth or pimpled outer surface and a thinner sponge underneath.
    (These rubbers will help you to counteract topspin and give you good control)

  3. Rubbers which are suitable for an allround style of play generally have a smooth outer surface and a medium thickness sponge underneath.
    (These rubbers will give you maximum control)

  4. Rubbers which are suitable for a disruptive style of play generally have a pimpled outer surface and a thinner sponge underneath.
    (These rubbers will help you produce unorthodox spin)

The rules allow you to use whatever type of rubber you want on each side of your racket.

You can have the same type of rubber on both sides or use a different type on each side.

 

You can read my article about how to choose your racket and rubbers here.

 

However, as I mentioned at the start, one side of the racket must be bright red and the other side of the racket must be black.

This colour requirement was introduced in 1986 because of what happened in the late 1970s and early 1980s.


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Gaining an advantage

Traditionally, players used the same type of rubber on both sides of their racket, and therefore their opponent didn't need to know which side of the racket was being used - because the spin imparted on the ball was consistent whichever side was used.

However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, players realised that they could gain an advantage if they used different types of rubber on each side of their racket, but kept them both the same colour.

They would then "twiddle" their racket during the rally.

This made it very difficult for their opponent to know which rubber was being used for each stroke, and therefore what type of spin was being imparting onto the ball.

Here's a demonstration of "twiddling" the racket by the ex-England International player Carl Prean

Here's a demonstration of "twiddling" the racket by the ex-England International player Carl Prean

 

This development in the game prompted the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) to change the rules.

So, ever since 1986 the rules have stated that one side of the racket must be bright red and the other side must be black.

This change meant that your opponent would be able to clearly distinguish which side of the racket you were using for each shot.


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Types and colours of rubbers

Players can choose whatever type of rubber they want on each side of their racket, but one side must be red and the other side must be black.

Almost all table tennis rubbers are currently available in both red and black, but pre-1986 rubbers were also available in yellow, green, blue, purple and many other colours too.

 

You also need to be aware that, if you're playing in an organised event, there may be an additional rule that you'll need to comply with.

If the event is using the International Regulations relating to racket coverings, you can only use rubbers which are on the ITTF authorised list of racket coverings (rubbers).

Whilst these Regulations are mandatory for International events, they can be used for ANY organised event too.

 

Some ready-made rackets are available which are not red/black, so these are not legal for use in authorised table tennis events.

But remember, if you're only playing for fun with friends, you can make up your own rules and use whatever racket you want.

The downside of making up your own rules is that you probably can't progress beyond your own circle of friends without getting into disputes about which rules to use.


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New rules on colour of rubbers

At the ITTF Annual General Meeting in May 2019, a new rule was agreed which says that with effect from 2021, additional bright colours will be allowed.

One side of the racket will still have to be black, but the other side may be a bright colour clearly distinguishable from black and from the colour of the ball.

New colours coming in 2021 for rubbers New colours coming in 2021 for rubbers

Further details will be available nearer the time after detailed colour specifications have been agreed.


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