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Competition Plastic

In table tennis, balls are classified into training balls and balls for competitions (or official tournaments). So far, both kinds of table tennis balls were made of celluloid, which were very common and popular. However, the official regulations of the ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) have changed substantially: Since 2014, it is prohibited to use celluloid balls in official, higher-league competitions. Only the new plastic balls, also called poly balls, are permitted. Both, celluloid and plastic balls, are made of plastics which are formed by so called macromolecules. These are very large molecules whose spatial arrangement repeats itself over and over again. Molecules are particles, which stick together by means of chemical bonds. Those molecules present in plastics are huge, hence called macromolecules. Macromolecules of plastics mainly consist of hydrogen and carbon compounds and are industrially produced since quite some time.

The reasons for prohibiting celluloid balls and introducing plastic balls lie in the material celluloid itself: Celluloid is a plastic material, a thermoplastic to be exact, and celluloid is made of Celluloid is made of camphor and cellulose nitrate. If you heat those celluloid balls, they´ll become easier to deform and, eventually, they melt and even go up in flames. Since celluloid is easily inflammable, those balls are manufactured and transported under strict safety regulations. Hence, they are classified as dangerous and hazardous goods which, in addition to the health hazard, also causes additional costs.

Celluloid versus plastic - These are the differences considering table tennis balls for competitions

It is important to note that there are differences between the old celluloid and the new plastic balls: Already regarding the acoustics, plastic balls sound like broken celluloid balls, they are duller. Usually, plastic balls are also slightly larger and harder than celluloid balls. This results in differences regarding the flight characteristics. Because of such differences, it is very important to make the change towards plastic balls for competitions as soon as possible. This prevents a decline of performance. Note that there are, of course, also plastic training balls available. Plastic (or poly) balls for competitions are available with an imprint symbolizing 3 stars. Similarly to the old celluloid balls, the poly balls are strictly tested regarding its properties. Such properties are the mass, diameter, roundness, surface roughness, jump- and flight behavior, to name some. Regarding roundness, plastic balls are available with and without seam. Seamless plastic balls are the further development of balls with seam, hence exhibiting a superior quality. If all these tested properties are fulfilled completely satisfactory, the poly balls will be imprinted with the 3 stars. They are then permitted (licensed) for official competitions and tournaments.

All 3 star plastic table tennis balls at a glance

After thorough testing, now there are 2 generations of plastic balls for competitions available on the market. Their differences are also reflected by a different price level, but also by a varying quality! The first (generation) plastic balls still had a seam, which caused the balls to exhibit slight impairments regarding their properties, such as jump behavior. Now, the second generation of plastic balls is seamless, hence exhibiting better properties and a higher quality. For example, the transition from the Joola Super P to the Joola Flash Ball is worth a recommendation. Of course, there is a price difference! But please also consider the superior gaming properties, and -last but not least- the increased durability of the Flash Ball (and seamless balls in general). You never know how the development of balls will go on, however, it is also possible that some day, the first generation plastic balls will disappear from the market.

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