Grippy vs Tacky Table Tennis

Grippy or Tacky Table Tennis Rubbers – What’s The Difference?

You may have heard players discuss how “grippy” or “tacky” their racket is. They’re common terms used when comparing rubbers, and the concepts are fundamental to table tennis.

When designing a table tennis rubber, researchers are aiming to achieve the desired level of kinetic energy when the ball hits the rubber (speed), in balance with the coefficient of friction to get the spin and “purchase” desired on the ball.

That friction comes from either tackiness, or grip.

In this article we’re going to explain the difference between grippy and tacky rubbers, and how that’s experienced across 5 different types of table tennis rubbers. Let’s begin!

How Grip and Tackiness Work

I’ll preface all of this by saying that I’m not an expert in physics and there haven’t been any published studies on the formulas of how tackiness and grip interact with the ball. However, I am able to confidently share the practical effects experienced on each of the rubbers.

Grippy rubbers create spin by mechanically “biting” the ball on contact as it sinks into the rubber’s surface. In contrast, tacky rubbers create spin through stickiness applied on the rubber’s surface.

Grippy Rubbers Explained

Grippy rubbers (also known as European or Japanese rubbers) create spin because of the frictional grip from their topsheet. 

If you were to rub your finger over a grippy rubber, you’d find it difficult because the rubber would ‘grip’ it. 

That’s why, once your rubber wears out, your finger will slip over the worn-out parts, and the same would happen with the ball. The ball would slip when it contacts the rubber, so spin creation and ball slippage would be at sub-optimal levels, requiring a rubber change.

Tacky Rubbers Explained

Tacky rubbers create spin because of their stickiness. If you tried to rub your finger across a tacky rubber, you’d find it difficult because it’d “stick” to the rubber.

These rubbers can also pick up the ball from the table, as you can see in this video we filmed when we reviewed the tacky Yinhe Mercury 2:

When playing, the topsheet of these tacky rubbers achieves this effect for a fraction of a second on contact with the ball.. 

If you were to play a forehand topspin with a tacky rubber, the topsheet would first “stick” with the ball for roughly a millisecond, applying spin, and then the sponge and the blade would shoot the ball out. 

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The Differences Between Grippy vs Tacky Rubbers 

There are many practical differences between grippy and tacky rubbers when playing, which lend each type to suit different player styles.

Grippy rubbers are usually better for blocking, since they shoot the ball out faster and more linearly. It’s a lot more intuitive and effective to block with grippy rubbers. 

Grippy rubbers are usually ‘easier’ to use than tacky rubbers because they tend to require less effort to spin the ball. They also generally produce higher arcs when looping which gives them more safety over the net.

Most grippy rubbers are faster than their tacky counterparts because the topsheet doesn’t stick to the ball. However, you have to manage with less dwell time with the ball which many players identify as a lack of ‘feeling’.

Tacky rubbers are generally a lot better in the short game and when serving because their tacky topsheet is superb at both imparting spin and decelerating the ball. That’s why I believe that tacky rubbers have a huge advantage in the short game.

Tacky rubbers usually have a lower, more unforgiving arc. On the plus side, if you play a heavy topspin shot with a tacky rubber, the ball will “kick” and “dip” once it hits the table, making it a lot more difficult for the opponent to block these shots, let alone countertopspin them.

Tacky rubbers are also better at countertopspins because the tacky topsheet gives players more dwell time with the ball. It is also easier to “overpower” the incoming spin with Chinese rubbers if the player has good enough swing speeds.

The 5 Types of Table Tennis Rubbers

So far, I have provided some generalizations based on the most common grippy and tacky rubbers out there, which I hope serve as a guide to understanding the major differences between these 2 types of rubbers.

However, there are not just 2 types of rubbers (grippy vs tacky). In fact, there are 5 major types of table tennis rubbers in the spectrum of grip and tackiness.

The 2 types we explained previously, grippy rubbers and tacky rubbers, are the most “traditional” rubbers. They aim to create medium to very high amounts of spin on the ball. 

However, there are also short pips rubbers, medium pips rubbers, long pips rubbers, and antispin! And what about the new hybrid rubbers? 

All of these fall into one of the 5 most common rubber archetypes in the spectrum of grip and tackiness, as shown on the diagram below:

The 5 most common rubber archetypes

And here’s a table to show what the diagram means in a way that’s easier to read:

The 5 most common rubber archetypes Table

Group 1: Hybrid Rubbers 

Hybrid rubbers get their name from their design. They are rubbers that borrow characteristics from both European (grippy) and Chinese (tacky) rubbers. 

We’ve already published an article explaining the differences between European and Chinese rubbers if you want to learn more about the topic.

Every hybrid rubber has both a tacky and grippy topsheet and a European-style sponge. 

These rubbers often have most of the European rubbers’ high speeds, arc, and ease of use, together with the spin and dwell time of Chinese rubbers.

Some examples of this type of rubbers are the Butterfly Dignics 09c, the Yasaka Rakza Z, and the Butterfly Glayzer 09c.

We loved these rubbers and we highly recommend them to players who want:

  • More dwell time and control than with the average European rubber, especially when serving, receiving, and counterattacking.
  • More ease of use and a higher arc than with the average Chinese rubber.
  • A superb rubber to loop and counterloop with.
  • A great rubber to play all kinds of spin shots.

They are the ideal choice for the Aggressor and the Controller playing styles.

Here’s a video of some of Dang Qiu’s best points. The German star plays with Butterfly’s Dignics 09c on his forehand side.

Group 2: Tacky Rubbers

Tacky rubbers are the ones that have high levels of tackiness and not much grip like the one present on European rubbers.

They bite the ball because of their stickiness, not because of their grip. Because of that, if they lose their stickiness, they no longer spin the ball. 

Lots of tacky rubbers suffer from high humidity because of this reason, if the stickiness gets wet, the rubber can’t engage with the ball correctly.

These rubbers are usually very spinny, relatively low throwing, and have tons of dwell time and control in the short game and when counterlooping. 

However, they are also relatively hard to use because of their low throw and because they are usually quite hard.

Some of the rubbers that fall into this category are the DHS Hurricane 3 NEO, the Yinhe Mercury 2, and the 729 Super FX.

We recommend these rubbers for players who:

  • Play an active game.
  • Like to play with tons of spin.
  • Want a rubber with great dwell time and control in the short game, when serving, and when counterlooping.
  • Want a rubber that produces a ball that kicks and dips when looping with spin.

These rubbers are great for the Aggressor, the Controller, and the Defender playing styles.

Here’s a video of Ma Long, the best player of all time, hitting some incredible shots. Ma Long plays with National DHS Hurricane 3 NEO on both sides of his racket.

Group 3: Grippy Rubbers

Grippy rubbers are the ones that have little tackiness but tons of grip.

These are the most common rubbers used in Western countries. Chances are that, if you’re reading this, you’re using grippy rubbers.

They bite the ball using the grip of their topsheets. Once their grip wears off from wear and tear, it’s time to replace them.

These rubbers are usually quite easy to use, generally medium to high throwing, they can be fast or slow, and they are also quite spinny. I’d say that their main attribute is their versatility because they can do everything quite well.

Countless rubbers fall into this category. Among them, we can find the Butterfly Dignics 05, the Butterfly Tenergy line, the Andro Rasanter R47, the Nittaku Fastarc G-1, and the Yasaka Mark V, among many others.

We recommend these rubbers to players who:

  • Want good safety over the net and value ease of use.
  • Want the highest speed possible.
  • Value versatility in a rubber.
  • Want a great balance between speed, spin, and control.

These rubbers are great for the Aggressor, the Controller, the All-rounder, the Brick Wall, and the Defender playing styles. There is a huge variety of grippy rubbers to choose from, so you’re sure to find one that suits your playing style.

Here’s a video of Tomokazu Harimoto’s best points. The best player in Japan is currently playing with two Butterfly Dignics 05 rubbers.

Group 4: Short Pips and Medium Pips

Short pips and medium pips have medium grip and low tackiness.

Even though having less grip may not sound ideal, these rubbers have many advantages derived from their relative lack of grip when compared to inverted rubbers.

Short and medium pips are quite flat throwing, they are a lot less spin sensitive, and they are a lot harder to play against than inverted rubbers because they produce no spin, slight topspin, and “float” balls when attacking and blocking instead of heavy topspin.

It’s very hard to block an attack, let alone counter an attack, hit with short pips or medium pips. This is because you receive a fast, no-spin ball. 

Getting the rubber to bite the ball on the receiving end is a lot more difficult, and it’s also quite difficult to angle the racket correctly as the ball comes in at different speeds, angles, and spins than we’re used to.

These rubbers are ideal if you like to flat hit and block, as you’ll benefit from a more spin-insensitive, more disruptive, and flatter throwing rubber.

Some of the best long pips in the market are the Nittaku Moristo SP, the Yasaka Rakza PO, and the Spinlord Waran.

We recommend these rubbers to players who:

  • Like to flat hit the ball and block.
  • Want to try out a different way to attack.
  • Want to overpower their opponent’s shots with flat hits.
  • Want to play an attacking game that’s different, disruptive, and very effective.

These rubbers are ideal for the Aggressor playing style.

Here’s a video of Swedish star Mattias Falck demonstrating how lethal short pips can be. Mattias uses Yasaka Rakza PO short pips on the forehand side of his racket.

Group 5: Long Pips and Antispin

Finally, long pips and antispin are two types of rubbers that have little to no grip and little to no tackiness.

This is why they reverse spin. If you think about it, they don’t really do much to the ball when they’re reversing spin, what they’re doing is keeping roughly the same amount of spin and propelling the ball in the opposite direction.

Because the antispin’s topsheet and the long pips don’t grip the ball, the spin is maintained, but, as the ball travels towards the opposite direction, the spin is, in practice, “reversed”.

These rubbers are made mostly to defend in various ways. You can attack with long pips and antispin, but it’s a lot harder to do so, and you’ll never be able to generate the same amount of speed or spin that you can with the other types of rubbers.

The main advantage of long pips and antispin is that they’re superb at defending because the vast majority of players are offensive players, that is, they attack with topspin. 

Because long pips and antispin reverse spin, this means that, if you block or chop a topspin ball with long pips or antispin, you’re going to put roughly the same amount of backspin on the ball.

Some of the best long pips are the Tibhar Grass d.Tecs, Victas Curl P1V, Butterfly Feint Long 2 and 3, and the cheaper Dawei 388D-1.

We recommend these rubbers to players who:

  • Want a different rubber on their backhand side.
  • Want to disrupt the game with heavy backspin and no-spin shots.
  • Want to play a defensive style.

These rubbers are the ideal choice for the All-rounder, the Brick Wall, and the Defender playing styles.

Here’s a video of Joo Se Hyuk’s best points. Joo used to alternate playing with Tibhar Grass d.Tecs and TSP Curl P-1R (now Victas Curl P1V) long pips on his backhand side.

Also, here’s a video of Luka Mladenovic, a superb player who plays with Dr Neubauer ABS 2 Pro antispin on the backhand side.

Are Grippy or Tacky Rubbers Better?

To sum up, all of the different rubber manufacturers will utilize variations of tackiness and grip to achieve the desired effect with their new releases. There is no ‘best’ type of rubber, just different rubbers for different types of players.

Grippy, tacky, and hybrid rubbers are the 3 types of rubbers that aim to engage with the ball the best they can to produce the optimal amount of spin.

Short pips and medium pips have less grip to benefit from spin insensitivity and to produce fast no-spin shots.

Long pips and antispin have little to no grip and this makes them reverse incoming spin.

The amount of grip and tackiness on your rubber is a very important factor when choosing what to play with, as it’s crucial to pick the rubber type that suits your style best.

Knowing about grip and tackiness is also very important to understand the effects of the different types of rubbers our opponents will be using against us, so we made sure to include all of this information in this article. Thanks for reading!

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The Controller
Alvaro Munno - Table Tennis Player & Author

Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 100 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!

Blade: Butterfly Fan Zhendong ALC | Forehand: Butterfly Dignics 09c | Backhand: Butterfly Rozena
Playstyle: The Controller

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