Lots of parameters affect how a table tennis rubber will play. One of the most important factors to get right when buying a rubber is its hardness.
If you choose a rubber that’s too soft for your level, you’ll find that you’ll lack power, whereas if you pick a rubber that’s too hard, you’ll struggle to use it correctly.
This guide will explain how a rubber’s hardness affects its performance and help you buy rubbers with the optimal hardness for your level of play.
Table of Contents
- A basic explanation of rubber hardness
- What rubber hardness should I choose?
- Rubber hardness scales
- Frequently asked questions
A basic explanation of rubber hardness
Table tennis rubbers are made up of two parts, the sponge and the topsheet. When talking about rubber hardness, we are referring to the hardness of the sponge.
The sponge in the rubber is what determines the speed and dwell time of the rubber. Consider the sponge as the power reserve of the rubber.
The hardness of a rubber ultimately affects the gears, stability, speed, and spin characteristics when playing. Each of these can be thought of in simplistic terms considering what happens when a ball contacts the rubber.
Intuitively, softer rubbers are easier to compress, while hard rubbers are harder to compress. Imagine trying to compress a sponge versus compressing concrete.
If you drop the ball on a soft rubber, the rubber gets compressed in a higher proportion than if you were to drop it on a hard rubber. Hence, low acceleration shots are more effective on softer rubbers, since they compress more easily than hard rubbers.
However, soft rubbers are quite easy to bottom out, that is, get them to full compression. After soft rubbers bottom out, the rubber won’t output any more power.
Because harder rubbers are more difficult to compress, it’s hard to bottom them out, so they have a much greater power reserve. However, that power reserve is more difficult to access, since the rubber is harder to compress.
Generating speed, spin, and stability
On low acceleration shots, softer rubbers give more spin and speed than hard rubbers.
However, there comes a point where the softer rubbers “bottom out”. This means that if you hit harder and harder, you are not going to get more and more quality in the same proportion.
Also, soft rubbers tend to lose control and stability as the speed of play increases.
On the other hand, hard rubbers have higher top speed and spin, but it is more difficult to access those high gears.
Using hard rubbers, softly hit shots will have little speed, but if you hit hard, your shots will have a lot more quality than if you used softer rubbers.
Also, hard rubbers are much more stable and controllable at high speeds than soft rubbers.
Hard rubbers are great for countertopspin shots as players can use the stability and gears of their rubbers to hit however they’d like.
These are the reasons why professional players use hard rubbers.
As they hit with a lot of power, it is convenient for them to use hard rubbers that allow them to achieve a lot of quality in their shots and enough stability to play counter spin rallies.
If they used soft rubbers, they’d be limiting the quality they could get on their shots.
What are gears on a table tennis rubber?
Gears in table tennis rubbers are the possible speed values that a rubber can achieve.
The Xiom Vega Europe is bouncier than the Hurricane 3 NEO because it’s easier to compress, but it doesn’t have as much top speed, because it bottoms out more easily.
The following graph compares the power output of a hard vs a soft rubber depending on the power input.
As we can see, with little power input we’ll have more quality with the soft rubber (the Xiom Vega Europe).
However, once we get to more powerful shots, the hard rubber keeps giving more and more power, while the soft rubber bottoms out and stops outputting speed and spin.
It is often said that soft rubbers are bouncy but not powerful. In contrast, hard rubbers are not as bouncy but have a higher top speed.
This is also why it is said that harder rubbers tend to be more linear than softer rubbers.
In terms of gears, softer rubbers lack the lower gears (because they’re bouncy and easy to compress), and they also lack the top gears (because they are easy to bottom out).
Hard rubbers, on the other hand, have a much wider spectrum of gears.
If we were to take two rubbers of equal speed but different hardness, the hard rubber would be slower on soft shots and faster on hard shots.
This gives the player a much greater ability to vary the speed of their shots.
However, soft rubbers are a lot easier to use, especially for beginners. When playing with moderate acceleration you get good spin, speed, safety, and control.
What rubber hardness should I choose?
Now that we know that soft rubbers are better for players with lower swing speeds and hard rubbers are better for players with higher swing speeds, we can understand which rubber is the best choice for every level of play.
It is also important to note that the forehand stroke is more powerful than the backhand one due to the anatomy of both strokes, so the vast majority of players will use harder rubbers on the forehand side.
Beginner players should use rubbers that are not excessively hard.
However, choosing a rubber that is too soft, especially on the forehand side, would not be a very good choice, since it is easy to pick up bad habits from using very soft rubbers.
Soft rubbers are easy to use, so this can lead to players utilizing improper technique and getting away with it.
I would recommend that beginners use medium or medium-soft rubbers on the forehand side and medium-soft or soft rubbers on the backhand side.
For the forehand side, I would look for rubbers between 42 and 46 degrees on the ESN scale.
Note that the ESN scale is different than the Butterfly and the DHS scale. I explain these a little bit later.
I recommend rubbers between 37 and 42 degrees on the ESN scale for the backhand side.
Good options include the Andro Rasanter R42 (42°), the Andro Rasanter R37 (37°), the Xiom Vega Europe (42°), and the Yasaka Rakza 7 Soft (39°).
For intermediate players, I would recommend medium or medium-hard rubbers on the forehand side and medium soft or medium rubbers on the backhand side.
For the forehand side, I would look for rubbers between 45 and 49 degrees on the ESN scale.
Good rubbers on this hardness range include the Yasaka Rakza Z (47°), the Yasaka Rakza 7 (45-46°), the Andro Rasanter R47 (47°), the Tibhar Evolution MX-P (47.5°), the Hurricane 3 NEO (38° DHS scale), and the Donic Baracuda (45°)
I would look for rubbers between 40 and 47 degrees on the ESN scale for the backhand side.
Advanced players generally use hard rubbers.
I would recommend that advanced players use rubbers between 47 and 55 degrees and 45-53 degrees on the backhand side.
Good alternatives for the forehand side include the Tibhar Evolution MX-P (47.5°), the Tibhar Evolution MX-P 50 (50°), the Butterfly Tenergy line (36° Butterfly Scale), the Butterfly Dignics line (40-44° Butterfly Scale), and most hard European tensor rubbers.
Good alternatives for the backhand include the Tibhar Evolution MX-P (47.5°), the Andro Rasanter R47 (47°), the Butterfly Tenergy line (36° Butterfly Scale), and most medium-hard or hard European tensor rubbers.
Rubber hardness scales
In table tennis, there are 3 different hardness scales, which makes comparing rubbers from different manufacturers quite confusing.
For example, a 40° DHS Hurricane 3 NEO is an extremely hard rubber, while a 40° ESN rubber is a very soft rubber. This is because DHS and ESN use different scales to measure hardness values.
All the rubbers manufactured in Europe are called ESN rubbers because they are manufactured in the ESN factory. The offerings from Donic, Yasaka, Xiom, Stiga, Andro, Joola, and Tibhar are all manufactured by ESN.
The following chart will help you better understand how hard or soft rubbers from different manufacturers are.
Rubber Hardness Chart
With this chart, you will be able to convert hardnesses between manufacturers seamlessly.
Frequently asked questions
Because the subject of rubber hardness is quite complex, there are many doubts and misconceptions surrounding the topic.
We will answer 2 of the most common questions about the topic of rubber hardness.
Are hard rubbers faster than soft ones?
Speed is mostly dependent on the technology of the rubber.
However, given two rubbers with the exact same technology but different sponge hardnesses, the softer one will have more speed on soft shots and less maximum speed, while the hard rubber will be slower on soft shots but it’ll have a higher maximum speed.
Hard rubbers do have more maximum speed than their softer counterparts because they don’t bottom out as easily.
Do soft rubbers have more control than hard rubbers?
It is believed that soft rubbers have more control than hard rubbers. This is true to a certain extent.
Soft rubbers are usually slower than their harder counterparts because manufacturers design soft rubbers with beginner players as the target audience.
Advanced players generally prefer hard rubbers since they give them a lot more quality on high-impact shots, so manufacturers aim to sell soft rubbers for beginners.
Because of this, softer rubbers will usually be slower, so most soft rubbers are quite controllable.
Another thing that gives players a feeling of control when using soft rubbers is that, due to them having fewer gears, they are very easy to use on moderate-speed rallies.
These rubbers have enough catapult to clear the net and lots of dwell time to spin the ball, so they are quite controllable in that sense.
However, it must be noted that on high-impact shots, softer rubbers are more unstable than hard rubbers, so in this area of the game, softer rubbers don’t have as much control as hard rubbers.
Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 200 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!