Is There a Difference Between Red and Black Table Tennis Rubbers?

LIEBHERR Table Tennis Team World Cup 2012 - Day 1
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You have many choices when it comes to table tennis paddles, also called bats or rackets. The grip, blade, sponge (inner layer), and rubber can all be customized. The rubber—the outer layer that contacts the ball—varies in firmness and tackiness, and in color. One side of the paddle is red and one is black.

Different Colors Are Required by the Rules

The difference in colors is stipulated by the International Table Tennis Federation's official rules. The reason for the rule is fairness. In the 1970s and 1980s, players began using different types of rubbers on each side of the paddle and spinning the paddle to use the different sides to create different shots. The problem was that the opponent couldn't determine which side the player was using and so did not know how the ball would react off the rubber.

In 1986, the ITTF adopted the rule that required different colors on each side of the paddle. The different color rubbers may or may not have the same properties, but most paddles today do have rubbers with different playability on each side.

The rubber might feel different when you hit the ball with the red rubber; usually, the ball jumps more (vertically) than when hit with the black side.

How Red and Black Table Tennis Rubbers Differ

Many players feel that red rubbers are usually a bit faster and create less spin than black rubbers since slightly different materials (pigments and dyes) are used to give the rubbers their red and black colors. You might notice that black rubbers tend to be opaque (not see-through), while many red rubbers are a bit translucent (see-through).

Some manufacturers go to great lengths to try to make both red and black rubbers play in the same way, while with other manufacturers, the differences are quite noticeable. There are a few (such as the old Friendship 729 rubbers back in the 1990s) where the black and red versions were very different.

Since generally the red is faster and spins a bit less, professionals tend to use a red rubber on their forehand and black on their backhand. The top Chinese players use a black tacky rubber on their forehand.

Other Elements to Consider With Color

If you wear a shirt that’s the same color as your rubber, there's a real advantage if you serve close to your body because the receiver will have more difficulty seeing your serve swing before contact. To be legal, though, the receiver has to be able to see the contact.

Another visual strategy involves the ball color. White and orange balls show less contrast against a red rubber. A white ball on a black rubber is high contrast like night and day, but on red it’s less noticeable. If you want to seriously hide your spin, wear a red jersey and use your red rubber to serve.

For most recreational table tennis players, though, the subtle differences in the rubbers will make little difference in their game. Only ITTF-authorized rubbers may be used in competition, and paddles with these approved rubbers will have the ITTF logo.