Why Are Ping Pong Paddles Red and Black

Two women holding their ping-pong paddles at a table tennis game.

If you have played table tennis before, you have probably asked yourself, “why are ping pong paddles red and black?”

It’s one of the frequently asked questions table tennis players have when they are just starting in the sport.

Besides the colors, you might also be curious why these ping pong rackets feel different when playing. For instance, you may notice a bit more jump when using the black rubber side to hit the ball. In contrast, you realize the red side makes the ping pong ball go faster.

Below, we will take a look at the reasons why they are different and how they affect your gameplay. In the process, we will also share a brief history of ping pong paddles.

So without any further ado, let’s get on with the article!

What is the Purpose of Red and Black Ping Pong Paddles?

Ping-pong paddles on top of each other with the red and black sides facing up, along with a ping-pong ball on a table tennis table..

Source: Pexels

In 1986, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) required the difference in colors of a table tennis paddle. The reason for the rule is fairness during a game.

Before the rule was adopted, players used various types of rubbers on each side of the table tennis racket. These help them deliver different types of shots and spins.

For instance, some players adopted inverted rubber on one side and the long pips on the other side. During the game, they freely use both sides of the racket when hitting the ball.

However, they often had the same color of rubber on both sides of their table tennis paddle.

This proves to be a problem because the players cannot determine which side of the racket the opponents are using. As a result, they cannot predict the type of shot their competitors would deliver and how the ball would react off the rubber. In the end, they felt frustrated and cheated.

To prevent further displeasure in the game, the ITTF officials made it a rule that competition paddles must use black rubber on one side and red rubber on the other side.

Each side may or may not have the same rubber properties. But most paddles nowadays adopt different rubbers on each side, just like in the past.

Fortunately, the difference in colors can now help players determine the opponents’ type of rubber in a match. It ultimately promotes fairness and appreciation of the sport.

History of Ping Pong Paddle Color Difference

A Chinese girl holding her ping-pong paddle during a game.

Source: Unsplash

Past players who used rubbers of the same color were the reasons behind the current color difference in a table tennis racket.

One of the most notable athletes who prompted the ITTF officials to stipulate this rule is Chinese player Cai Zhenhua.

This two-time World Vice-Champion was famous for using two black rubber sheets on his ping pong paddle.

On one side, he adopted backhand rubber to deliver fast spins, ideal for offensive play. On the other side, he used an anti-spin rubber with a soft sponge to return the ping pong ball at low speed.

During matches, Cai Zhenhua liked to switch his table tennis bat from one side to another very fast. He often kept turning before making a shot while using the handshake grip. 

As a result, the opponents did not know which side of the ping pong paddle rubber he would use.

When they thought Cai Zhenhua was executing a fast ball, it was actually a spinning ball coming at them from the ping pong table. For this reason, opponents often misjudge his plays and make mistakes when returning the spin or shot.

They would then get frustrated every time they faced Cai Zhenhua in a match. And in the end, they often lose because they cannot read his unpredictable playing style.

Seeing how players like Cai Zhenhua dominated the game through these tactics, the ITTF implemented the two-color paddle rule in 1986.

Every player competing in tournaments must now use ping pong paddles in red and black to encourage fairness.

Differences Between Red and Black Ping Pong Paddles

A ping-pong paddle with the red side facing up, along with a white ping-pong ball.

Source: Unsplash

Now that you understand the reason behind the racket’s color difference, you may also want to know how contrasting the two colors feel when playing.

The red side of the ping pong paddle is generally faster and creates less spin than the black side.

In contrast, the black side features a more tacky rubber, which offers more spin on the ball.

There is a difference in the performance because of the way the rubber is constructed. A manufacturer uses different materials, such as dyes and pigments, to give the rubber its color.

You will find that the red side is more translucent, which sometimes allows you to see the blade underneath. On the other hand, the black rubber tends to be opaque or not see-through.

Besides the color, these materials also affect the characteristics of the table tennis rubber.

Black pigment results in a softer and longer-lasting tacky rubber. Meanwhile, red dyes make the rubber harder and bouncier.

As a result, most professional players typically use the red side for their forehand and the black rubber for backhand attacks.

Chinese players, however, prefer to take the black rubber for their forehand. This is because the black side is more tacky and provides more spin, which suits their playing style better.

But at the end of the day, the differences between these colors are not that noticeable, other than the slight variations in speed or spin. Many manufacturers try to construct the tennis rubber sheets in the same way, so they play similarly.

With that said, it’s still important to note that some players like to switch things up and use vastly different rubbers on either side.

Other Factors to Consider with Color

A man in a red shirt holding a ping-pong paddle with the red side showing.

Besides the performance of the ping pong ball, the color of the rubber can also affect other elements in the game.

These include the shirt you are wearing and the ball color.

For instance, you can benefit from wearing a shirt that is the same hue as your rubber. If you serve the ball close to your body, you can make it difficult for the opponent to see your swing.

Another visual trick involves the color of the ball.

Since orange and white balls are harder to see against the red side, you can take advantage of that less contrast.

You can try using the red rubber to serve so that it’s harder for the opponent to identify the type of your swing.

If you really want to conceal your spin from your opponent, wear a red jersey and use the red side for hitting the ball.

However, in competitions, you are prohibited from wearing a shirt with the same color as your paddle. The receiver should still be able to see the ball’s contact on your racket for it to be fair and legal. 

Is There an Advantage to Using the Red or Black Side?

A woman in a red and white shirt at the edge of a ping-pong table holding her paddle with the black side showing in one hand and a white ping-pong ball on the other.

In general, each colored side of the ping pong paddle has a competitive advantage.

These colored surfaces allow for various amounts of spin or speed. So if you want to return the ball in a particular manner, you can freely flip the paddle in play.

The red side usually makes the table tennis ball go faster while creating less spin. As such, most professional players prefer using that particular rubber for their forehand.

Meanwhile, the black rubber tends to be slower and has more spin. It is suitable for backhand attacks.

However, take note that this is not always the case.

Depending on the brand, the black rubber on a paddle may have less spin than the red side and vice versa.

The athlete can even opt to get a table tennis racket with the same rubber type on both sides.

Due to this wide range of paddles available for a player, ping pong rules state that you can inspect your opponents’ rackets to determine the rubber they are using. It can help you predict what kind of spins they plan to deliver in-game.

Should I Only Use Red and Black Ping Pong Paddle Rubber?

Two ping-pong blue paddles and a white ping-pong ball.

Source: Unsplash

If you are planning to compete on an international level, you must strictly use a ping pong paddle with red and black sides. These colors help you distinguish the different types of rubber used by your opponents. 

But if you are playing leisurely, you can get away with wielding any colored ping pong paddle. You can play with green, blue, and even rose-hued rubbers.

The only problem is that rackets with these rubbers are hard to find nowadays. Most manufacturers offer red and black ping pong paddles to comply with ITTF regulations.

Nevertheless, you can still encounter a few rackets with different colors other than red and black. These include the Old Stiga Collection and some other cheaper paddles.

Conclusion

If you have been curious why ping pong paddles are red and black, we hope you learned the answer from our article.

The ITTF adopted the rule to promote fairness in the game as many past players had difficulty predicting the opponent’s spin or speed.

The difference in colors helps both the players and officials see which side of the racket was used to hit the ball. It also determines the rubber’s texture, ultimately affecting how fast or how much spin is put on the ball.

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