Choosing the right combination of rubber sheets and the right blade can be difficult with so many to choose from. If you're new to the complex world of table tennis equipment, have a look at the information below to help you make an educated decision (and not waste your money!) based on the type of player you are, and your skill level.
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Table of Contents
Do you hold the racket with a European "Shakehand" grip? Or do you hold it with the Asian "Penhold" grip? (Most players use the Shakehand grip). If you're deciding which grip to stick with, I recommend the Shakehand grip because it's easier to learn on your own; it's just more natural, especially with the backhand stroke. With the Penhold grip, backhand shots are very difficult and you'll need a coach to get over these difficulties. Self-learning penhold players often get exploited on their weak backhand.
For recreational players and self-learners (no coach or formal training), I strongly recommend the Shakehand grip.
Smooth Rubbers vs. Pimpled Rubbers (Pips)
The majority of players use smooth rubbers (called "inverted") with a lot of grip for creating very strong spins, but some choose pimpled rubbers (short pips, medium pips and long pips) for different styles of play. If you're a recreational player, I recommend Smooth (Inverted) Rubbers so you can gain an understanding of spin. Don't jump right into the pips from the start. With grippy rubbers, you'll quickly see the effects of spin both from your strokes, and spin against your strokes and gain a more thorough understanding of spin.
Here's a bit about the pips rubbers:
Short pips generate much less spin (and are affected much less by incoming spin) so it's good for players who like to hit with flat contact (like a smash) whereas people using grippy smooth rubbers must hit at sharper angles to account for the spin factor. If you try traditional sharp angle strokes using a short pip rubber, you won't even be able to grip the ball properly. Short pips players can play a quick paced hitting game, having less trouble with incoming spin.
I do not recommend using Short Pips until after you've gained an understanding of spin using smooth rubbers.
Medium pips are affected by incoming spin very little. Very few people use medium pips (probably less than 1% of all players). They can produce awkward balls with hard-to-predict spins, but are also harder to use for the user.
Long pips have a tendency to reverse the incoming spin or simply reduce the amount of spin. The reversing pips will convert the opponent's heavy topspin shots into light underspin, simply by blocking, and it can convert underspin shots to light topspin. Because of this, this becomes a very confusing rubber to play against. Players who aren't used to playing against long pips will be putting balls into the net, and putting balls off the table frequently. If you're a recreational player, resist the temptation to settle on long pips before you've gotten a thorough understanding of spin first. Long pips are almost completely incapable of producing spin, only able to affect the incoming spin (though a few long pip rubbers are exceptions to this rule). Defensive choppers often use long pips on the backhand.
Basically, stay away from any funky rubbers until you're experienced. It will harm your development to jump in too early!
Tacky vs. Non-tacky Rubbers
"Tackiness" is like stickiness. Some rubbers actually stick to the ball, so if you press your racket on top of a ball, you can lift the ball off the table. Chinese-style rubbers are tacky, and can generate more spin. But the downside is that it will reduce the speed of flat hits and smashes since the ball is temporarily sticking to your paddle. Japanese and European style rubbers are non-tacky (but can still grip the ball very well) and usually have more power, especially when you step back a few meters from the table and rally from a distance.
For recreational/amateur players I don't recommend a highly tacky rubber as the spin will take effect too strongly. Tacky rubbers aren't for everyone, even if you're advanced; it's a matter of preference.
High Speed vs. Control
People often ask me for the "best" racket or a very "fast" racket, but this isn't for everyone. Basically anyone who hasn't reach an intermediate level (Canadian rating 1000) probably shouldn't be using a fast racket.
I always recommend medium to medium-fast before reaching that level. Control is what you need most, not power. You can generate the speed you need by swinging harder, but once you pick a fast racket, you lose the control you'll need for touch shots.
And if you're a recreational player who has never learned proper strokes like the topspin "loop", then I definitely recommend a medium racket.
Control is what will help you develop your game the quickest, not speed. When you have a racket that is too fast, the ball will fly off the table too much, and you won't feel confident to swing your hardest. Basically if you can't confidently swing your hardest on attack shots and expect the ball to land on the table at least 80% of the time, then you're not ready to upgrade to a faster racket.
Confused by all the Terminology?
See a glossary of terms in the Table Tennis Dictionary.