Plastic balls were first introduced In 2014 and there has been various generations of plastic balls since. The first generation in my opinion were truly awful allround; they broke easily, didnt play anything like the old ball and just basically felt and behaved poorly. These include Butterfly 40+ 3 Star Poly & Joola Super-P balls. Since then the poly ball has been improved and Seamless balls have emerged.
Seamless balls are (as the name suggests) balls made without a seam. This is something completely new to the table tennis market as all 3 star competitions balls in the past have been seamed. A new manufacturing process has been patented to make balls without a seam and this design boasts advantages over seamed balls: a more round ball and therefore more consistent bounce plus enhanced durability (theoretically).
All seamless balls are made by the same company in China and I believe this is related to the manufacturing patent on them. I believe you have to obtain permission to use the specific manufacturing process they have designed for the seamless ball, which they will not give, hence why all brands have to go through this one company in China if they want to get seamless balls.
The fact is all seamless balls are made by the same company so all seamless balls are practically identical, just with a different brands stamp on the ball. Sometimes there can be slight differences between batches which will make the balls play very slightly differently (slightly heavier ball, slightly harder ball etc) but they are just between batches and I don’t believe any particular brand gets a say in which batch they get.
All of the manufactuers that get their seamless balls from this company in china include:
- 729 40+ 3 Star
- Gewo Ultra SLP 40+ 3 Star
- Hanno 40+ 3 Star
- Joola Flash 40+ 3 Star
- Kingnik 40+ 3 Star
- Nexy 40+ 3 Star
- Palio 40+ 3 Star
- Tibhar SL 40+ 3 Star
- Xiom 40+ 3 Star
- Xushaofa 40+ 3 Star
- Yinhe 40+ 3 Star
So all of the seamless balls from all of these brands are more or less identical with only very minor differences and only sometimes.
Iv made this review as a kind of master review that will apply to all of these balls to save duplication, the stats on all of these balls will be practically the same except for Price/Performance as some balls are cheaper than others…
How It Plays
When you first open a box of balls and get a ball out there is a slight powdery residue that can leave dust on your rubbers. This quickly goes away after 20-30 shots back and forth so practically no time at all. Then the ball is ready to go and plays normally.
The seamless ball plays very close to the old celluloid ball, in fact I would say it is the plastic ball at this moment in time (2019) that plays most like the old celluloid ball, which is what we all want to get back to. It has a very consistent bounce that I can trust and the performance stays stable.
Flight through the air: I would say compared to the old celluloid ball the speed through the air has been reduced by 10-20%. this can be contributed to the slightly larger size of the ball. Plastic balls are larger than old balls and labelled as 40+. This means the ball should be 40mm but has a tolerance of 2mm so it can be as much as 42mm. Seamless balls generally travel through the air quicker than your average ABS ball. I cant give you an exact figure because a lot of the ABS balls are different between brands.
Spin generation: This is where the Seamless ball comes into its own over other plastic balls. You can generate much more spin with a seamless ball than you can with anything else. The Nittaku 40+ premium does come close but overall the grip on the Seamless balls are much better and it stays with the ball until it cracks, it doesnt wear and get smooth like a lot of the ABS balls over time. This in turn affects the flight or arc of the ball, you can get a higher arc on seamless balls because of this extra spin and I think this is what reminds me most of the old celluloid ball. On average I would say the Seamless ball produces 15-20% less spin than the celluloid ball but compared with the 30-40% I would say the ABS ball reduces spin from the celluloid ball I would say thats a pretty good value.
Bounce: I feel, compared to the old ball, the bounce is higher and less penetrating, it sort of leaps up and stops quite high. Compared to other seamed poly balls like Butterfly G40 & Nittaku Premium the ball bounces much higher and is not as prone to skidding as the other 2 balls are. Again this could be down to the balls keeping its grip and not going smooth. Seamless balls in my experience are the only plastic balls that very rarely develop soft spots as they get older – which is what i find to be a major drawback with ABS balls. The bounce remains stable right up until it breaks. I like the bounce but it takes time to get used to it.
Feeling: it feels like its a slightly harder contact compared to the old ball – like more contact is being made. It gives a fuller crisp feeling when hitting the ball. Compared to other ABS balls what I like probably most about this ball is the way that it grips on the rubber, its not as smooth or greasy as ABS balls so you can get good bite on the rubber and is probably why you can get more spin with this ball than with ABS balls in general.
Seamless VS ABS Balls
in terms of play its hard not to favour seamless balls. Seamless balls just play better than nearly every ABS ball in my eyes. But there are some truly bad ABS balls (Butterfly G40+ & Tibhar NG 40+) and there are some very good ABS balls (Nittaku Premium 40+ & DHS 40+) so there is quite a range of performance. For me the seamless ball just plays closer to the classic celluloid ball and reduces the losses in speed and spin to a minimum.
The only thing ABS balls beats seamless balls on is the durability and consistency side. Most ABS balls are very hard to crack now, they are much more durable. This does have its downside, for example they go soft and smooth rather than crack which can cause inconsistent and skiddy bounces. As it does this instead of crack it can be difficult to convince someone to change balls when its not broken and you get into this annoying region where you dont know whether its you missing your shots or whether its the ball producing unreliable bounces. So ABS balls last longer but seamless balls age much better and stay consistent.
The other problem with seamless balls is mis-shapen balls. These can come right out of a brand new packet. Have you ever seen pro’s spinning balls on the table before the game? This is to check that they are round enough. If they wobble when spun then they are not completely round. Balls that are not completely round can occur due to storage issues which I will talk about later but suffice to say if a ball isn’t completely round its not going to fly through the air true and it wont bounce consistently either. This is a common problem of seamless balls but in most cases it can be prevented but its not ideal. This problem does not happen or very rarely happens with ABS balls.
Iv been waxing lyrical about playing performance, now its time for the downside!
Misshaped balls. I like to call these egg shaped balls. These can come out of a brand new packet and unfortunately, if one ball is egg shaped they all tend to be egg shaped in the box. Obviously the degree of misshapeness can vary but generally its only minor. This does affect the way the ball flies in the air and the way it bounces, it causes unpredictability which no one wants. Whats worse is if they are misshapen they are also weaker and much more likely to crack, I would say 2-3 times more likely to crack than a round one.
So you might think this is just a manufacturing problem and move on but most of the time it isnt. What causes the misshaping of the balls is how they are stored. If they have radical temperature changes – like being stored an a cold environment then bought into a warm environment or visa versa repeatedly, this causes the plastic to warp (another downside to plastic balls). For example leaving your table tennis bag in your car during winter then taking it into a heated hall over and over again will cause this mis-shaping of the ball. So a way to prevent this is to try and keep them at room temperature or a consistent temperature as much as you can. Now sometimes this can be out of your control if a third party table tennis vendor stores the balls incorrectly then there is nothing you can do, but I must say most of the time its not brand new balls bought from a vendor, its boxes of balls that have been hanging around for a long time. Either way this is certainly a drawback.
If you put the egg shaped balls to one side, these are quality balls, I think its just a design floor that needs ironing out. If you get a good round ball they can last for ages and I believe the quality control is getting better.
In general with clean shots Seamless balls are pretty durable, they can last a long time however seamless balls have a particular weak spot. Seamless balls are quite brittle so when its hit hard on a sharp surface they tend to break nearly every time. An example is when you go for a big shot and you hit the edge of your bat. It normally breaks one out of every 2 edge hits, which in my case as an attacking player can be a regular occurrence. I have had league nights where we have broken a whole box of 6 balls in a night. But this happens less frequently now so I believe they are getting more durable over time. I have also spoken to alot of defensive and lower league players and because they dont hit the ball anywhere near as hard as better or attacking players the balls can last so much longer. So the harder you swing the more you tend to break.
One of the worst parts about this weakness is that you can easily break a ball that’s brand new out of the packet with a mistimed shot from the edge of the racket. It doesn’t matter whether the ball is new or old, its still just as likely to break if it hits a hard sharp surface. This hurts when your paying.
Regardless of this though these balls will break far more than ABS and celluloid balls, twice, maybe 3 times as much. It is rare they crack on clean shots but it does happen. This can make these balls seem relatively more expensive than they already are. Also as I mentioned above, if the balls are egg shaped, even slightly, in my experience this does make them more likely to crack as well so this is not a durable ball by any stretch of the imagination.
I cant give these balls a good score for value for money because they just break too often. If durability and cracking wasnt an issue then they would be competitve with some ABS balls but it depends on the brand. ABS ball are getting cheaper though and there are some balls like Tibhars 40+ NG balls which are considerably cheaper than any seamless ball.
The best value for money seamless ball at the moment is the Xushaofa 40 3 Star balls as they are at the cheapest price of all the brands using the same seamless ball. But there are certainly balls that give you better value for money.
I have been playing with Seamless balls for years and I have used nearly all of the brands that are made by the seamless ball company in China. These are easily my favourite balls of the new plastic era for purely the way that they play. They are the closest thing to the old celluloid ball we have in my opinion and if you get a good ball and store them well they can last a long time, however sometimes I know this is not in our control.
Durability is not the seamless balls strong point but I have also noticed a slight trend that the balls year on year seem to get slightly more durable and last slightly longer, I dont know whether this is my imagination so I cant say for sure but they seem to me to be getting more durable. Im buying less balls anyway and im having less matches where im getting more than 3 in a night.
At the end of the day its not the perfect ball, it has some durability & consistency drawbacks to work out but they seem to slowly getting better and more durable and in my opinion this is the best ball of the poly ball era so far in terms of performance. If you get a good ball its got the best playing characteristics, a super consistent bounce, a stable performance over its lifetime and durability (as long as you dont hit the edge of your bat!!!!).