A ball bladder is a hollow rubberised sphere/oval that is inflated through a valve.The shape is dependent on the type of ball.
When inflated with a pump or compressor, the bladder expands the outer layers of a ball, and this gives it its shape and bounce. The ball bladder looks like a balloon, but with heavier and a thicker skin.
There are two main shapes to bladders - round and oval. It should be clear by shape, but round bladders go in balls like soccer, volleyball, netball, basketball and spherical shaped balls. While oval bladders go into rugby, AFL and gridiron balls.
The heart of the ball is the bladder, and easily overlooked when choosing the right ball for you. Sounds simple right? Not really, as there’s different materials, grades, thicknesses, valves and constructions - which makes things tricky. There are also bladders that are specifically made for Futsal balls which have a low bounce to them. Here we will keep to the main points to make things as easy as possible.
Butyl bladders are a blend of synthetic elastomers, where butyl is used in the manufacturing of the rubber. The butyl is one of the key ingredients to helping a ball hold air for longer. Generally speaking, the higher the butyl content, the longer the ball stays up. The downside is that adding more butyl also degrades the bounce of the ball and adds cost. Having too much can make the ball feel hard and unforgiving, so it is a balancing act to get it right. SUMMIT measures its starting pressure at 10psi and then finishing once reaching 8psi (full size ball). To put this in perspective, the top FIFA Pro ball only needs to keep 20% pressure for 72 hours (SUMMIT balls are upwards of 1200 hours!). And we do this without having high levels of butyl in the rubber, keeping them feeling great.
When manufacturing the SUMMIT footballs, we use a few different methods for maximum air retention, good performance, feel and control. We have worked on our bladders to get some of the longest air retention times in the business.
SUMMIT balls have retained air for 50 days within FIFA guidelines (20% loss) – SUMMIT measures its starting pressure at 10psi and then finishing once reaching 8psi. To put this in perspective, the top FIFA Pro ball only needs to keep 20% pressure for 72 hours (SUMMIT balls are upwards of 1200 hours!). And we do this without having high levels of butyl in the rubber, keeping them feeling great.
It sounds simple, but there are lot of things to consider, and everyone has their preferences and we find defenders, forwards and keepers all ask for something different! Our aim is to try and produce footballs that have specific traits and fit within a performance window, which gives players choice and performance.
Latex is a softer material and a good all-round bladder for sports balls. It doesn’t hold the air as well as butyl and therefore latex bladders may need to be pumped up more often (depending on quality of rubbers). The up-side to latex is feel on the foot, with players noting a softer feel when used –this can be speculative as many features of a football can change the nature of a ball.
When tested, latex tends to offer more bounce (again, this can be dependent on the quality of the rubbers) so can be good for faster action or soft grounds.
You can also find very cheap balls also using a rubber bladder to reduce costs - as they can be cheaply manufactured. But if used correctly, the latex rubber bladder can complement the right materials to produce a ball that has good bounce, softer feel and performance.
On face value, it is hard to tell the quality of the bladder when choosing a ball. We suggest looking at what the brand is saying about its air retention, price, positioning in the market and importantly, testing it (if possible). Although these are not specific pointers to a good quality latex bladder, it should give you an idea of what to expect.
Synthetic Rubber (SR) Bladders:
It is an attempt to create a bladder with the air retention properties of butyl and feel of a standard latex bladder. It does a good job - without being specifically better on either front - and can be made in a wide variety of qualities, which can vary the performance. This does mean that the SR bladder can come in a range of different types of ball qualities, making it important that you do your own testing. Like the other types of bladders, it is important that you are getting a good quality SR bladder, as cheap versions are not much better than a cheap rubber bladder.
HARL is acronym for High Air Retention Rubber Latex bladders. As the name suggests, this is another way increase the air retention and get good softness/bounce out of the ball. It blends the properties of Latex and Synthetic Rubber to have a well-rounded ball that can deliver results close to good Latex and Butyl. There are patents on some varieties too, meaning it’s not always available.
What is a Wound Bladder?
Around the outside of the bladder, there will sometimes be a wound thread or cloth wrapping. It sort of looks like thin randomised thread wrapped around a ball hundreds of times. It completely covers the bladder except for where the valve comes out.
This is mainly used in footballs (soccer), but has some applications in gridiron (NFL) balls. It is a good way to keep shape and improve feel with butyl bladders. It also makes a ball more expensive due to extra labour and material costs.
Why choose a wound bladder?
- Stops over inflation
- Keeps better shape
- Reduces panel distortion
Wound bladders are usually found in higher quality balls, and tend to cost more, but the result is a better ball… But (and it is a big one), if you don’t use good outer materials or have poor fitment, then you will get a hard feeling ball, or a ball with an outer that doesn’t fit – the outer can be too big and get soft spots or lumps.
This process is done with an inflated bladder and end of the winding is stuck to the bladder. It then tumbles the bladder in situ, wrapping the line around the ball in a random way until it covers the bladder.
The winding can be made out of a few different materials depending on need, with some allowing more stretch than others. But the results should give you a ball that keeps great shape, life of ball, and aids in air retention.