Soccer - How are soccer balls made and how does it impact their play?

The construction of a soccer ball can alter the feel and flight of the ball dramatically

PU, TPU and PVC are the most commonly used materials, however, offer different qualities and specs depending on construction.

Soccer balls were initially made from leather but this made them prone to weight increase when wet and poor performance.Today, outers are commonly made from synthetic materials such as PU, TPU and PVC. These materials don’t absorb much water, are less affected by temperature changes, and can be easily adjusted to manufacturer needs.

PU (Polyurethane):

Polyurethane is a synthesized material which can be tailored to a range of different needs. In the case of footballs, it is considered the best material for match or high-quality balls. When manufactured, it can be made in different qualities, thicknesses and styles which affect the ball’s performance. Unfortunately, this also means that you need to be careful when trying to compare grades of balls - as not all materials are created equally.

If you are concerned about toxins and not adding to the world’s plastics, PU is a non-toxic material and biodegrades. Don’t worry, it won’t fall apart as it takes more than a few years before it starts degrading. Therefore, it is not just a great ball to play with, it is the choice for the environmentally concerned footballer.

Polyurethane can be soft to the touch and not stretch too much. Stretch is the enemy of a good quality ball as stretch allows the ball to go out of shape. The nature of the material permits finer manufacturing tolerances with better results for size, shape and finishing. The result is a ball that plays well, feels good, looks great and is durable.

POSITIVES:
- Very good playability
- Soft feel
- Less stretch
- Quality finish
- Water resistant
- Durable
- Non-toxic material
- Environmentally friendly

NEGATIVTES:

 

- Costs more
- Not all PU is made equally leading to some brands using subpar blends

Balls Available in PU:

TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane):

Thermoplastic Polyurethane is another synthesized material and sometimes considered a step down from PU materials. This is not always the case as TPU can come in a range of qualities and benefits of its own. The material has good strength and flexibility similar to rubber/plastic while having impressive UV resistance. The nature of the material lends itself to abrasion resistance and robustness, making it a great option for training. It does have more stretch than PU, so needs to be used with quality backing and/or wound bladder to stop premature deformation.

Although considered the cheaper alternative to PU, TPU has recently been seeing quality increases, but at a cost premium which begs the question, “which is better, PU or TPU footballs?”. On face value, TPU is a good all-round material for training and entry-level match balls. When used with quality lining and a wound bladder, TPU will provide a good alternative to PU, albeit maybe not quite the same feel at top level.

POSITIVES:

 

- Good performance
- High abrasion resistance
- High UV stability and less surface cracking
- Robust
- Can be recycled and degrades (slowly)
- Usually a slightly cheaper alternative to PU

NEGATIVTES:

 

- Touch not quite as good as PU
- Performance reduces with cheaper materials
- Less performance for experienced players
- Best used with higher quality lining and/or wound bladder

Balls Available in TPU:

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride):

Polyvinyl Chloride is a plastic material and the cheapest option for any football worth considering (there are cheaper products out there). Like any ball, PVC footballs can come in a very wide range of qualities and performance. Because of this, there can be vast ranges in price and playability of the balls. At their cheapest (think supermarket balls), they are considered a toy and not suitable for anyone looking to train or play matches. But if used correctly with the right lining, bladder and stitching, PVC balls can be perfectly suitable for juniors and standard players.

One thing to keep in mind with PVC, it is a plastic and won’t degrade and would be very hard (if not impossible) to have recycled due to the way it is glued to linings. For this reason, SUMMIT has been reducing the use of PVC in manufacturing and packaging where possible. For example, our only training ball that has PVC in the material – Launch – is a blended PVC with cloth liner and rubber wound bladder, making it not just strong but also allowing parts of the ball to be degradable once destroyed.

PVC balls are a good alternative for people on a budget, or clubs that want a ball to train juniors - as they can combine playability, good touch at a lower cost if made correctly. When considering PVC footballs, you need to understand the limitations of the material as it will stretch and cut up if made cheaply. Even good quality PVC will have a low elasticity and will stretch out of shape more than PU and TPU. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get good PVC footballs. If made with quality liners and a wound bladder they can be an effective and playable footballs. This will also give the ball more density and weight, which most PVC balls are lacking, but at higher costs to purchase.

POSITIVES:

 

- Cost effective solution for juniors and general players
- If made correctly, can be a good training ball
- PVC is durable (when made correctly)
- Easy playability for juniors
- Good entry point into football

NEGATIVTES:

 

- Poor shape retention
- Doesn’t biodegrade
- Less performance for experienced players
- Supermarket bargain bin balls are toys

Balls Available in PVC:

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