The right pickleball paddle will make or break your game. But with hundreds of paddles on the market, which one is the best material for a pickleball paddle?
In this guide, we’ll explore the different types of pickleball paddle materials, including their advantages and disadvantages. We’ll focus mainly on the paddle face and core, because these parts typically determine the paddle’s weight, power, and control. You’ll learn about all the kinds of materials: from expensive to cheap and low quality to high quality.
Let’s get started!
The Face and Core of a Pickleball Paddle
A pickleball paddle consists of two main components: the face and the core. The combination of these two generally determines the paddle’s weight, size, and performance.
The face of a pickleball paddle is the part that comes into contact with the ball.
Different materials affect the way the ball bounces off the paddle. A smoother face is better for beginners as it allows for easier control of the ball. For experience players, a textured face allows more spin and power.
The core of a pickleball paddle is the internal part that gives the paddle its structure and weight.
A soft core makes the paddle feel lighter and easier to maneuver, but will sacrifice power. A hard core provides more power, but is heavier and less maneuverable.
The choice of face and core materials ultimately depends on the player’s playing style, skill level, and personal preferences.
Types of Materials for Pickleball Paddle Face
The materials used for pickleball paddle faces are designed to be durable, lightweight, and responsive. These materials aim to provide the most power, control, and spin for the player. Some materials excel in power, while others control, or spin.
Carbon fiber is a composite material made of carbon fibers woven together and held in place by a polymer resin. The fibers are extremely thin, created by heating them to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen to carbonize them. This process creates a material that is incredibly strong and lightweight, making it ideal for use in high-performance applications like aerospace, sports equipment, and racing cars.
However, the process of making carbon fiber is time-consuming and expensive, which is why it is often only used in premium products.
Advantages of Carbon Fiber for Paddle Face
- The stiffness of carbon fiber provides better control and accuracy in shots
- Carbon fiber is a lightweight and durable material
- The rough texture of carbon fiber improves spin
- Reduced vibrations on the sweet spot make it more comfortable for longer games
Disadvantages of Carbon Fiber for Paddle Face
- Is generally the most expensive materials
- Because of the stiffness, shots made outside of the sweet spot will make the paddle vibrate more than other material, making it less forgiving
NOTE: Despite what other articles say, carbon fiber is not a form of graphite. Both carbon fiber and graphite are made mainly from carbon, but that’s about all the similarities they have. They both perform and are molecularly arranged differently.
Graphite paddles are also durable, lightweight, and stiff. This is usually the material that’s compared with composite paddles. Graphite actually shares a lot of close features to carbon fiber for a much more affordable cost. The material is made by compressing layers of carbon fiber and resin under high pressure and temperature. But, there are no “fibers” involved, so it isn’t as durable as tightly woven carbon fiber.
However, compared to other materials like wood, graphite is lighter and more rigid, ultimately being the best mid-range material on the market.
You’ll find that graphite and carbon fiber share a lot of common advantages.
Advantages of Graphite for Paddle Face
- Graphite is another lightweight and durable material (less durable than carbon fiber)
- Offers great control and responsiveness
- Rough texture increases spin
- Durable construction that ensures longevity and can withstand wear and tear from regular use
Disadvantages of Graphite for Paddle Face
- While cheaper than carbon fiber, graphite is still a costly material
- Graphite paddles have a different feel compared to composite or wood paddles, which may not be suitable for some players
Wooden pickleball paddles have been around since the inception of the sport in 1965. They used to be known for being durable and cost-effective, but with modern paddles using better materials, wooden paddles are no longer worth recommending.
Wooden paddles are typically heavier than other paddles, weighing around 10 ounces or more.
Advantages of Wood for Paddle Face
- Cost-effective option for beginners or those on a budget
- Provides the most power, generally because wooden paddles are much heavier than other paddles
- Durable and long-lasting, as long as it’s taken care of
Disadvantages of Wood for Paddle Face
- Heavier than other materials, making it bad for people with wrist or elbow strain
- Harder to control your shot compared to composite or graphite paddles
- Technology has surpassed wood as the preferred material for pickleball paddles
The Best Material: Composite
Composite pickleball paddles are theoretically the best material for paddles, because they combine all the other materials. The problem here is that there’s no real way to test or check how well these materials are composited. A $80 paddle and a $20 paddle could both be “composite” but made of severely different materials, inevitably performing differently.
In fact, some paddles that are advertised as “carbon fiber” or “graphite” are actually composites. They can get away with marketing the paddles that way because the carbon fiber and graphite make up the majority of the composite.
Advantages of Composite for Paddle Face
- Is the best kind of paddle when the composite material is high-quality and made correctly from a reputable brand
- More affordable than pure graphite or carbon fiber paddles
- Durable, lightweight, and provides great power
Disadvantages of Composite for Paddle Face
- Searching for great “composite” paddles will require more reading, research, and understanding of what materials make great composites
Conclusion: How to Find the Best Material for Pickleball Paddle Face?
The best material for the face of a pickleball paddle is composite. A well-formulated composite material combines all the great benefits of carbon fiber, graphite, wood, and other materials. However, lots of paddle brands don’t disclose the materials they use in their composite paddles, so it can be quite hard to know.
Not just that, knowing the percentages isn’t enough. The quality of their materials and process ultimately affects the performance of their paddles. Bad craftsmanship, poor quality assurance, and a bunch of other factors will always affect the paddle you end up getting.
That’s why we recommend looking at brands, instead of just paddle materials, more than anything. Good brands will speak for themselves and their quality.
Understanding the Different Core Materials for Pickleball Paddles
The core is the section between the two faces of a paddle. This is what determines the weight, balance, and stiffness of the paddle. Basically, it’s responsible for the paddle’s overall performance. Components like power, sound, feel, and vibration are more reliant on the core than the face.
Polymer cores are arguably the most popular pickleball cores on the market today. These are typically made from combining different kinds of polymers, including high-density foam and composite materials. Cores made of polymer have a soft feel and excellent control.
Because polymer is precisely measured, the material can be easily replicated consistently. Meaning their performances from paddle to paddle are generally consistent. Additionally, polymer cores are durable, not losing their shape or breaking down over time.
However, there are also some drawbacks to polymer cores. One of the main concerns is their lack of power compared to other types of cores. Players who prefer a more powerful shot may find that a polymer core is not the best choice for them. This is generally why polymer cores have a “dead” feeling.
Nomex cores are made from honeycomb-like cells that are sandwiched between two layers of composite material. This type of core is named after the aramid fiber material called Nomex that is used to create the honeycomb cells. Nomex cores are known for their excellent power and control, and they are commonly found in intermediate to advanced level paddles.
Nomex cores are favored by players who prioritize power and control. The honeycomb structure of the core provides a strong and stable foundation for hitting powerful shots, while the composite layers on top of the core provide the necessary control. Unlike foam cores, Nomex cores do not compress as much during play, leading to a more consistent performance over time.
Two downsides of Nomex cores is that they can produce a distinctive “ping” sound that some players find annoying. Additionally, some players feel that Nomex cores can have a “dead” feeling on certain shots, which can be a personal preference issue. Nomex cores are also typically heavier than foam cores, which can impact the overall weight and feel of the paddle. However, they are generally more durable and long-lasting compared to other core materials.
Aluminum core pickleball paddles are designed with a honeycomb structure that provides a lightweight feel to the paddle. This makes it an excellent choice for junior players or those who are new to the game. The aluminum core also provides a unique touch to the ball, giving players an extra edge of maneuverability. The ball pops off the paddle just a bit slower, which allows for better control of the ball during play. However, with the lightweight nature of aluminum core paddles, there may be a slight loss of power compared to other core materials.
The aluminum core is an excellent choice for players who want a paddle that is easy to maneuver and provides a good touch. It is ideal for players who prioritize control over power in their game. The honeycomb structure of the aluminum core ensures that the paddle is lightweight and easy to handle, making it suitable for players of all levels. Aluminum core paddles are becoming increasingly popular among players who want to improve their game and achieve better results
Polypropylene core pickleball paddles are a popular choice among players of all skill levels. These paddles are made with a core that is constructed out of polypropylene, a type of thermoplastic polymer. This material is known for its durability and lightweight, making it an ideal choice for use in pickleball paddles. The polypropylene core is sandwiched between two outer layers of fiberglass or carbon fiber, which provide additional strength and durability.
One of the key advantages of using a polypropylene core pickleball paddle is its responsiveness. The material allows for a high degree of control over the ball, allowing players to make precise shots and react quickly to their opponent’s moves. Additionally, the light weight of the paddle makes it easy to maneuver, reducing the amount of effort required to swing and increasing overall speed. This makes it a popular choice among players who prefer a fast-paced, aggressive style of play.