When it comes to buying a new pickleball paddle, one of the most important decisions is what material you want it made from. The paddle face (the part that hits the ball) and core (the interior construction) both significantly impact performance and feel. So what is the best pickleball paddle material? There are pros and cons to each option.
The most common pickleball paddle materials for faces are graphite, carbon fiber, fiberglass, polymer (plastic), aluminum, and wood. Meanwhile, common core materials include polymer, aluminum, Nomex, fiberglass, and polypropylene plastic. By understanding the key differences between these paddle materials, you can find your ideal match.
Graphite paddle faces are the top choice for many competitive and tournament players. Graphite has a lightweight feel and excellent pop off the face of the paddle for power. It also provides great touch and control on finesse shots like dinks. Brands like Engage, Selkirk Sport, Paddletek, and others use graphite in their paddles. The main downsides are the cost, which is higher than composites, and durability issues.
Carbon fiber shares many playing characteristics with graphite as a lightweight and responsive face material. Carbon fiber paddle faces are exceptionally strong while retaining the touch and control that makes graphite so popular. However, carbon fiber also comes with a premium price tag. Major brands using carbon fiber in their paddles include Selkirk, Franklin, and Gamma.
Fiberglass is a very common face material, especially for recreational players. It offers good power and pop at a more affordable cost than graphite. Fiberglass is also extremely durable, so it’s a good choice for paddle brands designed for beginners and schools. However, fiberglass is heavier than graphite and carbon fiber, so it may not suit touch players as well. Companies like Selkirk, TOPP, and Niupipo use fiberglass faces.
Polymer, generally polypropylene plastic, is favored by brands like ONIX and Pickleball Central for its affordability and consistency. Polymer isn’t as touch-sensitive as graphite but provides decent control. It also lacks the sheer power of fiberglass. However, polymer holds up well to heavy use and abuse, making it ideal for starter paddles.
Wood paddles have largely gone out of favor in pickleball but are still used at some schools and rec centers due to their durability and low cost. However, wood is very heavy and lacks the power and control offered by modern composite materials. Major brands like Selkirk and Paddletek have discontinued their wood paddle lines.
Aluminum faces are also fading in popularity due to their weight. However, they do provide great power and an unparalleled sweet spot. If you love the metal “ting” sound, aluminum paddles from Gamma and other brands are still available.
Pickleball Paddle Core Materials
Polymer honeycomb cores made of polypropylene are the most common in today’s pickleball paddles. Polymer cores offer an excellent balance of power and control. They are reasonably priced and hold up well over time. Companies like Engage, Gamma, Selkirk, Franklin all primarily use polypropylene honeycomb cores.
Nomex aramid fiber is a popular core material praised for its vibration dampening. It helps reduce arm and elbow fatigue. Selkirk pioneered Nomex cores but many brands now offer Nomex models. It comes at a higher cost than polymer cores.
Aluminum cores provide superior power and an expanded sweet spot due to increased weight at the core. However, this extra weight overall can slow paddle speed. Gamma is a leading brand using aluminum cores.
Fiberglass cores offer durability and weather resistance. They have good vibration dampening but are heavier than most polymer cores. TOPP uses fiberglass in its SUB Core series.
Polypropylene plastic cores, similar to the polymer honeycomb, offer a solid feel preferred by some players. They are affordable but lack the touch and control of honeycomb. Pickleball Central and other value brands use polypropylene in starter paddles.
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Pickleball Paddle Face and Core Combinations
Now that we’ve reviewed the most common pickleball paddle materials, how do they work together in real paddle designs? Here are some of today’s most popular combinations of face and core materials:
- Graphite Face with Polymer Core – The graphite face provides excellent touch and control while the polymer core offers power and a comfortable, dampened feel. This is why graphite/polymer is a favorite among competitive players.
- Fiberglass Face with Polymer Core – The fiberglass face generates ample pop and power while the polymer core supplies control. Together they make an ideal recreationally priced paddle.
- Carbon Fiber Face with Polymer Core – The carbon fiber face brings touch and drives power while the polymer core supplies control and comfort. A great choice but expensive.
- Fiberglass Face with Aluminum Core – The fiberglass face already provides significant power, and the aluminum core boosts this further while widening the sweet spot. Made for aggressive play.
- Polymer Face with Polypropylene Core – The combination focuses on consistency, durability, and value. Great for beginners just starting out in the sport.
- Composite Face with Nomex Core – Composite materials like fiberglass or carbon fiber paired with a Nomex core creates excellent power and touch. The Nomex also dampens vibrations.
How to Choose the Best Pickleball Paddle Material
With all these pickleball paddle materials and combinations, how do you decide what’s right for your game? Here are some tips:
- Consider your play style – Touch players benefit most from graphite or carbon fiber faces for finesse. Power players get most pop from fiberglass or carbon fiber.
- Determine your skill level – Beginners may want polymer or lower-cost fiberglass paddles that hold up to heavy use. Intermediate and advanced players gain advantages from graphite or carbon fiber.
- Decide on power vs. control – Fiberglass emphasizes power while graphite enhances control. Carbon fiber offers a blend. Core material impacts this as well.
- Compare durability vs. responsiveness – Materials like graphite excel in responsiveness while fiberglass and polymer are most durable. Carbon fiber aims for both.
- Evaluate vibration dampening – Cores like polymer and Nomex limit vibration and arm strain far better than aluminum. Composite faces also dampen vibration.
- Consider paddle weight – Lighter graphite and carbon fiber suit touch players, while heavier fiberglass and wood suit power players focused on driving shots.
- Set a budget – Graphite and carbon fiber come at a premium cost, while polymer and fiberglass are more affordable options. Sale prices can offer deals.
By keeping these factors in mind while browsing top pickleball paddle brands, you’re sure to discover your ideal match of materials and performance. Don’t be afraid to demo different paddles – finding the right feel is a personal journey!
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Most Popular Pickleball Paddle Brands and Models
To give you a head start on your search, here’s a look at some of the top selling composite pickleball paddles on the market today from the leading brands:
Selkirk Amped Pickleball Paddles
- Selkirk Amped Invikta: Carbon fiber face, polymer core. Balances touch, power, and control. Great pop and finesse.
- Selkirk Amped Epic: Fiberglass face, polymer core. Good blend of power, spin, and control. Ideal for all-around play.
- Selkirk Amped S2: Fiberglass and graphite face, polymer core. Very lightweight. Good control and pop.
ONIX Graphite Pickleball Paddles
- ONIX Graphite Z5: Graphite face, Nomex core. Excellent control and touch. Great for finesse players.
- ONIX Graphite Element: Graphite face, polymer core. Lightweight and fast playing. Ideal for quick counter attacks.
- ONIX Graphite Evoke Premier: Graphite face, polymer core. Control-focused. Cushioned feel. Models for both power and finesse players.
Engage Pickleball Paddles
- Engage Pursuit: Graphite face, polymer core. Provides outstanding control and feel. Made for advanced players.
- Engage Encore Pro: Graphite face, polymer core. Greater touch and finesse. Ideal for quick exchanges at the non-volley zone.
- Engage Poach Advantage: Fiberglass face, polymer core. Generates spin and is very forgiving. Great for beginners to intermediate players.
Gamma Pickleball Paddles
- Gamma Atomic: Polymer face, aluminum core. Massive power from the combination. Ideal for aggressive, attacking play.
- Gamma Micron: Graphite face, polymer core. Lauded for its soft touch and control. Makes finesse shots easier.
- Gamma Shock: Fiberglass face, polymer core. Good balance of power, control, and durability. A confident all-around performer.
Franklin Pickleball Paddles
- Franklin X-40 Signature: Carbon fiber face, aluminum core. Hard-hitting paddle made for driving power. Provides excellent touch too.
- Franklin BG Vibe: Fiberglass face, polymer core. Durable and consistent. Gives beginners confidence as their skills develop.
- Franklin Sports Stealth: Composite face, polypropylene core. Solid recreational paddle with decent control and power balance.
Pickleball Paddle Materials FAQs
If you’re still weighing your options for pickleball paddle materials, here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
Are graphite or carbon fiber paddles better?
Graphite and carbon fiber are very closely matched in performance. Both offer excellent touch and control for finesse players. Carbon fiber has superior strength and hardness, while graphite faces offer a softer feel. So carbon fiber is better for durability, while graphite may provide slightly more touch and power.
Is a polymer or aluminum core better?
Polymer cores like polypropylene honeycomb are preferred by most players and brands. Polymer cores provide a comfortable, dampened feel with good balance between power, control, and forgiveness. Aluminum cores emphasize maximum power but are heavier.
What is the difference between fiberglass and graphite pickleball paddles?
Fiberglass paddle faces excel in delivering power and pop off the face. They also have unmatched durability. However, fiberglass tends to be heavier. Graphite paddle faces instead provide outstanding touch and control for spin and finesse shots. They have a more responsive feel overall but lack fiberglass’ durability.
Is a paddle with a composite or graphite face better?
This depends on your skill level and needs. Composite paddle faces using materials like fiberglass or carbon fiber offer nice blend of power, control, and affordability. They suit most recreational players well. Graphite faces provide superior touch and finesse for more advanced play, but come at a higher cost.
Should I choose a wooden paddle or fiberglass paddle?
Wood pickleball paddles are rarely used now outside basic recreational settings. Fiberglass is overwhelmingly preferred for its blend of affordability, power, and durability. Wood lacks the responsiveness, finesse, and light weight that fiberglass and other modern materials provide.
What pickleball paddle weight and grip size should I get?
Paddle weight is largely a personal preference based on play style and strength. Heavier paddles around 8 ounces provide more power, while lighter paddles around 7 ounces benefit quick reaction times. Grip size depends on your hand size. Measure across your palm to find your ideal grip circumference.
How much should I pay for a good pickleball paddle?
Bottom budget paddles cost as little as $20, while professional quality graphite paddles run over $150. However, you can find very solid performing paddles in the $50 to $100 range from leading brands like Gamma, Franklin, Selkirk, and others. Shop sales from reputable retailers like PickleballCentral.
Are aluminum paddles good for pickleball?
Aluminum paddle faces can be good for pickleball in certain situations. The main benefits of aluminum are power and an expanded sweet spot. The metal material generates tremendous pop off the face of the paddle. This makes aluminum paddles ideal for aggressive, hard-hitting play styles focused on drives and power shots. The downsides are aluminum’s weight, which can slow paddle speed, and the loud “ting” sound that some players dislike. Major brands like Gamma and Head still produce aluminum pickleball paddles. For most players today, composite materials like graphite and fiberglass provide a better blend of power, control, and forgiveness. But aluminum remains a viable option for power players.
What is the difference between a cheap and expensive pickleball paddle?
The main differences between cheap and expensive pickleball paddles come down to materials used and overall quality. Cheap paddles under $50 are typically made with polymer (plastic) faces and polypropylene plastic cores. These provide decent performance and durability at the lowest cost. However, cheap paddles lack the responsive touch and feel of more expensive graphite, carbon, and fiberglass faces. Expensive paddles over $150 feature pro-quality construction including graphite or carbon fiber faces, polymer or Nomex cores, and optimized engineering and design. This delivers superior playability, finesse, power, and longevity. Players notice the difference in consistent performance and “feel” at the moment of ball impact. While beginners do fine with cheap paddles, intermediate and advanced players benefit most from the technologies in premium paddles.
What makes a good pickleball paddle?
Some key factors that make a good, high-performing pickleball paddle are: balanced weight and grip size for the player’s needs, a face material like graphite or fiberglass that provides power, touch, and control, a polymer or Nomex core for dampening vibrations and an ideal blend of pop and forgiveness, quality construction from proven durable materials to prevent warping or damage, and optimized design attributes like face thickness, shape, cross-section, and edge guard. Advanced technologies like carbon fiber faces also improve paddles. But having the right paddle weight, grip size, face material, and core material for your playing style is most critical.
What should I look for when buying a pickleball paddle?
When buying a pickleball paddle, critical factors to look for include the materials used, weight, grip size, face shape, core technology, and brand reputation. Consider your skill level, power vs control needs, budget, and type of player you are. Look for paddles with face materials like graphite or fiberglass suited to your play style. Make sure the weight and grip size fit your size and strength. Research brands known for quality and innovation. Buy from reputable pickleball retailers that allow returns in case the paddle doesn’t meet your needs. Taking the time to find the right paddle materials and design will pay off with improved performance.
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Choosing Your Ideal Pickleball Paddle Materials
Part of the fun of pickleball is experimenting with paddles to discover your favorites. By learning the key performance characteristics of graphite, carbon fiber, fiberglass, polymer, aluminum, wood, and composite pickleball paddle faces and cores, you can make informed choices. Consider your skill level, budget, play style and needs to select ideal materials and designs. With practice and the right paddle, you’ll be striking and spinning the ball just how you want in no time. The pros all know it comes down to finding your personal sweet spot based on materials and construction. Get out on the courts and start swinging away today!