A couple of days back (from the date of this writing) I found a post on Reddit where someone asked if there is really anything to know beforehand about buying a soccer ball (construction of a soccer ball or ball size or ball type, etc). Because he thinks a soccer ball is such a small object that it’s a time waster to consider the buying facts.
Well, that is an absolutely wrong approach, and people in that Reddit thread proved him wrong.
Look this is the 21st century where you will not only find smartphones but also smart soccer balls where you can track and analyze your performance from your cell phone.
How cool is that?
Obviously, the characteristics of a practice ball and a beach ball are not the same. Similarly, an indoor ball or futsal ball and a street ball have unique characteristics to make them useful for different needs.
So a soccer ball’s construction plays a major role in its performance, durability, usability, etc.
So let’s get to the main topic with all the nitty-gritty details. Here are the parts of a ball we are going to discuss. Eventually, you will get to know your answer to the question “how are soccer balls made”.
As the name suggests it is the outer part of the ball. Some people call it a casing or surface. But the term “cover” goes best for a soccer ball.
The feel of the ball, of course, depends highly on the cover. Not only the feel and the softness but also some parameters related to the performance also depend on how the cover is made.
The look of a ball also depends on how beautifully the cover is designed.
The performance, durability, etc depend on the material of the cover that is used to make it. Of course, the material of a regular ball and a streetball will not be the same, as the streetball needs to be more rough and tough to sustain on the concrete.
So here are the materials that are used to make most of the soccer balls.
- Synthetic leather.
- Polyurethane (PU).
- PolyVinyl Carbonate (PVC).
Synthetic Leather Cover
Synthetic leather is basically the coating of Polyurethane on leather.
The premium quality balls (hey, I am talking about soccer balls) are made from this material. In terms of quality, this is the highest quality material.
In the past, all the balls were made up of grain leather. That has the downside of becoming heavier as they absorb water during the rain.
To solve this issue manufacturers introduced this material that is known as synthetic leather.
These balls provide a better feel, control, softness, and overall performance. But in terms of durability, they are positioned behind the PVC-made balls.
You will find a variety of synthetic leathers like Microfiber, Korean Ducksung, AI-2000, Japanese Teijin Cordley, Leather Art Pakistan Synthetic Leather, English Provair, etc.
This material is standing in between synthetic leather and PVC in terms of quality and durability. Meaning it provides more quality but less durability than PVC-made balls.
Basically, there is almost no difference between a PU ball and synthetic leather balls. In fact, synthetic leather is kind of a subset of PU balls.
The official match balls are made from PU material.
PolyVinyl Carbonate (PVC)
Comparatively cheaper balls that are also known as practice balls and promotional balls are made out of this material.
Considering the durability these material stands higher than other materials, but in terms of quality, these are falling behind their other counterparts.
Sometimes you will find these balls having a glossy coating to increase the water resistance and protection.
A panel is not a separate component. The segments or the octagon quilt that are seen on the cover of a ball are called panels. Although in past you would have found the octagon-shaped panel, currently it is not limited to octagon only. Instead, you will find a variety of shapes other than octagon quilts.
The shape of the panel plays an important role in the performance like the flight and spin of a ball.
In past, most of the balls were made keeping 32 panels. But today’s balls are having a different number of panels like 26, 18, 14, 8, and 6.
Fewer panels (6 to 26) help the ball to move faster and curve through the air as they have less stability. More panels offer more control and playability.
How the panels are put together?
The panels can be put together on the lining in three different ways.
- Thermal bonding.
Top-notch balls have the panels stitched together either by manual stitching or by using machine stitching. Pakistan is the leading country that manufactures hand-stitched top-quality balls.
The balls are stitched together with polyester thread, mostly 5-ply twisted polyester cord is used to stitch the panels together.
Stitched balls offer better durability than glued and thermal bonding balls.
The panels of the comparatively cheaper balls are glued together on the lining. They offer harder feelings than stitched balls and are used mostly for practice soccer balls.
Relatively new technology to put together the panels. Probably the UEFA Euro 2004 soccer ball is the first one to introduce this technology.
Thermal bonding offers minimum water retention and expansion.
The lining is placed between cover and bladder, composed of a layer of polyester and cotton. Typically the balls have multiple layers of lining and the lining is responsible for giving the ball shape, structure, and control.
The more the number of the lining is the more the ball tends to retain its shape and bounce over time.
The high-quality balls have four layers of polyester and cotton lining to offer good strength and rebound. Mid-quality balls usually have two layers of polyester and two layers of cotton linings and the low-quality balls generally have two layers of polyester lining.
A bladder is the innermost component of a soccer ball which is responsible for giving the shape and movement to the ball. It contains the air of course.
This part of the ball is made from different materials as well.
Let’s have a broader knowledge of them.
Although butyl bladders are not as responsive as the latex bladder, they can retain the air for a longer period of time. As a result, you will not have to worry about refilling the air very frequently.
Usually, the mid-priced balls and cheaper balls are made out of butyl bladder.
Professional / competitive match balls are made from latex bladder due to their capability of providing better responsiveness and performance.
But the downside is their air retention capability is not as good as the butyl bladder and the latex bladder falls behind the butyl bladder in terms of durability as well.
Carbon latex bladders offer a bit longer air retention than natural latex bladders ones.
Carbon latex bladders have carbon power inside them to close the micropores hence helping to lose the air less frequently than the natural latex bladders.
Some bladders are made from Polyurethane (PU).
A valve is the small hole of the ball. Through the valve, the air is pumped when you inflate the bladder/ball.
Butyl valves have got the most air retention capability and are used for most of the balls. Due to the elasticity of the rubber, it easily opens when the inflating needle is inserted and also closes easily when the needle is removed.
Another type of valve is the Silicon / Silicon treated valve that is used for the higher-end balls. This type of valve has even more air retention capability.
Check out to watch how world cup balls are manufactured
We have tried to discuss every detail of the construction of a soccer ball. As the day progresses we are expecting to see more new technologies to be introduced to make a ball more durable and increase its performance. Particularly for practicing and learning purposes the smart ball like Adidas miCoach is a great revolution I must say.