What Does a Pickleball Look Like?

In paddle sports, the ball often shapes the game. Lots of racquet and paddle sports use small, bouncy balls with various textures to them and are played on different court sizes. But what about the lesser-known balls like in pickleball? What does a pickleball look like?

A pickleball looks like a modified plastic wiffle ball. Pickleballs are small, hollow balls made of hard plastic with twenty-six to forty evenly-spaced holes around the outside. This design makes the ball lightweight and bouncy, and it enables players to use different types of spin. 

Throughout the rest of this article, I’ll cover the dimensions of pickleballs and talk about some of the variations you might see. I’ll also cover how pickleballs evolved over timeand how they differ from tennis balls.

The One Paddle I Recommend For Serious Beginners – The Prince Response Pro

This is the most accurate paddle I own.

This paddle is perfect for beginners because it offers, in my opinion, the largest sweet spot of any paddle on the market right now! This is ideal for beginners wanting to play more pickleball because it allows “miss-hits” to still be on point. It’s also got loads of power and plenty of touch at the net.

What Do Pickleballs Look Like? Don’t Buy the Wrong Kind

Unfortunately, a pickleball doesn’t look like a pickle at all. And that’s probably for the best because pickles don’t bounce. And they’re not round.

All kidding aside, the pickleball’s perfectly round shape consists of a thin shell that allows it to bounce better on the hard surface of the court. It is unique from other balls used in racquet sports because the pickleball has several holes spread throughout.

These holes aren’t to be confused with dimples, as seen in golf balls. They open the pickleball up to its hollow interior, making it very lightweight.

As for colors, there are no firm rules other than that the ball must be uniform. “Tennis ball green” is common, but pickleball balls also come in many different colors.

They even make glow-in-the-dark pickleballs, I’ve used them and they work well!

Outdoor Pickleballs vs. Indoor Pickleballs 

Because pickleball is an indoor and outdoor sport, players use a slightly different ball depending on the situation.

The number of holes in the ball depends on if it is played indoors versus outdoors. Pickleballs have twenty-six hols for indoor play and forty for outdoor play. Plus, the size and weight change to compensate for the different conditions.

Let’s delve into the specifics of each kind of ball, what they look like, and how they play.

What Does an Indoor Pickleball Look Like?

pickleball
This is what an indoor pickleball looks like.

Because indoor environments are more predictable, an indoor pickleball has fewer holes and is generally lighter. Indoor balls will always have twenty-six holes.

The holes are a little bit bigger to allow air to pass freely through. The right amount of air means more control for the player and a wider shot selection. These bigger holes make indoor pickleballs play slower too.

Indoor courts are also often made of wood (like on a basketball court at a Rec Center), so the ball needs more flexibility to give it the proper bounce.

What Does an Outdoor Pickleball Look Like?

pickleball
This is what an outdoor pickleball looks like

To compensate for less predictable wind conditions and a harder surface, outdoor pickleballs have more holes and are heavier than indoor ones. Forty holes are standard, but Wilson makes a ball with thirty-two holes.

Editors Note: I’ve been playing pickleball for over 7 years and have never once played with a 32 hole outdoorball.

As these balls are much sturdier, it’s harder for the wind to push them off course. However, they still have enough space for air to give the player plenty of control.

Editor’s Recommendation: I get asked all the time, which outdoor pickleball do you like the most? For me, the ball that has lasted the longest, with the fewest cracks is the Franklin X 40. I can go an entire summer of play with a single Franklin X outdoor ball and not replace it. It’s my “go-to” outdoor ball.

More on Indoor and Outdoor Pickleballs

While it’s best to match the number of holes in the ball to the playing environment, many brands state that you can use theirs on both indoor and outdoor courts.

In this case, the ball is weighted somewhere between a typical indoor and outdoor ball to perform in either situation.

If it were me though, I’d stick to strictly indoor balls for indoor play and outdoor balls for outdoor play regardless of if the manufacturer says they can be used for both.

Pickleballs – Size and Weight Explained

As per USA pickleball, official pickleballs must adhere to several standards.

They list regulation pickleballs at a diameter (the distance of a line that crosses the center of the ball from one side to the other) of 2.874 to 2.972 inches or 7.3 cm to 7.55 cm. The USAPA lists the official weight range of pickleballs as 0.78 to 0.935 ounces or 22 to 26.5 grams.

I’ll compare these sizes to tennis ball sizes below.

What To Look For When Buying Pickleball Balls

When purchasing pickleballs, the first consideration should be whether you plan to play indoor or outdoor pickleball. Indoor and outdoor balls are designed differently to account for environmental factors. Remember, outdoor pickleballs are typically heavier at 0.9 ounces compared to 0.8 ounces for indoor balls. The extra weight helps them better withstand wind resistance.

Because outdoor balls also have more holes (40) they have improved aerodynamics and play faster. Much faster. Outdoor balls can be used for indoor play as long as the indoor court is made from the same materials as an outdoor court. Some indoor facilities have these types of courts.

Other indoor courts, like those found at gyms or Rec Centers, are played on a basketball court. In this scenario, outdoor balls should NOT be used. Only an indoor ball.

You’ll also want to evaluate ball quality and durability. Reputable, USAPA-approved brands utilize better construction and materials. Harder outdoor balls don’t necessarily last longer than softer indoor versions.

While not the biggest factor, you should pay attention to ball diameter as well. Look for 2.87 inches for indoor versus 2.97 inches for outdoor. Optimal control and performance rely on properly sized pickleballs.

And, finally, check that balls are bounce tested to between 30-34 inches when dropped from 78 inches per regulations. More on regulated bounce height in a minute.

How Are Pickleballs Different Than Tennis Balls?

Below is a chart showing the differences in weight and size between a pickleball and a tennis ball.

 PickleballTennis Ball
Diameter2.874 – 2.972 inches(7.3 – 7.55 cm)2.57 – 2.7 inches(6.5 – 6.86 cm)
Weight0.78 – 0.935 ounces(22 – 26.5 grams)1.975 – 2.095 ounces(55.8 – 59.4 grams)

As you can see, pickleballs are similar in size to tennis balls, but they’re less than half the weight. But the differences go beyond that.

Pickleballs and tennis balls differ in multiple ways, despite their shared functionality in racquet-type sports. The first distinction lies in their structure: pickleballs are slightly larger and more durable with a hard plastic shell, whereas tennis balls are smaller but heavier and are made up of soft, fibrous material that’s filled with air.

Pickleballs also hold temperature sensitivity unique to their composition. For example, in hotter climates, pickleballs tend to soften and become less responsive while playing slower too. Conversely, cold weather may cause the balls to quickly crack and the ball plays quicker. Tennis balls do not share this susceptibility to temperature extremes.

Another major difference between a pickleball and a tennis ball is the surface texture. An outdoor pickleball becomes rougher over time, altering the feel when hit with the paddle. In contrast, tennis balls tend to fluff up with use, which can ten to slow them down. This is why tennis pros choose the ball with the least amount of fluff when serving to cut down on the drag – thus creating a faster serve.

Pickleballs don’t have this problem.

These contrasts in composition, temperature interaction, and surface texture make pickleballs and tennis balls unique in their own athletic contexts. These differentials significantly influence performance and overall player experience.

pickleball

A Brief History of Pickleball Balls and Their Evolution

The evolution of the pickleball from a simple perforated ball to a dedicated indoor and outdoor ball is a testament to the sport’s growth. Coined in 1965, pickleball began with a plastic, perforated ball and table tennis paddles improvised by Barney McCallum, Joel Pritchard, and Bill Bell. As the game evolved, the ball changed to a larger size resembling a softball, but problems arose when the broken paddles couldn’t handle the heavier ball.

By the spring of 1976, the first known pickleball tournament took place, and an official tournament ball was approved. As the sport’s popularity surged, construction of the ball evolved further into what we see today. By the 1980s we had thinner, softer balls for indoor play or harder balls for outdoor play – all with established quality standards.

In 2006, the International Federation of Pickleball was established and in 2008, the first official tournament rulebook was published, setting recognized standards for balls used in tournament play.

Related: Check out the complete timeline of when pickleball exploded in popularity.

What Is a Pickleball Made Of?

Pickleballs are made of a hard plastic material that allows them to bounce off the hardcourt and the paddle. Because the material is lightweight, the ball can be hit with little effort and still travel fast.

Not all pickleballs are created equal, as some are more durable than others. However, all pickleballs are made of some form of plastic.

Related: Click the link if you want a more in-depth look at what materials are used to make pickleballs.

Why Does a Pickleball Have Holes?

As pickleball is a competitive sport that requires consistency, the ball must allow the players to hit different shots reliably. Manufacturers create the balls with varying numbers of holes to achieve this.

As it travels off the player’s paddle or bounces off the ground, the pickleball interacts with the air, allowing it to curve or stay flat depending on how the player hits it. Looping shots wouldn’t be possible if the ball didn’t have those holes. Instead, the ball would simply travel straight off the paddle.

But it’s not all about the flight of the ball. The holes in the pickleball also allow the stiff plastic to have a little more spring so that it can bounce off the court or the player’s racquet.

Are Pickleballs and Wiffle Balls the Same?

what is a pickleball made of

Pickleballs and wiffle balls, despite both being specified as plastic, differ significantly. The key lies in the type of plastic used.

Pickleballs are generally made from a durable, tough plastic known as polyethylene. This gives them a rigid feel and ensures they can withstand vigorous gameplay.

On the other hand, wiffle balls are made from lightweight, thinner plastic. This plastic tends to be less rigid than pickleballs. As such, they display a different level of thickness and durability.

These aspects impact their performance in play. Hence, they’re utilized in different sports and different circumstances. Key takeaway: don’t use a standard wiffle ball to play pickleball.

Official Tournament Pickleballs

Pickleball tournament organizers can be hard to please regarding what type of ball they use.

The ball needs to fly and bounce properly to create an even playing field for all participants. Which one you use also depends on whether it is an indoor or outdoor tournament.

Outdoor Tournaments

The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) struck a deal in 2021 to make Franklin balls the official tournament ball for outdoor events.

As an outdoor tournament ball, it has forty holes and is sturdy enough that it won’t crack under everyday use.

Indoor Tournaments

Many indoor tournament balls have fewer holes, and the USAPA has a list of brands that they approve of for official use.

Any of these balls will work well in an indoor tournament environment as they are tested for their consistency.

Other FAQs Around Pickleball Balls

Below are some other commonly asked questions regarding pickleballs.

Are There Other Types of Pickleballs?

Technically yes. Some pickleballs are foam or rubber but they are NOT USAPA-approved. Why would someone use an unsanctioned foam or rubber ball? Purely for recreational purposes.

Foam balls are a good option for driveway pickleball when you’re trying to keep the noise level down in a neighborhood. Rubber balls are used when people make their own version of pickleball on grass.

Again, these are purely for casual play when someone is just playing for fun with family and friends. These balls do not replicate the speed and pace of the game on a traditional court.

Do I recommend playing with foam or rubber pickleballs? No. Playing with an unapproved type of ball will not help you get better at pickleball whatsoever.

How High Should a Pickleball Bounce?

According to the official USAPA rule book, a pickleball should bounce between 30 and 34 inches when dropped from a height of 78 inches. Bounce testing is conducted on a precise granite surface at a temperature between 75°F to 80°F to ensure consistency.

There are minor variations between indoor and outdoor pickleballs, but all must meet the 30-34-inch bounce height specification.

What Does a Pickleball Look Like – Final Thoughts

The pickleball is one of the more unique balls out there for racquet sports, and it looks that way for a reason. The holes and material give it a true flight and bounce path to make this sport competitive.

Though the number of holes and the weight may change slightly depending on the environment, it’s always for a good reason.

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