Many new pickleball players begin with wood paddles when they first start playing the game. But if you fall in love with pickleball, it’s not long before you’re thinking about upgrading. There’s a world of pickleball paddle surface material outside of wooden paddles for you to explore. Here, we’re looking at the difference between composite vs. graphite vs. fiberglass pickleball paddles.
What Difference Do Pickleball Paddle Surfaces Make?
Two main components affect how your pickleball paddle performs. The first is the surface material, and the second is the core. Of course, details like the weight, shape, paddle length, the proper grip size, and handle matter too, but it all starts with what it’s constructed from.
With the exception of wood paddles, which are typically constructed of solid wood all the way through, paddles for pickleball are built with an outer face material that covers the inner core.
The most common materials used for the surface of paddles include graphite, carbon fiber, fiberglass, and composite materials, which can be a blend of any of the above.
- What Difference Do Pickleball Paddle Surfaces Make?
- About Graphite Paddles
- About Fiberglass Pickleball Paddles
- About Composite Pickleball Paddles
- Core Material
- Bottom Line
The main difference between graphite vs. fiberglass pickleball paddles is how much weight they add and whether they lean more heavily toward offering more power or control with each shot. Each type of material adds different characteristics to your paddle.
About Graphite Paddles
If we were to do a roundup of the best-selling paddles, graphite paddles would make up a huge segment of our list.
This is because graphite paddles are popular with beginners, intermediate players, and even some that have made it to the pro circuit.
A graphite pickleball paddle is often the first leap a newer pickleball player makes when they decide it’s time to move on from their wood paddle. This is because graphite paddles are much lighter than wood paddles and offer much more control.
When it comes to weight, graphite paddles have a layer of graphite over the core that is very thin, which makes for nice, lightweight paddles.
The advantage of light paddles is that they offer exceptional control, although they’re not that great for power shots. Still, for someone still learning the game, mastering control of your shots is more important than striking the ball with a lot of force.
Although the layer of graphite is thin, it still provides a nice “pop” when you make contact with the ball. Graphite has a nice rigidness to it and just feels really nice through both the swing and when making contact with the ball.
Graphite Vs. Carbon Fiber
Graphite is a type of carbon fiber, but the two types of paddles are not the same. Carbon fiber paddles have a surface made of these tightly woven and compressed fibers. The result is an incredibly strong paddle that can produce a really powerful shot, all while being lightweight enough to offer good control.
Carbon paddles are really the best of both worlds, but they also come with a heftier price tag. Some of the most expensive paddles are made of this type of material.
Graphite paddles are neither the least nor most expensive on the market. However, if you started with wooden paddles, you might experience a little sticker shock at the price because they are a good deal more expensive than wooden paddles.
But, in the whole scheme of things, graphite paddles are offered at a good price range, usually falling somewhere between $60 – $120, although some can cost a good chunk of change more.
Pros & Cons
- There are lots of great graphite paddles to choose from
- You can find a graphite paddle at just about every price point
- The most popular type of pickleball paddle
- Good lighter paddle alternative to wood
- Good feel with smooth movement
- The thin layer of graphite may chip and crack easily on cheaper graphite paddles.
- Not great for power shots
- Some players have difficulty mastering a graphite paddle, leading to more mis-hits.
Best Pickleball Paddle Options with a Graphite Face
About Fiberglass Pickleball Paddles
Fiberglass paddles have gained a lot of attention in recent years. With new paddle technologies emerging in the pickleball industry, the flexibility and performance of fiberglass surfaces have begun to outshine other types of paddles.
We’re comparing composite vs. graphite vs. fiberglass pickleball paddles here, but in full disclosure, fiberglass and composite paddles are often the same.
All composite paddles feature some degree of fiberglass construction, but we’ve included composite pickleball paddles in a separate category because the exact construction and percentage of composite materials do vary between manufacturers,
Ok, now back to fiberglass paddles,
Fiberglass paddles have several really good attributes. One of the main ones is the durability that fiberglass offers. For fiberglass surfaces, tiny filaments are pressed together until they’re super tight. Then there’s a resin coating that makes fiberglass paddles super shiny and super strong.
Compared to graphite paddles, fiberglass tends to produce slightly heavier paddles. But, generally speaking, you’ll get more power with fiberglass paddles than you would with a composite paddle of the same quality.
It’s also not uncommon for fiberglass paddles to have a lightly textured surface. The texture is a tricky thing in pickleball. The USAPA has pretty strict rules regarding texture on all paddles, but a barely textured surface does sometimes make the cut.
A bit of texture is great for adding some spin when you make contact with the ball.
We’ve seen a huge range of prices with fiberglass paddles. You can find a decent fiberglass paddle for as low as $30-$40 or one with advanced technology features that will cost upwards of $150.
With fiberglass paddles, it really all comes down to the quality, construction, and type of core material used.
Pros & Cons
- Versatility for beginners through advanced players
- Wide range of paddle options and price points
- Durable, likely to last
- Good for spin
- Decent power behind each shot
- Some fiberglass paddles are expensive.
- Budget-friendly paddles may be less durable.
- Most fiberglass paddles don’t have a large sweet spot
- More power but less control
Best Fiberglass Pickleball Paddle Choices
About Composite Pickleball Paddles
Finally, we come to the composite paddles. These are a bit like the wildcard of paddles for pickleball. Composite pickleball racquets are made with fiberglass, but they’re not purely fiberglass. They have some other type of surface material added into the mix.
What makes one composite paddle different from the other is the amount of fiberglass woven into the composite surface materials and also the different technologies that are used.
Composite paddles, as a rule, make a heavier paddle than what you’ll find with your standard graphite paddle, but they’re also much lighter compared to wood.
On average, composite paddles weigh somewhere between 7.5 ounces and 8.5 ounces, which puts them right in the perfect mid-weight paddle range.
Although composite pickleball paddles don’t have the highest paddle weight, they do a decent job of hitting with power. They’re not quite as hardcore as the major players among power paddles, but the average pickleball player will do just fine with it.
You’ll also find plenty of good control paddles in the composite paddle category. When shopping for composite paddles, make sure to consider what’s most important to you and look for the features that match.
Are you interested in lighter paddles or maybe a heavier paddle instead? Is power important, or is control in your paddles more what you need for your playing style and strategy?
There’s a composite paddle out there for just about every type of pickleball player.
If you’re interested in a composite paddle, chances are you’ll find one that fits your budget, no matter how big or small that budget is.
You can find good composite paddles on the lower end of the average pickleball paddle price range, and they can also creep up into what we consider to be expensive paddle territory – meaning $120+.
Pros & Cons
- Good pickleball paddle for beginners through intermediate/advanced
- Slightly heavier than a graphite paddle for more control
- Good for spin
- Decent sweet spot
- Paddle face is more prone to chipping compared to graphite paddles
- You sacrifice a bit of control for a more powerful paddle
- Each composite racket is different, so you really need to research the features
Best Composite Paddles
The right paddle face material plays an important role in how your pickleball paddle plays, but it works in partnership with the paddle core. The only exception is wooden paddles which are pure wood all the way through.
The core affects things like pickleball paddle weight, whether a paddle has more power or control, how well they absorb shock, and how the ball responds when it makes contact with the paddle.
There are three main types of core materials used in paddles for pickleball. These are polymer, aluminum, and Nomex.
Polymer cores (also called poly cores) are made of a type of plastic. Characteristic of plastic, polymer cores are strong yet flexible and also known for great durability. A poly core paddle will likely last you longer than other types, even if you play pickleball regularly.
Polymer cores are often preferred, but they’re not created equal. Many paddle companies use polymer but combine the material with their technologies for advanced performance.
Aluminum paddle cores aren’t as popular as Nomex or polymer, but they are ideal for anyone wanting the lightest paddles to play with. An aluminum core is great for control and will feel feathery light in your hand. However, they don’t pack any power and might cause too much vibration if you have tennis elbow.
Nomex was one of the first types of cores used in composite and graphite paddles once they began to overtake wood paddles in popularity. Nomex technology developed decades ago, long before pickleball was popular.
Nomex is a rigid nylon dipped in resin, then shaped into a honeycomb core before being built into the racquet. A Nomex honeycomb core is good for power because it’s so rigid, but it lacks some control.
Finding the ideal paddle for how you play pickleball requires knowing the difference between graphite vs. fiberglass vs. composite. There are some great options in each category. Whether you’re in the market for a composite or graphite paddle, we have many suggestions and advice on finding the right pickleball gear.
Stop by often for advice and product suggestions, and find out which paddle professional pickleball players prefer!