How Soccer Balls Are Designed & Made
The Makeup of a Soccer Ball
Soccer Balls are made up of 4 main constituents. The cover, the bladder, the stitching and the lining. Making an informed decision by understanding the different choices of materials and construction techniques, will go a long way to seeing that you get the right ball for your needs.
These were traditionally made from leather, a hard wearing natural product that unfortunately took on water and became heavy and unwieldy. Modern ball covers are totally synthetic made to mimic the structure of leather without the water retention properties. The commonest materials used are polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride although modern microfiber material uses nylon fibre bundles with polyurethane resins . There are many synthetic leathers used for soccer balls these days. Some of which were designed for completely different applications. English Porvair was invented as a micro filter but ended up being used for some makes of ball. Teijin Cordley is made using a more environmentally friendly process and some top balls are made with this. Ducksung from Korea is also considered one of the best. Microfibres are continually being developed and have some of the best water resistance and strength qualities around.
The top quality match balls are made using a variety of these covers. Practice balls and recreational balls tend to use PVC as it is much cheaper. Some types of gymnasium balls use a cover of felt much like a tennis ball made of a mix of synthetic and natural fibres. This deadens the bounce a bit.
The sections of material that make up the cover vary in shape size and number depending on the design of the ball.
The iconic 32 panel ball was, until a few years ago the most popular design and was used in most professional matches. The geometric shape is a simple version of a Goldberg polyhedron a truncated icosahedron. The shape is found in nature as an allotrope of carbon, Fullerene named after Richard Buckminster Fuller due to his work on the geodesic design for buildings.
The 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons that make up the shape when stitched together and inflated make a ball that is very spherical in shape.
Up until recently the traditional 18 and 26 panel balls were still used in many professional leagues. The latest top flight competition and league balls now come with irregular shaped panels, with it seems a different number and shape every year. For example the 2013 Champions League ball by Adidas is completely different to the ball for the 2013-14 German Bundesliga, made by the same company. Nike make the match balls for the Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and English Premier, still using the 32 panel design.
Traditionally the most expensive and desirable soccer balls were hand stitched. The panels can be securely and accurately fixed . Using 5 ply polyester cord the seams are tight and strong Kevlar® is sometimes used to reinforce the thread.
However with the advancement of materials and manufacturing processes some top flight balls are now thermally bonded. This process enables a seamless cover and very true flight. There are some questions as to the durability of the bonded covers. Hand stitched balls are still desirable but for how much longer it is hard to say.
At the midway point is the machine stitched cover not as tight but still better than glued.
Lower quality balls such as recreational and practice balls are usually glued together giving them a lot harder feel.