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Footballs (Soccer Ball) Construction

Footballs vary in construction and design. Here we will describe the construction of the footballs (soccer balls). This includes the various materials used, types, sizes and weights of footballs (soccer balls).
The following topics are reviewed:
Construction of the Footballs – The various parts of the Footballs are explained. Typical materials used on the different parts of a footballs and how they are put together are also detailed.
Types – The different types of footballs (soccer balls) are detailed. Use this section to also learn about the typical materials that are used on the different types of footballs (soccer balls). This will help you determine what footballs (soccer ball) is best for your application and skill level.
Sizes and Weights – The various sizes of the footballs (soccer ball) are shown and explained. Different age groups use different ball sizes and weights. Determine what size of ball is right for your game or buying needs.
Ball Construction
The four main components of a footballs (soccer ball) are the cover, the stitching, the lining and the bladder. Understanding these components and their options will help you in choosing the perfect ball to meet your playing and quality needs.
Elements of Footballs (Soccer Balls) and Materials used in Production
Surface, Casing or Cover
Internal Linings (Polyester or Cotton)
Bladder (Latex or Butyl)
The surface of footballs or coverings are made up from synthetic leather and not full grain leather (as used in the past) because leather has a tendency to absorb water causing the ball to become very heavy. Synthetic leather is typically made from Polyurethane (PU) and Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC).
There are many variations of synthetic leather used in the construction of footballs. They range from AI-2000, Japanese Teijin Cordley, Microfiber, English Porvair, Korean Ducksung, Leather Art Pakistan Synthetic Leather, and Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC). Best footballs used in competition and by professionals are produced by using AI-2000, Cordley, Ducksung, Mircofiber or other types of PU synthetic leather. Promotional footballs or practice footballs are usually constructed with Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) or rubber (molded or stitched) covers.
Some indoor footballs covers are made with a felt material similar to what is used on a tennis ball.
The number of panels – the different segments that make up the outside covering of the ball – varies for each design.
A 32-panel ball is the most common and is the type used in most professional matches. The ball is essentially a Buckminster Ball consisting of 20 hexagonal (six sided) and 12 pentagonal (five sided) surfaces. Also known as a truncated icosahedron except that it is more spherical, because the panels bulge due to the pressure of the air inside. When they are sewn together and inflated they make a near perfect sphere.
Other traditional designs are 18-panel and 26-panel constructions, used in various professional leagues, including Major League Soccer (until 2002), Scottish and English leagues.
Fewer panels generally means the ball can be curved more when kicked because of less stability to the cover.
Panels can be either stitched, glued or thermally molded together:
The highest quality balls are stitched with a polyester or similar thread. 5-ply twisted polyester cord is the material of choice in stitching together a soccer ball. Hand sewn balls have tighter and stronger seams. Kevlar® reinforced polyester stitching is also used on some balls. High-end balls are hand-stitched, while most mid-priced balls are machine-stitched.
Lower-end, practice balls generally have the panels glued together onto the lining. These offer a harder feel and are generally less expensive than stitched balls.
Thermally Molded – The New World Cup 2010 Jabulani Ball, The World Cup 2006 Teamgeist Ball and The Euro 2004 Roteiro ball have panels that are thermally molded together.
Material thickness plays a vital part in the quality of hand-sewn footballs. Multiple layers of lining are placed between the cover and the bladder. These layers are composed of polyester and/or cotton bonded (laminated) together to give the ball strength, structure and bounce. Professional footballs usually have four or more layers of lining. Promotional or practice balls are often constructed with less layers of lining. The lining helps the ball retain it’s shape and bounce over the life of the ball.
Many footballs (soccer balls) include a foam layer for added cushioning and ball control.
The bladder in a footballs holds the air. Bladders are usually made from latex or butyl. Compared to latex bladders, butyl bladders retain air for longer periods of time. Latex bladders tend to provide better surface tension. However, butyl bladders offer the excellent combination of contact quality and air retention. Futsal ball bladders are filled with foam to limit the bouncing capability of the ball since they are used on a hard flooring.
Most balls use butyl valves for air retention, with higher end balls using a silicone-treated valve for superior performance. Silicone treated valves are used on some balls for smooth insertion of the inflating needle and added protection from air loss. When you first receive a ball, a good idea is to put a few drops of silicon oil in the valve. This will provide easier needle insertion and better air retention.
Natural Latex Rubber bladders offer the softest feel and response, but do not provide the best air retention. Micro pores slowly let air escape. Balls with natural rubber bladders need to be re-inflated (at least once a week) more often than balls with butyl bladders (stay properly inflated for weeks at a time). Some balls use carbon-latex bladders in which the carbon powder helps to close many of the micro pores. Latex bladders are used in balls because of the following characteristics: A) It gives proper bounce, B) It feels softer and C) Same angle re-bounce characteristics.
Butyl bladders offer an excellent combination of feel and air retention and can be found in most middle to upper priced balls.
PU – Some manufacturers use bladders made from polyurethane.
How Most Hand Stitched Footballs Parts are Put Together?
The first stage is to roll out the material to be used for the outing casing of the ball. The casing is usually made from several layers of synthetic foam-filled leaves (panels), which are glued (laminated) together to produce a tough, smooth exterior.
The leaves are cut into the exact amount needed to make one ball. Then the panels are pre-printed with any brand names and graphics before being cut. All logos would be printed at this point in the process. Printing is typically accomplished by silk-screening onto the cover material. After printing, the material may have another layer of clear urethane (or another proprietary material) applied over the printing for protection.
The number of individual panels required are then cut out, and holes are pre-punched in preparation for stitching. The stitching is performed by turning the ball inside out, so none of the stitches show on the outside. A different type of needle is used to complete the stitching of each panel, which effectively makes the final knot ‘disappear’.
The stitched ball is then reversed, the bladder inserted and inflated. One stitcher can usually do four balls in one day.
Then another process begins for those footballs (soccer balls) seeking either FIFA Approved, FIFA Inspected or International Matchball Standard (IMS) status. That process is the independent laboratory testing required to achieve one of these hallmarks.