How Footballs are made
Here at We print Balls we design and manufacture footballs! We, therefore, thought it would be cool to share an insight into just how footballs (including ours) are made. Obviously you can't just print onto an already round ball when wanting a bespoke design so here's how it's done!
Ball Construction - There are four main components of a football. These are as follows:
– The cover
– The Stitching
– The lining
– The bladder
Understanding the four main components and the variables of each may help you in choosing the best build of football for your requirements.
The surface or the outer of a football is made up of synthetic leather and not full grain leather (As used in years gone by). Leather has a tendency to soak up water causing the football to become very heavy. Synthetic leathers are typically made from two materials – PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinyl chloride). There are many variations of synthetic leather used in the construction of football balls. They range from AI-2000, Japanese Teijin Cordley, Microfiber, English Porvair, Korean Ducksung, Leatherette from Pakistan, Synthetic Leather, and PVC. The best quality footballs used in matches by semi-pro and by professionals are produced using materials such as AI-2000, Cordley, Ducksung, Microfiber or other types of PU synthetic leather. Promotional soccer balls or cheaper practice balls are usually constructed with PVC or rubber (moulded or stitched) or a combination of both PVC and PU covers. Your typical Nike football which retails around the £20 mark will be a TPU cover and a cheaper Sondico football that you would pick up in sports direct for around the £4 mark will be a PVC made football. Our personalised footballs here at We Print Balls are made from PU and are PVC free. This is the part of the ball that is printed upon and that the end user will see with all the graphics printed upon.
The number of panels – the different segments that make up the outside cover of a football, varies for each type of football design. A 32-panel ball is the most common and is the style used in most professional matches. The soccer ball is essentially a Buckminster Ball consisting of 20 hexagonal (six-sided) and 12 pentagonal (five-sided) surfaces. Also known as a truncated icosahedron save that it is more spherical. This is because the panels bulge due to the pressure of the air inside the football when inflated. When the panels are sewn together and inflated the panels make a near perfect sphere. Footballs can also be made of 18 and 26-panel constructions. Promotional balls may be made of 30 or 28 panels to incorporate larger panels on opposite sides of the ball. This is done to allow a greater print area when producing logo and branded footballs. The fewer amounts of panels generally mean the ball can be curved more when kicked because of less stability to the cover.
The Panels of a football can be stitched, glued or thermally moulded together. What are the differences?
The highest quality balls are stitched with a polyester or similar material thread. 5-ply twisted polyester cord or nylon-waxed cord will be the material of choice when sewing together a football ball. Hand stitched footballs have tighter and stronger seams. High-end balls are hand-sewn, whilst most low and mid-priced balls are machine-stitched. The stitching is completed by turning the ball completely inside out and individually sewing the panels together by hand. This is done so none of the stitches shows on the outside. The nylon waxed twine is also used to prevent water intake. Tight, strong hand completed stitches also prevent water from penetrating the inner of the ball. Machine sewn balls are normally produced in China with hand-stitched balls being produced in Pakistan or India. A hand-sewn ball will take a stitcher around 3 hours to complete. So can you imagine how many snitcher’s are busy sewing footballs when we approach our peek retail times such as Christmas when thousands of balls are being retailed.
Lower-end, cheap PVC practice balls generally have the panels glued together onto the lining. These types of footballs offer a harder feel and are by far much less expensive than hand or machine stitched balls. Thermally Molded footballs are the third alternative. The 2010 World Cup football, the Jubalani produced by Adidas have panels that are thermally molded together.
The thickness of material plays a huge part in the quality and the usability of hand-sewn footballs. Multiple layers of lining are placed between the cover and the internal bladder. These layers are manufactured with polyester and cotton. The materials are laminated together to give the ball strength, structure and bounce. This key part of the manufacturing process will help the ball retain consistent bounce. The top quality balls including our personalised footballs have four layers of lining. We would also refer to these as 4-ply footballs. Cheaper promotional or practice balls are often constructed with fewer layers of lining. Promotional footballs are made of 2 layers of lining and training balls 3-4 layers. 3 ply and 2 ply would be fine for small children but an adult boot kicking with force a football made of 2 layers would test the material to breaking point. The lining helps the ball retain its shape and bounce over the life of the ball and where price allows, we would always recommend a 4ply football. Some football balls include a foam-padded layer for added cushioning and ball control.
The internal bladder of a football ball is what holds the air. This is the part that looks like a balloon! Bladders are usually made of latex or butyl. Butyl bladders retain the air for much longer periods of time than their latex counterparts. Latex bladders, however, tend to provide better surface tension. Butyl bladders do offer the better combination of contact quality and air retention. Butyl bladders are the bladders of choice for higher quality footballs with latex providing the inners for cheaper promotional and training balls. Higher end footballs also use butyl valves for air retention, with top-drawer balls using a silicone-treated valve for superior performance. Silicone treated valves are often used on footballs for smooth insertion of the metal inflating needle and further protection from loss of air. When you first purchase or receive a football a good idea is to place a few drops of silicone oil in the valve. This process will provide easier needle insertion and better air retention and prevent any damage to the bladder. Rubber latex bladders offer the softest feel and response but do not provide great best air retention. Micropores in the material slowly let the air escape from within. Footballs with latex bladders need to be re-inflated (at least once a week) much more often than footballs with butyl bladders, which stay fully inflated for weeks at a time.
How Most Hand Stitched footballs are put together
The first stage of production is to roll out the material to be used for the outing cover of the ball. These are typically giant sheets in the chosen base colour. The casing is usually made from several layers of synthetic foam-filled leaves (panels), which are laminated together to produce the tough, smooth exterior. The panels are cut into the exact amount of pentagons and hexagons needed to make one ball. These panels are pre-printed with any brand names and graphics before being cut into the required shapes. All logos, print and colour designs would be printed onto the material at this point in the process. This is when we here at We Print Balls print the requested logo for a branded ball onto the material. Printing is typically completed by hand silk-screening onto the cover material. This method of printing can be done by hand or machine. A coating may be applied for extra protection. The number of individual panels required is then cut out, and holes are pre-punched in preparation for stitching. Once stitched together your ball is checked for quality, cleaned of all residue and packed ready for shipment to its destination country. All in all a lot of work goes into producing a single football!