What Lights Do You Need For Home Table Tennis Rooms?

Blinded by the Light...

Light Bulbs or Table Tennis Balls?
Has GE started making table tennis balls?. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

An important part of any home table tennis room is the lighting. It's not much fun playing in a dim, dark, dingy dungeon where you expect Dracula to rise up from under the table any second!

The amount of lighting you will need to enjoy playing ping-pong at home depends on several factors, such as the seriousness of your play, whether you are training or playing with other people or using a robot, the color of your walls and surrounds, and the existence of any other distracting light sources.

Let's have a look at these issues one by one.

Intensity of your Play

The more intensity you have for the sport, the more intensity you need overhead. A games room where your family can play a bit of gentle ping-pong and entertain themselves while waiting for dinner is going to need a lot less light than an area where you and your training partner are drilling and playing games with maximum effort. In the former case, you might even get away with a single 100 watt light bulb over the center of the table, while in the latter situation, you may need to install 3 rows of powerful fluorescent lights over the table, one row in the center, and the other two rows positioned somewhere around the endline of each side of the table. Watch out for flicker though - some fluorescent and halogen lights can cause a strobe effect on the ball during a rally, which can be quite distracting.

I'm not going to try to tackle the comparisons between incandescent, halogen, fluorescent, and even the LED lights.

Suffice to say that generally the brighter the better, and you'll need better lighting as the pace of your play picks up.

Playing People vs Robot Training

If you are using a table tennis robot, you can get away with less lighting than if you are playing against other people. This is because the ball is coming from a fixed position out of the robot head (or from two fixed positions in the rare two head models), so it is much easier to pick up the flight of the ball from the same starting position than when playing against an opponent, where the ball is coming at you from all sorts of positions and angles.

I personally use two sets of oyster style lights in my own home setup, roughly over each endline of the table.

Each light has two 100 watt equivalent energy saving fluorescent bulbs. This works perfectly fine when I'm using my robot, but it was barely adequate when I used to train students at home.

Wall Color and Decor

The less contrast between the walls in your games room and the balls you are using, the better your lighting has to be. The same is true if your playing area has multicolored or patterned curtains (like mine does, unfortunately) or other areas around it, these all make it more difficult to pick up the ball in flight. On the other hand, if you are using a table tennis robot that has a catchment net, the netting can often help provide a uniform darker background which makes it much easier to pick up the ball. The netting on my Butterfly Amicus 3000 robot is a perfect example of this.

A Glaring Problem

Too much light can sometimes be a problem, usually in one of two ways:
  1. Windows or doors that allow sunlight to shine through, which can cause a real problem with glare, usually at one side of the table more than the other. This can be even worse if the sun actually shines through onto the table itself or through the ball's flight path, so that the ball is going in and out of shadow.
  2. Awkward placement of overhead lights, which cause bright reflections on tables with glossy surfaces, if you are standing in the wrong spot.
    If you are reasonably handy, you can easily make a lightproof removable curtain for windows with glare by hanging some dark plastic (I've used plastic garbage bags in the past, but thicker plastic is more robust) on a piece of light doweling, and attaching a couple of unobtrusive hooks to hold the doweling on each side of the offending window. Of course, good quality curtains would solve the problem as well!

    For lights that are placed awkwardly, you generally have to either install extra lights so that you can leave the problem lights turned off (expensive, and it can look kind of strange), or try to position your table to minimize the problem. If you have a low ceiling, a possible cheap solution is to buy a tall light stand with a flexible head that allows you to reflect the light source off the ceiling, which increases the light in the room and prevents you from accidentally getting blinded by the light.

    If your partner is against any redecorating, then you may just have to invest in some poker eyeshades or wear a cap indoors.

    Technical Details

    For those readers who are interested in the finer details, the ITTF has specified the minimum lighting requirements for World and Olympic Competitions and other competitions, these being:

    3.02.03.04 In World and Olympic title competitions the light intensity, measured at the height of the playing surface, shall be at least 1000 lux uniformly over the whole of the playing surface and at least 500 lux elsewhere in the playing area; in other competitions the intensity shall be at least 600 lux uniformly over the playing surface and at least 400 lux elsewhere in the playing area.

    One lux is equal to one lumen per square meter. If you want to find out what one lumen is, you can find out here. (I can't think of a simple way to explain it!). But according to this article , a bright office has about 400 lux of illumination, and you might get 500 lux in a home kitchen with a 1200 lumen output fluorescent light. The more space you need to light, the more lumen output you are going to need to achieve the same amount of lux. Clear?