In badminton there are two main types of shuttlecock- sometimes referred to as a birdie or shuttle- that is, plastic and feather.
The shuttlecock is a piece of cork surrounded by either a cone of feathers or a plastic skirt. It is a projectile that is designed to fly up into the air and then fall aerodynamically.
This article will guide you on the major differences between these two types of shuttlecocks and help beginners and people wanting to start badminton on which type to buy.
The plastic shuttle, which might be referred to as nylon or synthetic, is usually played with by beginners or low intermediate level players. It is sometimes preferred as it is designed to be highly durable and can last a long time. Obviously, this is an advantage as players will have to buy tubes of shuttlecocks less frequently and hence save money.
In contrast, the feather shuttle is much less durable. When I play I tend to use one feather shuttlecock per game. Feather shuttlecocks are often preferred by people who play competitively because they favour the feel, control and flight of the shuttle.
What I did
I bought the Yonex Mavis 300 Plastic Shuttlecocks and the Yonex Aerosensa 20 Feather Shuttlecocks.
I decided to test these as they are two of the most popular, mid-range brands of their types. I bought two tubes of six Yonex Mavis 300s and one tube of twelve Yonex Aerosensa 20s.
Speed and Flight
With its floppy, synthetic skirt the plastic shuttlecock will accelerate more slowly than the stiffer feather shuttlecock. However, the feather shuttle will slow down more quickly than the plastic shuttle as the feather shuttlecock will experience more drag.
This means that when a player using a feather shuttlecock plays a lift or clear shot, they will find that the shuttle lands shorter than when they hit plastic shuttlecocks at the same power and height.
To test this, I did a speed test on both sets of twelve shuttles. If you are unaware of how this is done, watch this video below by the BWF (Badminton World Federation):
Both sets of shuttlecocks were speed tested in the same session. The temperature of the hall was around 18 degrees Celsius (64F).
The speed of shuttlecocks used were blue (medium) speed for the plastic shuttles and 78 (Yonex Speed 4) for the feathers. See the tables below for the speeds.
Yonex Plastic Shuttlecock Speeds
|Colour of tube||Green||Blue||Red|
| 22-33 |
|0-13 degrees c|
Yonex Feather Shuttlecock Speeds
|Speed ||Very Slow||Slow||Medium||Fast||Very |
| Non |
| Temp |
| 33 |
degrees c +
|27 to 33 degrees c||22 to 28 degrees c||17 to 23 degrees c||Below 17 degrees c|
Plastic Shuttlecocks’ Speed Test
First of all, I hit twelve plastic shuttlecocks and saw where they landed.
I then hit twelve of the feather shuttles.
The feather shuttles travelled considerably quicker than the plastic shuttles with 66 per cent of the feathers landing in the ‘ideal speed zone’.
One drawback of the feather shuttlecock is its durability. At the competitive level of badminton only feather shuttlecocks are used. Professional players can be seen changing the shuttlecock every few rallies in high level tournaments. This happens because feathers are much more fragile than synthetic, plastic materials.
I decided to illustrate this by playing six games of singles to 21 points. My friend and I would use a new feather shuttlecock for each of the three games and check the state of each shuttle after every game. All the shuttlecocks had only been hit once in the speed test that I previously mentioned.
As plastic shuttlecocks are considered to be longer lasting, I would then play three games using only one plastic shuttlecock and check its quality.
During these games I would also observe the flight of the shuttlecocks and compare the flight between the plastic and feathers.
Feather Shuttlecock 1
The first shuttlecock we tested performed the best out of all the feather shuttlecocks used. The edges of the feathers were slightly frayed but I would have happily continued using this shuttlecock for another game.
Feather Shuttlecock 2
The second shuttlecock was considerably more damaged. About halfway through the game it started ‘spinning’ oddly in its flight. As you can see a couple of the feathers had become frayed and bent. If I had been playing a normal game, I would have changed the shuttle halfway through.
Feather Shuttlecock 3
The third shuttlecock did fairly well. Not many of the feathers were damaged but one feather had its end broken. From experience, I imagine this shuttle would have lasted about half a game longer if we had continued playing with it.
The Plastic Shuttlecock
After three games the synthetic shuttlecock was barely damaged. The skirt was not broken but the frame connecting the skirt and cork was a little fragmented. I would have probably chosen to change the shuttlecock if we had continued playing.
Difference in Flight Between Plastic and Feathers
There were noticeable differences in flight with both types of shuttlecock.
I found that playing a net shot with the plastics was more unpredictable. There was less control and the shuttle would ‘bounce’ high off the strings. This could mean that an inexperienced player would make fewer mistakes and at least be able to get the shuttle over the net, but would fall foul of a better opponent who would just net kill the high net shot.
On the other hand, I noticed the feather shuttle would ‘deaden’ on the strings, which allowed me to have more control when playing a net shot. A beginner, on the other hand, might struggle with this, finding it difficult to get the shuttle over the net.
I found it more difficult to judge if the plastic shuttles, when lifted, went beyond the back tramlines. More of them did go out.
Playing with the feather shuttlecocks, I observed they would land shorter than the plastics when hit with the same amount of power and height. In my opinion lifting with the feathers was easier, especially when playing lower, flatter lifts.
It was again hard for me to judge how powerful my clears needed to be for the plastic shuttles not to go long of the back tramlines. It was also difficult to play flat, attacking clears as the shuttle would decelerate more slowly.
The feather shuttles were very good for playing clear shots. It is important to remember that as I play virtually all the time with feathers I found it easy to judge the distance of my clears.
There was a noticeable contrast in the feel of hitting the shuttlecocks.
The plastic shuttle felt less satisfying. The feather felt crisp and made a cracking sound when struck.
The biggest difference was the durability. The feather shuttle was much more fragile. This prompts me to consider another difference, that of price. If you decide to use feather shuttlecocks regularly, you are going to be spending much more money each month than they would if they were using plastic ones.
The difference in flight was quite noticeable. Thanks to their design, plastic shuttlecocks seemed to take longer to decelerate and fall to the floor than the feather shuttles. This led me to conclude that perhaps it is harder to pull off more accurate shots using plastic shuttles.
There was a difference in the feel of the shuttle. It felt much crisper and satisfying hitting a feather in comparison to the plastic shuttlecock.
What You Should Use
Overall, a you will prefer what you are used to. If you use plastics all the time then you will struggle to get used to feathers and vice versa.
In my opinion, if you want to play competitively then you should use feather shuttles as it will allow you to play the most advanced shots. However, if you are just looking to play for fun and to not spend too much money then plastic shuttlecocks are the best option.