Thursday August 4th, 2016

Soccer players want full control over every little nuance of the game—especially the ball. To that end, Nike is releasing the Ordem 4—a ball engineered for flight from the inside bladder to the 3D paint on the exterior—in time for the English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.

“We have to build a ball that keeps up with the game,” Rafael Ortega, Nike director of global product, soccer equipment, told SI.com.

Starting from the inside, Nike has eliminated the stitched bladder, instead creating a wrapped version. “When you have a seam, you have a little bump,” Ortega says. “You might not be able to see it, but it makes the flight just a little off, maybe. The feel is just a little off for the elite level.”

The new constant surface creates roundness on the inside, wrapped in a geometric 12-panel fuse-welded synthetic leather. “With the bladder, these two work together,” he says. “They don’t cover up your touch. It is very reactive and does exactly what you tell it to do in a very sensitive manner.”

As soccer balls have moved away from 32-panel hand-sewn variety into fewer panels, the air still needs something to grab onto so the ball doesn’t float like a ping-pong ball. Nike uses Aerotrack grooves for its flight control system. “We control the aerodynamics now,” Oretga says. “When you take it from a hand-sewn ball, now we control what the aerodynamics will look like.”

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To further help with flight and touch, Nike applies 3D-printed ink to decorate the ball. They layer the ink and then use a machine to bake it and have it “rise up like a cake for needed grip.” The puffed ink on the ball helps with foot-to-ball touches, especially when the surface gets wet.

Golf balls feature multiple dimple sizes, each interacting with the air to form differing spin rates. Between the texture of the 3D ink and the two differing sized grooves on the Aerotrack system, the Ordem 4 has three different ways to interact with the air so the ball spin consistently regardless of how it is struck.

With the movement design established, Nike moved to visual science to design ink patterns. “If you can see the ball faster and can make a decision (faster) on how you can play that ball, it makes a difference,” Ortega says.

The eye first picks up movement and then processes brightness and contrast. Using a black cage against a largely light backdrop, the Ordem 4 handles contrast. The brightness comes in a variation of colors specific for the three leagues, giving each a distinct brightness-focused visual and engineered control.

Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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