How Does a Pool Table Recognize & Return A Cue Ball

Imagine, you took a shot and mistakenly pocketed the white ball, it came out. In your next turn, you pocketed a color ball, which didn’t come out like the cue ball. A question pops up in your mind, “Why does a cue ball return, but not the color ball?”

There’s no human brain or AI algorithm embedded in your billiard table, but an ingenious mechanism that lets your pool table recognize a cue ball. So in this article, I’m going to go a little deep into the technical aspects of this mechanism so you can understand how it works.

The Mechanism Of Ball Returning Pool Tables

Actually, there have been different methods used by the pool table manufacturers to automate this process. Some tables have old methods while some have modern ones.

Old Method

In the old method, the manufacturers modified the size of the ball so that it doesn’t remain stuck with the object balls and the table itself gives it the exit. The size of the cue ball was larger than the other balls, so the table recognized it and allowed it to leave.

Though such coin operated tables are rare now. You might still find them in bars or pubs, but they are old fashioned ones.

New Methods

These cue ball return systems or pool table cue ball separators, whatever you call them, are quite popular today in modern tables. Some tables use light reflection systems while some use a metallic core (which is actually a size differentiation detector).

Let’s see the latter method first.

Metallic Detector

Pool tables in which this magnetic cue ball return mechanism is used have metal bars, these bars lead the balls to the center of the table. And once the ball is in the center, there are three more metal bars, giving the ball two different tracks to go down.

Here, the table differentiates the cue ball from the object ball.

If it’s a cue ball that is going down, it’ll trigger a magnetic mechanism that creates a physical barrier between the cage and the ball. And inside this cue ball, there’ll be some sort of magnetic metal – that’s why some even call it a magnetic cue ball.

This can be a full metal core or metal particles mixed within the resin. Some balls even have a steel bar pushed through them. The sensor placed in the table detects these particles or material, this sensor is responsible for pushing the gate in the ball’s path.

It pushes the ball to the other path leading to the slide, and hence, the ball comes out instead of getting stuck inside.

And if it’s an object ball, the sensor doesn’t sense any such material and lets the ball move in the traditional path which leads it to the cage and stays in for the rest of the game.

You’ll see most of the people using metal core method or resin method to achieve this objective. The other one, which requires you to push the steel bar in the middle of the ball is less common because it can disbalance the weight of the cue ball.

By Light Reflection

Another of the modern techniques used to separate the cue ball from other balls is light reflection technique. This technique requires your cue ball to have a finishing that gives it a fluorescent pigment.

A mirror sends the wavelength to the sensor, this sensor only responds to the fluorescent pigment of the cue ball. If it detects the cue ball, it pushes it to the other path from where it takes the route towards an exit. Otherwise, when it’s not the cue ball, the ball follows the normal path towards the cage.

Now that you know how does the inside of a pool table work, it’s time to show you some of the cue balls used in such tables.

Balls Used In Coin-Operated Tables

So, in case you are wondering “How does ball return work in coin operated or valley bar tables?” and what are the peculiar characteristics of these balls that make them return, I’m going to show you some of the common types of such balls.

Small Cue Ball

Though it’s not as common as other cue balls are, it is used in coin operated tables. A cue ball that is slightly smaller than the rest of the balls can come out after hitting a heavier object.

Oversize Ball

And as you must have read it before, oversize balls can also be used in such tables. Because of their unusual size, the table can easily recognize which ball is the cue ball when you scratch.

The Universal (Mudball)

This ball is used in modern coin operated tables. It has small particles of steel embedded in the phenolic resin. This cue ball is also drawn to a magnetic strip of metal inside Valley tables. It can work in both types, that’s why it is called a universal cue ball.

But there is a small problem with this ball. Due to its elasticity and coefficient of friction negatively affected, it’s travel distance is shortened and it is much deader responding to sidespin.

Valley Cat’s Eye

It is one of the most common cue balls used in coin operated pool tables. The framework inside it is attracted to the magnetic strip in the table. It is quite light in weight and has the standard size. It behaves in the same way a normal cue ball does. It does not have phenolic resin like the Universal ball.


Many people wonder how their pool table return system works. We have covered the mechanism of old and new methods in detail. So, anyone who has doubts regarding how does a pool table know the difference in returning a white ball and not a colored ball should be cleared now. It’s purely due to the sensors placed inside the table or the size of the balls.

About Maryam Shaw

Hello Everyone! I am Maryam, the reason behind creating this website is to help people with the detailed information and reviews about sports products