Ball Bearings vs. Roller Bearings: What are the Key Differences?

Ball Bearings vs. Roller Bearings: What are the Key Differences?

When working with different applications, do you know the key differences between ball bearings vs. roller bearings? While these bearings both provide a rolling, anti-friction element and appear similar in style, their use cases are entirely different, especially when it comes to bearing weight. To take a closer look at the advantages of each type, as well as when to choose one bearing over the other for a given application, we’ve put together a simple ball bearings vs. roller bearings break-down. 

The Advantages of Ball Bearings 

Ball bearings feature a rolling element in the form of spherical balls, which are commonly used in small wheels and hard drives. Ball bearings are very versatile, as they can rotate on more than one axis and are designed for multiple load cases, including pure radial loads, pure axial loads, and combined radial and axial loads

It’s important to note that unlike roller bearings, ball bearings operate on a point contact, meaning that they have a very small contact area with the load. This provides a low amount of friction, making ball bearings a great option for applications that require speed, as well as smooth rotational motion. 

Due to their point contact, ball bearings do not operate the best under heavy loads. Because of this, they are primarily used in applications that have higher speeds and lighter loads; however, full-complement ball bearing designs do offer a solution for increasing radial-load capacity. Ball bearings are also more forgiving when it comes to misalignments than roller bearings

The Benefits of Roller Bearings 

As opposed to ball bearings, roller bearings are available in more than just spherical shapes and they have a fixed axis of rotation. In addition to spherical options, roller bearings are also available in cylindrical, tapered, and needle shapes. They are also available in full-complement designs to help with reciprocating motions. 

Most notably, roller bearings have a line contact instead of a point contact, which means they offer a greater surface area than ball bearings. This allows roller bearings to take on larger capacities and higher shock resistance without deforming or failing, unlike ball bearings, which can fail after a set number of revolutions. 

Roller bearings are much more limited in movement and are not designed primarily for axial loads. They’re also made for a higher level of precision in most applications, which makes them more prone to angular misalignment in comparison to ball bearings

Ball Bearings vs. Roller Bearings: Understanding the Different Use Cases 

As mentioned above, ball bearings are ideal for higher speeds and lighter loads, whereas roller bearings are better suited for heavier loads and shocks. Manufacturers, like RBC Bearings®, provide a wide array of rolling-element bearing options that can be customized for multiple different use cases across industries, including food and beverage processing, mining, general manufacturing, material handling, transportation, aerospace, and more.

Some common examples of ball bearing applications include automotive engines and electric motors, assembly lines, high-speed machine tooling equipment, and power tools. Products like RBC Bearings’ Nice® SRM Series™ precision-machined single row ball bearings would be perfect for material handling and packaging equipment. Thin section ball bearings from RBC Bearings also offer solutions and custom designs for the aerospace industry.

For roller bearings, some application examples include mining, wind turbines, construction, and agriculture, where heavier loads are required. Products like RBC Bearings’ TP Series cylindrical roller thrust bearings are great for crane hooks, oil well swivels, and gearboxes, whereas their Pitchlign® caged heavy duty needle roller bearings are ideal for cross head bearings applications.

Let’s Get Your Application Rolling Smoothly 

To see IBT’s full selection of the highest-quality rolling-element bearings from dependable brands, like RBC Bearings, visit ShopIBT today! 

For further guidance on determining the advantages when it comes to ball bearings vs. roller bearings for your application, contact our knowledgeable team to discuss the options that would best suit your needs.  


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