Choosing the right keycap material is crucial for the durability and feel of your keyboard. Both ABS and PBT are two main keycap materials used in modern keyboards, each with its own pros and cons.
In this post, I’ll compare and contrast ABS vs PBT keycaps from my experience of using these on various criteria to help you make an informed decision before you get your new keycap set.
The key difference between these two plastics ABS and PBT Keycaps lies in their durability, texture, and sound. PBT keycaps are thicker, making them more durable than ABS keycaps.
PBT Keycaps have a rougher texture that provides better grip, have higher heat resistance, and produce a deeper, more tactile sound when clicked. ABS keycaps, on the other hand, have a smoother texture, lower heat resistance, soft sound, and smooth feel when clicked.
Let’s get started!
ABS vs PBT Keycaps Comparison Table
|ABS Keycaps||PBT Keycaps|
|Full Name of Material||Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene||Polybutylene Terephthalate|
|Material Type||Thermoplastic Polymer||Thermoplastic Polymer|
|Material Durability||Durable||More Durable|
|Keycap Price||Less Expensive||Expensive|
|Wear and Tear||More||Less|
|Keycap Shine||More with material wearing out||Less|
|Keycap Sound||Softer sound||Tactile Sound (Louder and Deeper)|
|Keycap Thickness||Thinner Material||Thicker Material|
What are PBT Keycaps?
PBT keycaps are a type of keycap that is made from a durable thermoplastic polymer material called polybutylene terephthalate(Source). The PBT plastic material has a semi-crystalline structure to it which makes it more resistant to heat.
They are often considered better quality than ABS plastic keycaps which are more common. PBT keycaps are less likely to shine or fade over time, and they are also less likely to develop bubbles or cracks.
The Polybutylene Terephthalate(PBT) keycaps are used in higher quality keycaps and are well known among gamers, and the keyboard community as these remain intact without deformation even with prolonged use.
Pros and Cons
|1. Durable||1. Expensive|
|2. Textured surface|
|3. Much brittle and good for heavy use.|
|4. Surface is matte which makes the legends easy to read.|
My Experience Using the PBT Material Keycaps
I currently have 5 keyboards out of which 3 have PBT keycaps. Interestingly, I use most often these keyboards only. I love the tactile and deep sound they make when clicking. However, in the market, if you search keyboards in the budget segment, you will find that most keyboards use an ABS keycap set on them.
The only downside of PBT plastic keycaps is their price tag. They are often more expensive than ABS keycaps, so they may not be affordable for everyone.
This is why many keyboard manufacturers skip using the PBT keycaps to cut costs and ABS remains their common material for keycaps.
What are ABS Keycaps?
An ABS keycap is a type of keycap made of ABS Plastics(Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene(Source)), a type of thermoplastic. They are the most common type of keycap to use because they are available at a very reasonably low price.
Thick ABS keys come in various colors and can be textured or smooth.
ABS is a type of copolymer plastic that is very commonly used in keycaps on keyboards. The ABS keycap is known for its excellent durability and can withstand keystrokes in millions.
The Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene(ABS) thermoplastic material supports easy recycling and molding, which is excellent.
The ABS keycaps are made using the Injection molding technique to form the shape of the keycaps during the manufacturing process.
After that, the legends are printed by different printing technologies that vary depending on the manufacturer of the keycaps. The printing used for quality most ABS keycaps is pad printing and another laser marking and engraving technique.
Though they are made of mostly cheaper material and are available at a low cost, there are several premium ABS keycaps set available that have high-quality ABS material in them.
Pros and Cons
|1. Cheaper price||1. Wears out faster|
|2. Good quality considering the price point||2. Gets greasy shine fast and legends fade out|
|3. sounds softer and silent|
My Experience Using ABS Material Keycaps
I used 2 keyboards that had ABS keycaps on them.
The keycaps made of ABS Plastic are generally thought of as of lesser quality as compared to the PBT ones. Wear and tear are expected in the case of low-grade ABS keycaps. This is because the outer layer of the keycaps turns thin on prolonged usage which means there is surface wear and tear happens.
In the case of the ABS keycaps, the keycaps may get shiny on prolonged use. This happens with almost all abs keycap set.
Also, you would see the letters on the keycaps fading away.
Overall, ABS keycaps are an excellent cost-effective yet durable keycap choice.
Material for Keycaps Texture and Finish
The ABS keycaps have a smooth finish. On the other hand, the PBT keycaps usually have a matte finish with grainy and a rough texture.
In almost every situation, using PBT feels more premium.
Both the PBT and the ABS keycaps are durable and less likely to break with regular key presses.
However, if I compare their durability, then the impact resistance of PBT keycaps is more than that of ABS keycaps. This is true in the case of typing, gaming, or any regular work.
Exposure to UV Rays
Between the ABS ones and PBT, ABS keycaps tend to get much more affected by the UV light rays and they get yellow colorized quickly.
In almost every keyboard that uses abs keycaps, you will find several scenarios for discoloration and greasy shine on the surface. PBT keycaps don’t get shine as the ABS does. So, you can use keycaps of PBT type if you want to avoid this and if your workspace is exposed to UV rays of the sun.
The melting point of the keyboard’s keycaps helps ensure consistent and moldable keycaps. Low melting points in plastics mean they are easy to mold.
The melting point of ABS and PBT polymer keycaps depends on the polymer’s material properties.
ABS is known for its low melting point of only 105 degrees, while PBT is 225 degrees. The PBT keycaps are much more heat resistant(even when exposed to high heat) as compared to ABS.
Molding PBT is thus more complex as well as it requires much energy to reach its melting point which is also why it is more expensive than ABS.
Although, the high melting point makes PBT ideal for putting ink on plastic. If you like DIY keycap inking, then PBT is better for you.
For many people, the noise produced by the keycaps is of great importance if it can distract them.
So, naturally, people prefer keycaps that make less noise.
PBT keys are sturdy and sound deep, whereas ABS is hollow on the inside and thus causes a hollow sound, which sounds softer with a key press.
Therefore, PBT keys, despite sounding sturdier, maybe a louder and crisper sound than ABS ones but do not click as loud as the ABS ones do on every single click.
Many mechanical keyboard owners may prefer ABS keycaps to softer sound clicks.
Here in this video, you will find the actual differences between PBT and ABS keycaps with keypress sound signatures in real life.
Cost can be an important deciding factor in choosing between one of these kinds of keycaps. In terms of cost, the PBT is much more expensive than the ABS plastic type of keycaps.
All in all, ABS keycaps are the more budget-friendly option, as they are easier to manufacture and so cost less to make, making them less expensive.
However, as we have already discussed, this often means that ABS keycaps are of lower quality; you get what you pay for.
PBT keycaps are costlier because it is a challenging task to manufacture them. However, the PBT keycaps are even better in terms of durability and usability regularly.
The thickness of the ABS and PBT Plastic Material
As mentioned previously, the PBT keycaps are thicker than ABS keycaps, giving them a different feel and sound, and extra durability.
However, the thickness is relative to different types of keyboards. I like the PBT keycaps due to their thicker plastic.
Which is better between PBT Keycaps and ABS Keycaps?
So, now let’s look at which is between ABS or PBT keycaps.
If you’re looking for your keyboard’s keycap set that is durable and has a unique premium feel, you should consider purchasing a high-quality PBT keycap set as the other one has ABS polymer material, which is cheap and not much durable.
PBT keycaps’ material gives them a unique texture and feel and would definitely elevate your typing experience. However, for a smoother glide of your fingers, ABS caps would be better.
They also have a longer lifespan than other types of keycaps for keyboards, making them an excellent choice for those who are looking for something that will last. For regular work, typing, or gaming, PBT caps have proven to be impact resistant as compared to ABS caps.
Finally, it comes down to personal preference regarding which one you would go with, whether a cost-effective one or a long-lasting but expensive one.
Though PBT keycaps are obviously better and more robust than even some quality ABS keycaps, still many people prefer and buy ABS due to its cheap price.
Alternate Keycap Material to Consider
Here are other keycap materials:
GMK vs PBT Keycaps
Like ABS and PBT, GMK is also a widely known keycap for mechanical keyboards. However, the GMK keycaps are expensive. They are made of high-quality ABS plastic with a thick double-shot molding process, resulting in a durable and high-quality finish and also have unique design options.
PBT, on the other hand, is a thermoplastic polymer that is known for its superior durability, resistance to shine, and high heat tolerance.
PBT materials are also less prone to developing a shine over time compared to GMK ABS keycaps.
Overall, GMK keycaps are thick ABS keycaps that offer a high-quality finish and good durability. However, most PBT caps are a better choice for longevity and resistance to fading and damage. Even you will find better tactile bumps on them. Check out our in-depth analysis of GMK vs PBT keycaps here.
What are Double Shot Keycaps?
Double Shot keycaps are a type of keycap made by a complicated manufacturing process from two different colors of plastic, and it is a very popular printing method for keycaps.
This creates a two-toned or “Double Shot” look on the keycap. Doubleshot keycaps are popular among keyboard enthusiasts because they offer a unique look and feel.
They are also more durable than standard single-shot keycaps because the two colors make them less prone to fading or chipping.
Double Shot Keycaps are made by injecting plastic into two molds, one for each color during the molding process. The most common way to do this is by using a two-colored plastic filament. This type of keycap is usually more expensive than a single-colored keycap.
Double Shot printing ensures that your keycap legend will remain intact and not eventually fade away and making the keycap a glossy shine. You would commonly find Double Shot PBT keycaps available online.
Double Shot keycaps have an excellent backlit illumination output from their printed legends.
So, if you use a keyboard that supports backlit, your legends on the keyboard would be illuminated well and would be visible. You can have both PBT and ABS Double Shot keycaps made through this process.
Another method of printing keycap legends is Dye Sublimation(a.k.a Dye Sub) which is also very popular.
What are Pudding Keycaps?
Pudding keycaps are a type of keycap that has a transparent bottom design, unlike the other opaque keycaps. This allows more RGB lighting to shine through the keycap’s sides, creating an effect that is often called “pudding.” Pudding keycaps are an excellent choice for backlit keycaps of mechanical keyboards.
There are various pudding keycap designs available, and they can be used to add color and personality to any keyboard.
Pudding keycaps come in various color options, and they can add a bit of flair to your keyboard setup. They are also relatively affordable, which is another plus.
If you’re looking for something different and want to try out some pudding keycaps, be sure to check out the offerings on Amazon or eBay. You won’t be disappointed!
ABS vs PBT Keycaps FAQs
Is PBT better than ABS Keycaps?
PBT is stronger and more durable than ABS Keycaps. Also, PBT keycaps have a better texture, thickness, and a longer lifespan which makes them better than ABS. However, the PBT keycaps are more expensive than the ABS ones. You will still find some cheap PBT keycaps available.
Does PBT last longer than ABS?
Yes, most PBT keycaps last longer than ABS. Keycaps made of PBT material are less prone to wear and tear as compared to ABS keycaps.
Why do ABS keycaps shine?
ABS keycaps wear out quickly, and their surface gets shinier more rapidly than PBT keycaps.
Why does GMK use ABS instead of PBT?
GMK use ABS instead of Using PBT plastics to make their keycap sound softer. They are very thick and made of high-quality ABS.
Let’s conclude the post on ABS vs PBT, the two most popular plastic materials for keycaps!
Both are great and are helpful for different purposes. Here is the recommendation to find the best keycap material. If you look for a cost-effective opt option, you can choose from cheap ABS keycaps.
However, if cost is not the primary factor to consider, then PBT keycaps are generally higher-end keycaps to abs and hence are great for your mechanical keyboard’s keycap set. Just make sure you check the keycap profile before choosing a keycap set. If you have Cherry MX or Cherry Clone switches which are often used and common with most keyboards, get the Cherry Profile keycaps.
Even, if you have chosen one and would like to replace the keycap with another, it’s always possible.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post and hope you found your choice of keycap set for your new keyboard.
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I’m Anirban Saha, Founder & Editor of TechBullish. With a B.Tech in Electronics and Communication Engineering, and 5+ years of experience as a software developer, I have expertise in electronics, software development, gadgets, and computer peripherals. I love sharing my knowledge through informational articles, how-to guides, and troubleshooting tips for Peripherals, Smart TVs, Streaming Solutions, and more here.