Choosing the right keycaps for your mechanical keyboard can be a daunting task – after all, they can often make or break your typing experience.
If you’re anything like me you are the type to be OCD about the aesthetics of your setup, ranging from your PC to the way your desk is setup specifically.
And different keycaps colours suit different keyboard colours. White keyboards generally come with white keycaps, but can definitely suit black keycaps which most stock keyboards won’t come with.
Same thing applies for black keyboards suiting white keycaps, or a blue keyboard having red keycaps. The possibilities of mix and matching custom keycaps with your keyboard design are endless.
Let us help you decode all of the acronyms you may have seen floating about the community so that you can make a well-informed decision between PBT vs. ABS keycaps!
What Are PBT Keycaps?
PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) keycaps are less common than ABS keycaps, but tend to be preferred by the more ‘hardcore’ mechanical keyboard users.
Why? Because PBT keycaps are generally considered to be higher quality, being more durable and thick than ABS keycaps – though this, naturally, comes at a higher cost.
The higher price point is also due to the fact that PBT keycaps are generally more difficult to mould and produce, thanks to their resiliency to heat, and so manufacturing costs are more expensive.
However, if your wallet allows for it, purchasing PBT keycaps is usually the preferred option for most mechanical keyboard users.
What Are ABS Keycaps?
ABS (AKA Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a type of copolymer plastic that is both durable and resistant, as well as cheap to produce, making it the material of choice for most mid- to low-tier keycaps on the market.
However, this affordability comes at a cost – ABS keycaps tend to develop that unwanted shine over time from the grease of your fingertips, which can also cause the lettering to fade.
Keycaps made from ABS plastic also wear down a lot faster than other keycap materials, meaning that, over time, you may find that your keycaps are slightly thinned, or that tactile bumps have worn down.
ABS keycaps are produced via injection molding, where the molten material is injected into a mould to create the shape of the final product.
Once the mould is made, legends are printed onto the surface of the keycaps.
Legend printing can be done via several different methods, with the most common ones being pad printing, engraving, and laser marking.
What Are The Differences Between PBT VS ABS Keycaps?
Below is a quick rundown of the main differences:
|Shiny Look||Matte Look|
|Usually Thinner||Usually Thicker|
|Clicky Sounds||Thumpy Sound|
|Less Durable||More Durable|
|Smooth Feel||Textured Feel|
ABS keycaps are, generally speaking, considered to be lower quality than PBT keycaps, for several reasons:
- ABS develops shine over time
- ABS keycaps are usually thinner than PBT keycaps
- ABS wears down faster
- ABS can turn yellow from UV exposure
On the flipside, unlike ABS keycaps, PBT keycaps are usually a lot more durable and resist shine for a lot longer.
As we have already touched on, PBT keycaps tend to have far better longevity than ABS keycaps.
This is because of the fact that PBT does not wear down as much over time as ABS keycaps tend to (e.g. tactile bumps being worn down), nor does it develop shine as quickly.
PBT keycaps are also a lot more durable, and resilient to environmental factors, such as UV light, heat, and chemical substances such as acetone.
As such, PBT keycaps are more likely to remain basically as good as new for a long time, whereas ABS keycaps are more likely to be worn-down and shiny after a year or so of heavy usage.
Something that can often be a deciding factor between PBT keycaps and ABS keycaps is the cost, especially if you’re trying to keep to a tight budget.
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 lower quality – basically, you get what you pay for.
PBT keycaps are more expensive for the opposite reasons: they are more difficult to make, and cost more as a result, but are generally higher quality and more durable than ABS.
The texture of PBT and ABS plastics also tends to differ, which is where choosing between PBT and ABS keycaps can come down to personal preference.
ABS keycaps tend to have a smoother texture, which can often give your fingers that ‘gliding’ feeling as you type, which some people prefer.
PBT keycaps, on the other hand, offer a more textured feel, which some people prefer for the additional grip it offers.
As mentioned previously, ABS keycaps tend to be thinner than PBT keycaps, which can give them a different feel and sound, as well as different durability.
However, thickness can often vary from keycap to keycap – thick ABS keycaps exist (such as GMK keycaps), as do thinner PBT keycaps.
PBT is a plastic that is solid, stiff, and durable (though brittle at the same time), as well as textured and thick.
It also offers good resistance against thermal stress, harsh chemical environments, and UV radiation.
ABS, on the other hand, is a bit less durable (though it offers good impact resistance), with a smoother texture and a more lightweight build.
PBT Vs ABS Keycap Sounds
As they are made from different materials, ABS and PBT keycaps make different sounds when you type.
PBT keycaps tend to be thick and solid, and as such, they make a more deep, ‘thumpy’ sound.
ABS keycaps, on the other hand, make a sound that is more light and hollow, as well as more ‘clicky’.
Here’s a good video demonstration of the sound differences between the two keycaps:
The keycap that offers the best sound depends entirely on personal preference, and it’s up to you whether you prefer the light tone of ABS keycaps, or the richer sound of PBT.
Are There Other Types Of Keycaps?
GMK (standing for Gunther, Meinhardt and Kredler) is a German keycap company known for creating high-quality, luxury keycaps.
GMK keycaps are made from double shot thick ABS plastic which, though it does develop the signature ABS shine after a year or two of heavy usage, is still rather durable, plus it has the added bonus of not warping as much as PBT keycaps do during the manufacturing process.
This means that the keycaps have very few imperfections, with no off-centre legends or bent keys.
GMK keycaps also feature a genuine Cherry profile, created using the original Cherry tooling, which many people find to be the most comfortable to type and game with.
GMK also frequently comes out with unique, limited-edition keycap designs, which is what makes these keycaps so sought-after.
Naturally, this exclusivity and quality comes at a high price, making GMK keycaps one of the more expensive keycap options out there.
POM (Polyoxymethelene) is another type of plastic used in keycaps, offering a unique feel that some find pleasant to use.
POM keycaps feel a bit like a ‘mid-ground’ between ABS and PBT – they have a very fine texture on their surface, making them smoother-feeling than PBT keycaps but not so much as shiny ABS keycaps.
POM keycaps also tend to have thinner walls than ABS or PBT, which allows lighting to shine through the key in some cases – perfect if you want your keyboard to have a subtle glow!
You’ve probably heard the term ‘double shot keycaps’ floating around before, especially if you’ve taken a look at RGB mechanical keyboards.
Double shot keycaps are made by injection moulding two separate layers of plastic, with one layer moulded for the legend and the other for the keycap hull.
This design allows for backlighting to shine through the keys’ legends, which both enhances your keyboard’s RGB look and makes the legends easier to read.
ABS plastic is often used in double shot keycaps as it shrinks less than other plastics during this process, though double shot PBT keycaps do also exist.
Double shot keycaps can help to bring that extra boost of colour to your keyboard, but if you really want your keyboard to glow then pudding keycaps are what you need.
Pudding keycaps are double shot and offer a dual-layer style with an opaque upper layer for the legends and a translucent bottom layer, which allows RGB lighting to shine through much more than it would in standard double shot keys.
As the name suggests, custom keycaps are keycaps that are customised, either to the company’s design or the customer’s design.
Custom keycaps can add extra uniqueness to your mechanical keyboard that will make it stand out, as well as fit whatever aesthetic you’re going for.
Whether you want plain, solid colours, or a keycap shaped like Pikachu, you can definitely find custom keycaps for you.
There are many websites that you can take a look at, with the more creative keycap designs being found on pages like Etsy.
Custom keycaps can be made in several different ways, either through classic methods like injection moulding, or simpler processes such as 3D printing, which makes custom keycap creation more accessible.
PBT VS ABS Showdown: Which One Should You Choose?
So, between ABS vs PBT keycaps, which is better?
Truth is, both plastics offer their own benefits and drawbacks, though PBT is often considered to be higher quality.
ABS offers a feel that some people may prefer, however, which may make it better in some people’s eyes.
Whatever your personal preference is, hopefully this comparison article has helped you out with your decision.