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ABS vs PBT Keycaps: What’s the Difference?

2022-05-09 10:28:13

ABS and PBT plastic are the two most common plastics used in the manufacturing of keycaps. Both types of plastic have a different feel, sound, and look to them. We’ll go over what the differences are, and which one is better.

ABS keycaps are the cheapest and most common plastic used for keycaps. PBT plastic is less common but is usually higher quality than ABS. ABS keycaps feel smooth and develop a greasy shine over time, while PBT keycaps feel textured and are more durable.

ABS vs PBT Keycaps: What’s the Difference? 1
As you can see, PBT keycaps are usually better, but in some situations ABS keycaps can be superior. We’ll go more in detail about the main differences between the two and some other interesting keycap variations. For keycap recommendations, check out this post.

What are ABS Keycaps?

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene(ABS) is a copolymer plastic that is commonly used in the production of keycaps for keyboards. ABS plastic is used because it is durable and resistant, but cheap to produce. It is impact resistant, so it can withstand millions of keystrokes before cracking or breaking. One of the downsides to ABS is that overtime it wears down. It’s not uncommon that after heavy use, an ABS keycap will have the lettering start to fade away and the keycap will start to thin.

ABS vs PBT Keycaps: What’s the Difference? 2
ABS keycaps have a smooth texture. The texture can be nice to glide your fingers across the keyboard. This comes at a cost though, because cheap and poorly manufactured ABS keycaps will develop a greasy/shiny look to it after usage. This is because the plastic gradually changes color from exposure to UV rays. ABS keycaps tend to be thinner, but it is possible to buy high quality, thick ABS keycaps for a slight increase in price.

Most ABS keycaps are made through injection molding to form the shape of the keycap. Afterwards, the legends are printed on the keycaps through several different processes, depending on the manufacturer. The most common ways are though pad printing, laser marking, and engraving.

Most mechanical keyboards come with ABS keycaps 

What are PBT Keycaps?

ABS vs PBT Keycaps: What’s the Difference? 3
Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT) keycaps is a less common material to find used in keycaps. PBT is more rigid than ABS so it wears down less overtime, this also is makes it so much more difficult to shape and produce. You can use PBT keycaps for a long period of time before they show any sign of deterioration.

The defining properties of PBT keycaps are the textured, sometimes sandy, feel to them. Usually more expensive PBT keycaps will have a nicer texture than the cheaper versions. PBT keycaps are matte and not very shiny. They also tend to be thicker.

 

ABS vs PBT

ABS Keycaps PBT Keycaps  
Usually Cheaper More Expensive  
Shiny/Greasy Matte  
Smooth Textured  
Thinner (Not always)
Thicker
 
Quieter when typing
Louder when typing
 
Flexible
Brittle
 
Wears Over Time
More Durable
 

Cost

Usually PBT keycaps will be more expensive than ABS. This is due to the fact that PBT keycaps are much more difficult to produce, because the material is harder to form into the proper keycap shape during the injection molding process. Some ABS keycaps can cost more than PBT, but that’s generally due to a thicker ABS keycap design with some fancy designs on the legends.

ABS vs PBT Keycaps: What’s the Difference?

Written by Jake Harrington  in Keycaps,Mechanical Keyboards

ABS and PBT plastic are the two most common plastics used in the manufacturing of keycaps. Both types of plastic have a different feel, sound, and look to them. We’ll go over what the differences are, and which one is better.

ABS keycaps are the cheapest and most common plastic used for keycaps. PBT plastic is less common but is usually higher quality than ABS. ABS keycaps feel smooth and develop a greasy shine over time, while PBT keycaps feel textured and are more durable.

 

ABS vs PBT Keycaps: What’s the Difference? 4
As you can see, PBT keycaps are usually better, but in some situations ABS keycaps can be superior. We’ll go more in detail about the main differences between the two and some other interesting keycap variations. For keycap recommendations, check out this post.

What are ABS Keycaps?

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene(ABS) is a copolymer plastic that is commonly used in the production of keycaps for keyboards. ABS plastic is used because it is durable and resistant, but cheap to produce. It is impact resistant, so it can withstand millions of keystrokes before cracking or breaking. One of the downsides to ABS is that overtime it wears down. It’s not uncommon that after heavy use, an ABS keycap will have the lettering start to fade away and the keycap will start to thin.

ABS keycaps have a smooth texture. The texture can be nice to glide your fingers across the keyboard. This comes at a cost though, because cheap and poorly manufactured ABS keycaps will develop a greasy/shiny look to it after usage. This is because the plastic gradually changes color from exposure to UV rays. ABS keycaps tend to be thinner, but it is possible to buy high quality, thick ABS keycaps for a slight increase in price.

ABS vs PBT Keycaps: What’s the Difference? 5
Most ABS keycaps are made through injection molding to form the shape of the keycap. Afterwards, the legends are printed on the keycaps through several different processes, depending on the manufacturer. The most common ways are though pad printing, laser marking, and engraving.

Most mechanical keyboards come with relatively cheap ABS keycaps installed, but there are nice and expensive sets available online. Some of the more expensive sets include sets such as GMK Samurai for a higher-end price, available on Amazon. These expensive keycaps sets usually have a thicker plastic and come with custom designs on them.

What are PBT Keycaps?

 

ABS vs PBT Keycaps: What’s the Difference? 6
Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT) keycaps is a less common material to find used in keycaps. PBT is usually more expensive to source and produce, so for a lot of keyboards you’ll either have to buy them separately or pay a markup. PBT is more rigid and brittle than ABS so it wears down less overtime, this also is makes it so much more difficult to shape and produce. You can use PBT keycaps for a long period of time before they show any sign of deterioration.

 

The defining properties of PBT keycaps are the textured, sometimes sandy, feel to them. Usually more expensive PBT keycaps will have a nicer texture than the cheaper versions. PBT keycaps are matte and not very shiny. They also tend to be thicker.

 

ABS vs PBT
ABS Keycaps PBT Keycaps  
Usually Cheaper More Expensive  
Sachin Matte  
Smooth Textured  
Thinner (Not always)
Thicker
 
Quieter when typing
Louder when typing
 
Flexible
Brittle
 
Wears Over Time
More Durable
 

Now that we’ve gone over each of the different plastic types, let’s talk about the biggest differences between ABS and PBT.

 

Cost

Usually PBT keycaps will be more expensive than ABS. This is due to the fact that PBT keycaps are much more difficult to produce, because the material is harder to form into the proper keycap shape during the injection molding process. Some ABS keycaps can cost more than PBT, but that’s generally due to a thicker ABS keycap design with some fancy designs on the legends.

Texture

ABS keycaps are smooth and shiny, while PBT is textured and matte. This is due to the different plastic material and compounds used in each type. Some ABS keycaps don’t get the shiny look to them if they are higher quality, so just make sure to test them out first before buying.

Thickness

PBT keycaps are usually thicker than ABS.

Material

PBT keycaps are made from a different plastic type that is more brittle, durable, and textured than ABS.

Sound

From my experience using PBT keycaps, I’ve found them to have a different sound when typing. They are usually slightly louder than ABS keycaps, but the sound is crisper and cleaner. Sine the material is more rigid and thick, the keycaps themselves don’t vibrate as much, which makes for the more crisp sound.

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