What are ABS & PBT Keycaps?

When choosing to buy a set of keycaps, you will frequently see two acronyms pop up: ABS and PBT. They are considered the most common plastics used on the market.

What are ABS & PBT Keycaps? What are the main differences between them? Which is better for your mechanical keyboards? Let’s figure it out!

There are also other material options that you can choose from. However, we will only cover the differences between ABS and PBT keycaps due to their availability and popularity.

keycap abs vs pbt

Although ABS keycaps have less durability than PBT keycaps, their color are much more accurate than PBT, which is why more high-end brands use them.

Meanwhile, PBT keycaps are more durable and have better quality, but they have less vibrant color. They also have more problems, like spacebar warping.

In this article, we will give you in-depth details about ABS and PBT keycaps to help you decide which of the two is better suited for you.

ABS keycaps for mechanical keyboard
A set of keycap made from ABS plastic

What are ABS Keycaps?

Keycaps that are made from ABS, which stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a thermoplastic, which means that it can easily be melted or remodeled, and the keycaps won’t shrink much during molding.

ABS plastic is commonly used in keycap manufacturing due to its low cost of production and its durability and resistance. ABS keycaps are also highly impact resistant, which means that they can withstand millions of keystrokes before cracking or breaking. ABS keycaps have a very smooth texture, which can give a great feel to your fingers.

ABS keycaps can easily be broken because of their cheap constriction. The lettering on the keycaps can also start to wear off and fade away after a while. You may see a greasy or shiny look on the keycaps because of the smooth texture of the ABS keycaps. They can quickly turn yellow when subjected to UV light over time from sunlight and artificial lamps. These are the factors that you should consider when buying ABS keycaps.

a set of pbt keycaps
A set of PBT keycaps

What are PBT keycaps?

Keycaps which are made from PBT, or Polybutylene terephthalate, is the hardest and most durable component used in the making of keycaps. They tend to be more resistant to heat and most chemical substances. Therefore, it is quite hard to mold the PBT plastic, which makes it more expensive to produce PBT keycaps.

Unlike ABS keycaps, PBT hardly gets any trouble when exposed to UV lights and other conditions. They are also quite sturdy and thick, making them long lasting and very hard to crack. The higher thickness means their lettering will take a much longer time to wear off compared to ABS.

When typing, PBT keycaps generally produce a louder and deeper sound than ABS. They are also twice as heavy as ABS. Due to all the PBT’s features, PBT keycaps can be very hard to find on the market, and their prices tend to be much higher than ABS.

However, now that you know some of the basic information about both PBT and ABS keycaps, when deciding which one to buy, these factors can also be discussed in further detail. In the following list, we give you some extra details to give you a comprehensive guide to both keycap types.

PBT and ABS keycaps

ABS Keycaps Vs. PBT Keycaps

The main differences between ABS keycaps and PBT keycaps are:

  • Pricing: PBT keycaps are usually more expensive than ABS keycaps.
  • Sound: PBT keys are sturdy, whereas ABS keys are hollow.
  • Texture: ABS provides a smoother surface.
  • Color: ABS has a lot more color combinations. The color quality is also a lot higher.
  • Weight: PBT weighs almost twice as much as the ABS keys

Do note that when comparing, the keycaps should have the same layout and number of buttons.

Pricing

When deciding which material you will choose, you will first have to look at your budget. It is the first and foremost factor that you should consider.

When it comes to pricing, ABS keycaps are generally cheaper because of their material and manufacturing.

PBT keycaps tend to be more expensive because polybutylene terephthalate is harder to form into the proper keycap shape during the injection molding process.

Sound

PBT and ABS keycaps produce different typing sounds, so it all comes down to personal preference.

PBT keys are sturdy, whereas ABS keys are hollow on the inside and thus cause a hollow sound, which is more “clickier”. Therefore, PBT keys, despite sounding sturdier, may be louder than ABS ones, but they do not click as loudly as the ABS ones do on every single click.

In conclusion, there is no clear winner when it comes to the noise produced by the two. It all depends on personal taste and preference.

pbt and abs keycaps 1

Textures

Both the ABS keycap and the PBT keycap have different textures. ABS keycaps provide a smooth texture, and PBT keycaps provide textured surfaces.

The more expensive the PBT keycap, the more texture it has. Some ABS keycaps give you a smooth, buttery feeling while using them, which some people enjoy.

The PBT keycap is more structured and offers an excellent grip while using it. Due to the smooth texture provided by ABS keycaps, over time, the keycaps start to shine due to various factors. This shiny effect does not occur in PBT keycaps because of their structure.

Melting Point

PBT keycaps have a higher melting point than ABS. It seems like it is not a big deal, but a fair amount of heat can be generated during a long gaming or typing session.

The ability to hold up to higher temperatures is another reason why you can expect better durability from PBT.

Weight

In terms of weight, PBT keys weigh considerably more than ABS keys. You will find it weighs almost two times as much as the ABS keys. However, since a heavier key can provide you with a smoother experience, which results in a better feeling when playing your game.

If you are checking out the best options for a lighter touch, you will certainly want to go with ABS keys. In any case, it would be a matter of your convenience and what you are using the keyboard for.

abs keycaps
ABS Keycaps can come in a lot of color combinations

Available colors

As mentioned, ABS keycaps are generally more vibrant, with way more design options from multiple manufacturers. ABS is easier to mix colors and also makes them appear a bit gaudier.

PBT has a few color options, but they’re usually not the vivid, bright colors that you can find on ABS caps.

Letter Printing

If you are a heavy typist, it is quite important to understand and consider the letter printing options available. The 3 most common options are pad printing, sublimated dying, and laser printing. Each of these has their own unique pros and cons.

Pad printing:

This is by far the most common method of letter printing and the cheapest. You will find pad printing on most ABS keycaps due to their low cost of printing. Pad printing process simply prints the letters on the keycaps. After using the keycaps for a while, the letters will wear off.

Sublimated dying:

This is a slightly more complex process. Sublimated dying infuses the ink into either of the plastics (ABS or PBT) using a heat press process. While it can be used in both ABS and PBT keycaps, the sublimated dying process is usually recommended and done on PBT keycaps due to their ability to withstand higher temperatures.

Laser Printing:

After pad printing, laser printing is the second most popular printing option available on the market. Laser printing can be done by laser etching, which is done by burning into the plastic with a laser. This results in black legends on the keycaps. After the etching is completed, it can either be left as it is or be filled with paint.

The second process of laser printing is laser engraving. Laser engraving is often used in the creation of transparent keys. In this process, the transparent keycap is covered in some type of coating, and a laser burns off the coating to expose the transparent plastic in the shape of the required character.

Read more: Dye-sub vs Double-shot

Conclusion

ABS and PBT keycaps have their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to making your mechanical keyboard more appealing.

While PBT keycaps give you a much better typing experience, ABS keycaps are far more beautiful with a ton of available color combinations and printing methods.

However, it’s still best to get yourself each set of both because you will get them both eventually, and it will give you a quick idea regarding the type of keycap you like.

To be honest, best are great to try out, and it’s nice to switch between them once in a while.

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