ABS vs PBT Keycaps: The Battle for Keycap Supremacy

ABS vs PBT Keycaps: The Battle for Keycap Supremacy

When it comes to customising your mechanical keyboard, there's one decision that reigns supreme: ABS or PBT keycaps. These two plastics hold the key to unlocking a whole new world of typing pleasure.

ABS and PBT keycaps each have their own strengths and situations where they shine. Let us dissect the main differences between these plastic powerhouses and venture into the realm of intriguing keycap variations that will leave you spellbound.

What are ABS Keycaps?

ABS keycaps, derived from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic, offer a range of advantages due to their unique properties. 

ABS plastic is a copolymer known for its recyclability, as it can be easily melted down and remoulded. This versatility has made ABS popular for various products, including LEGO bricks and power tool housings.

While ABS keycaps were once associated with lower quality, advancements in manufacturing have led to improved durability. Today, ABS keycaps are reasonably priced and offer impact resistance, withstanding millions of keystrokes before showing signs of cracking or breaking.

What are PBT Keycaps?

Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT) has gained significant popularity in the keycap market due to its outstanding properties. Although it may be pricier to obtain and manufacture, the advantages of PBT make it a worthwhile investment.

PBT keycaps are renowned for their unique textured surface, which often provides a luxurious sandy feel. They boast a matte finish, avoiding excessive shine. 

Furthermore, the manufacturing process of PBT keycaps typically involves thicker walls, making them more substantial compared to their ABS counterparts.

ABS vs PBT Keycaps - A Detailed Comparison

This comparison between ABS and PBT keycaps will allow you to make an informed decision. Have a look!

1. Material Composition

ABS keycaps are made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a lightweight plastic known for its smooth and glossy finish.

PBT keycaps are made from polybutylene terephthalate, a more durable and heat-resistant plastic that offers a textured and matte finish.

2. Durability

While ABS keycaps are durable, they tend to wear down faster over time, developing a shiny and oily appearance due to oils from fingertips.

PBT keycaps are highly durable and resistant to wear, maintaining their original appearance for longer periods. They are less prone to shine and oil buildup.

3. Typing Feel

ABS keycaps provide a smooth and sometimes slightly slippery typing feel. They lack the textured surface that some typists prefer.

PBT keycaps offer a textured and matte surface, providing a pleasant tactile feel while typing. The texture helps with grip and enhances the typing experience.

4. Customisation and Printing

ABS keycaps allow for vibrant and detailed printing, making them ideal for customised keycap designs and legends.

While PBT keycaps can also be printed, the printing tends to be less vibrant and detailed compared to ABS. However, PBT keycaps have excellent colour retention and are less prone to fading or wearing off.

5. Cost

ABS keycaps are generally more affordable compared to PBT keycaps, making them a budget-friendly option for keyboard enthusiasts.

PBT keycaps are slightly more expensive due to their superior quality and longevity.

6. Thickness and Stability

ABS keycaps are generally thinner compared to PBT keycaps. This can make them feel less stable and more prone to wobbling during intense typing sessions.

PBT keycaps are thicker and more substantial, providing enhanced stability and reducing the likelihood of key wobbling. This can contribute to a more satisfying typing experience.

7. Heat Resistance

ABS keycaps have lower heat resistance compared to PBT keycaps. Extended exposure to high temperatures, such as from direct sunlight or hot keycap removal methods, can cause warping or deformation.

PBT keycaps are highly heat resistant, making them less susceptible to warping or deformation, even under extreme conditions. This feature ensures their longevity and resilience.

8. Sound and Acoustics

ABS keycaps generally produce a higher-pitched and slightly "clacky" sound when typing. Users who enjoy a more distinct and audible typing experience may prefer this sound profile.

PBT keycaps tend to produce a deeper and more muted sound while typing. This can appeal to users who prefer a quieter typing experience or work in noise-sensitive environments.

9. Compatibility

ABS keycaps are more widely available and compatible with a broader range of keyboard layouts and switch types. They are commonly used in mainstream mechanical keyboards.

While PBT keycaps are also widely available, they may have more limited compatibility with certain keyboard layouts and switch types, especially for less common or specialised keyboards.

What’s the Best Keycap?

The best keycap material depends on personal preference and usage. ABS keycaps are generally more affordable and offer a smooth, shiny finish but are prone to wear and shine over time. 

On the other hand, PBT keycaps are more durable, have a textured feel, and resist shine, making them a popular choice for those seeking longevity and a superior typing experience.

What are Doubleshot Keycaps?

Doubleshot keycaps are a type of keycap construction method that involves moulding two separate layers of plastic together to create the keycap. The keycap is typically made of two different colours or materials. The legends (letters or symbols) on the keycap are formed by a second plastic layer that is injected into the first layer, resulting in a durable, two-colour keycap design. 

This process ensures that the legends will never fade or wear off over time, as the keycap's construction prevents any direct contact with the printed symbols. Doubleshot keycaps are highly regarded for their longevity and resistance to fading, making them a popular choice among keyboard enthusiasts.

What is Pudding Keycaps?

Pudding keycaps are a specific type of keycap design that features a translucent or transparent outer layer and a solid-coloured inner layer. The outer layer is typically made of a clear or frosted plastic material, while the inner layer is solid-coloured, often in white or black. 

This design allows the keyboard's backlighting to shine through the clear or frosted portions of the keycap, creating an aesthetically pleasing "pudding" effect. 

The legends on the keycaps are usually printed on the inner layer, ensuring excellent visibility when the backlighting is activated. 

Pudding keycaps have gained popularity due to their unique visual appeal and compatibility with RGB lighting, as they enhance mechanical keyboards' vibrant and customisable lighting effects.

Wind Up

In conclusion, when it comes to ABS vs PBT keycaps, it all boils down to personal preferences and priorities. ABS keycaps offer affordability and a smooth finish, while PBT keycaps provide durability and a textured feel. 

Consider your typing style, longevity requirements, and desired typing experience to make an informed decision and elevate your keyboard setup.


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