PBT vs ABS Keycaps: Which is Right for You?

When it comes to mechanical keyboards, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing the right keycaps. Two of the most popular materials for keycaps are PBT and ABS. Both have their pros and cons, and understanding the differences between them can help you make an informed decision. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at PBT vs ABS keycaps and help you determine which might be the best fit for your mechanical keyboard.

What is a PBT Keycap?

A PBT keycap is a type of keycap that is made from a durable and high-quality plastic called polybutylene terephthalate. PBT keycaps are known for their resistance to shine and fading, and are often preferred by gamers and enthusiasts for their durability and longevity.

Different Types of PBT Keycaps

Infographic chart with different types of PBT keycaps: artisan, dye-sublimated, backlit, laser-etched, and double-shot.

There are several types of PBT keycaps, including:

  1. Dye-sublimated: These keycaps have the legends (letters/numbers) printed using a dye-sublimation process which results in a durable and long-lasting print.
  2. Double-shot: These keycaps are made using a two-shot molding process where the legend and the keycap itself are made separately and then fused together, resulting in a more durable and clear legend.
  3. Laser-etched: These keycaps have the legends etched onto the surface of the keycap using a laser, resulting in a permanent and precise print.
  4. Backlit: These keycaps are designed to allow backlighting to shine through the legends, making them easier to see in low-light conditions.
  5. Artisan: Many artisan keycaps are made out of polymer clay with a PBT base because of the high melting point. The high melting point allows artisans to mold clay on top and bake it in an oven to harden.

Examples of PBT Artisan Keycaps

What is an ABS keycap?

An ABS keycap is a type of keycap used on mechanical keyboards that is made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic. ABS keycaps are known for being durable and having a smooth, shiny surface. They are also relatively inexpensive compared to other materials used for keycaps.

Different Types of ABS Keycaps

Infographic chart with different types of ABS keycaps: laser-etched, pad-printed, double-shot.

There are three main types of ABS keycaps: laser-etched, pad-printed, and double-shot.

  1. Laser-etched: These keycaps have the legends (letters, numbers, symbols) laser-etched onto the surface of the keycap, resulting in a slightly darker legend.
  2. Pad-printed: These keycaps have the legends printed onto the surface of the keycap with a pad or stamp, resulting in a thinner, lighter legend that may wear off over time.
  3. Double-shot: These keycaps have two layers of plastic, with the legends formed by injecting a different color of plastic into the mold. This creates a durable, long-lasting legend that won’t wear off over time.

Differences Between PBT vs. ABS Keycaps

Let’s breakdown PBT vs. ABS keycaps based on sound, color, cost, and strength.

Chart comparing pbt vs abs keycaps based on sound, durability, cost, and color.

1. Sound

When it comes to sound, PBT and ABS keycaps produce noticeably different acoustics. PBT keycaps tend to have a more muted, thocky sound when pressed, while ABS keycaps have a higher-pitched, clicky sound.

The sound of PBT keycaps is often described as more solid and substantial, with less of a hollow sound than ABS keycaps. This is due to the denser, more rigid nature of PBT plastic. PBT keycaps also tend to have a deeper, more pronounced bottom-out sound when the key is fully depressed, which some users find satisfying and satisfying.

2. Color

The color differences between PBT vs ABS keycaps can be broken down into two sections: color quality and consistency.

Color Quality

PBT keycaps are known for their rich, vibrant colors that do not fade or wear easily. This is due to the fact that PBT plastic is less susceptible to UV radiation and other environmental factors that can cause color degradation. PBT keycaps also tend to have a matte or textured finish that can enhance the depth and richness of their colors.

ABS keycaps, on the other hand, can be more prone to color fading and discoloration over time. This is especially true for lighter colors, which can yellow or become discolored with prolonged exposure to sunlight and other environmental factors. ABS keycaps also tend to have a shiny, smooth finish that can reflect light in different ways and affect the appearance of their colors.

Color Consistency

PBT keycaps are generally more consistent in their color and texture across different batches and production runs. This means that if you buy a set of PBT keycaps in a certain color, you can be reasonably sure that the color will be consistent across all the keycaps.

ABS keycaps, on the other hand, can be more variable in their color and texture. This is due to the fact that the molding process used to create ABS keycaps can be more prone to variations and imperfections. This can result in slight color differences and texture variations between different keycaps, even within the same set.

3. Cost Differences

PBT keycaps tend to be more expensive than ABS keycaps due to the production process and material properties. PBT plastic is a denser and more durable material than ABS, which makes it more difficult to mold and shape. This leads to a higher cost of production, which is reflected in the final price of PBT keycaps.

ABS keycaps, on the other hand, are generally less expensive due to the lower cost of production. ABS plastic is more malleable and easier to mold, which makes it faster and cheaper to produce. This means that ABS keycaps are more widely available and tend to be less expensive than PBT keycaps.

4. Strength Differences

The durability of PBT and ABS keycaps is closely related to their strength. PBT keycaps are more durable than ABS keycaps due to their resistance to wear and tear. PBT plastic is less likely to develop shine or other visible wear, which means that PBT keycaps can maintain their appearance and performance over a longer period of time. When it comes to strength and durability, PBT keycaps are generally considered to be the better choice.

ABS keycaps, on the other hand, are more prone to wear and tear due to their softer and more flexible nature. ABS plastic can develop shine and other visible wear over time, which can affect the look and feel of the keycaps. This means that ABS keycaps may need to be replaced more frequently than PBT keycaps in order to maintain the same level of performance and appearance.

However, ABS keycaps may still be a viable option for those who prioritize affordability and a wider range of design options. While ABS keycaps may not be as strong or durable as PBT keycaps, they can still provide a decent typing experience and can be replaced more easily if they become worn or damaged.

Are PBT or ABS Keycaps Better?

The choice between PBT and ABS keycaps depends on your individual preferences and priorities. If you prioritize durability and a more solid, thocky sound, PBT keycaps may be the better choice. If you prefer a more tactile, clicky sound and more customization options, ABS keycaps may be a better fit for you. Regardless of which material you choose, remember that keycaps are an important part of your keyboard setup, and they can significantly impact your overall typing experience.

If you’re looking for a creative, unique, and visual appealing PBT keycap to spruce up your keyboard, consider artisan keycaps.