ABS vs PBT: Which Makes Better Keycaps?
Keycaps can be confusing for newcomers, especially when bombarded with statements like "PBT is better, ABS sucks!" But what exactly is the difference between these two materials?
ABS is a less expensive option than PBT due to its lower raw material cost, whereas PBT is generally considered to be a higher-quality plastic due to its durability and resistance to heat and chemicals. ABS keycaps are smooth but tend to accumulate finger grease over time, while PBT keycaps have textures on their surface and are more prone to wear and tear.
While PBT keycaps are generally considered superior by enthusiasts in a straightforward comparison, there are some niche conditions where ABS keycaps can actually be better than PBT keycaps. If you're new to the world of keycaps, we recommend reading our comprehensive guide on keycaps first.
ABS in keycaps
Learn the pros and cons of PBT vs ABS keycaps
ABS is a type of thermoplastic that is easy to mold and extremely low in cost, making it one of the most common materials for mass-produced keycaps! It is also resistant to impact, making it an ideal keycap material that can withstand millions of taps without cracking.
One obvious downside of ABS keycaps is their smooth surface, which causes printing on them to easily rub away with heavy use, making them generally undesirable due to low durability on the legends. This problem is most notable in older computers or laptops that use ABS keycaps, where the keycaps usually accumulate grease and the legends fade away within a couple of months of use. This is because the color of ABS plastic is affected by exposure to UV rays in sunlight.
ABS keycaps from u/BiasedFilms
ABS plastic is manufactured by mixing materials and molding them through the plastic injection method to form the shape of the keycap. The raw ABS keycap gets its legend printed later on via pad printing, laser marking, or engraving. The longevity of the legends depends on the printing method used. If you wish to learn more about keycaps printing, we have it covered!
Although most mechanical keyboards come with mass-produced cheap ABS keycaps, there are good quality ABS keycaps available in the after-market, albeit with a higher price tag. You may also often find some ABS keycaps that are extremely colorful, as ABS plastic is easier to mix colors into.
PBT in keycaps
PBT keycaps collection by LalaMoon.
PBT keycaps are not as common as ABS keycaps, and they are often more expensive. This is because PBT is a harder and more brittle material, which makes it more difficult to shape and produce. Its higher melt point makes it perfect for Dye-sub printing too. However, it also means that PBT keycaps are more durable and can be used for a longer period of time without showing signs of wear and tear. This is because PBT keycap have a significantly stronger resisitant to UV rays compared to ABS keycap.
One of the noticeable things about PBT keycaps is that they have a textured or slightly sandy feel to them, which some people find more comfortable to type on. They also tend to be thicker and have a matte finish, unlike the shinier appearance of ABS keycaps. Higher-end PBT keycaps may have a nicer texture than cheaper versions.
If you're looking for PBT keycaps recommendation, check out our original designs here!
PBT keycaps are becoming increasingly popular in the after-market as many enthusiasts consider them to be of superior quality. But is it true? Let's compare both of these plastics side by side.
ABS vs PBT in keycaps
|PBT Keycaps||ABS Keycaps|
|Durability||More durable and resistant to wear over time||
Less durable and prone to wear over time
|Texture||Textured and sometimes sandy feel||Smooth surface|
|Shine||Matte finish||Shiny appearance|
|Thickness||Thicker, usually 1.5mm||Thinner, usually 1.2mm|
|Printing||Legends less likely to fade or wear off over time||
Printing on surface can be easily rubbed away with use
|Manufacturing||More difficult to produce and typically more expensive||
Easier to mold and lower cost, commonly used for mass-produced
|Acoustics||Deeper "thockier" sound||Higher pitched sound|
Now that we have covered the fundamentals of these plastics, let's compare their differences in detail.
PBT keycaps, which are becoming increasingly popular, are typically more expensive than ABS keycaps. This is because the PBT material is harder to mold into the proper shape during injection molding, whereas ABS keycaps are cheaper because they are easier to mold and the cost of raw materials is lower. However, sometimes exclusive designs or branding can increase the value of ABS keycaps. Despite this, the extra cost for PBT may be worth it in the long run, as PBT keycaps are more durable and resistant to wear over time.
⦁ PBT have better cost to value ratio.
According to our rough estimate based on industry standards and user experiences. ABS keycap's the legends may start to wear off or fade after several months to a few years of regular use, depending on the quality of the printing or engraving and the frequency of use. On the other hand, PBT keycaps are generally considered to be more durable, and their legends can last for several years to even a decade or more, even with heavy use.
⦁ PBT keycap's legend usually last longer than ABS keycap's legend
When it comes to ABS and PBT keycaps, they differ greatly in texture and finish. ABS keycaps are known for their smooth and shiny surface, while PBT keycaps have a more textured and matte finish. This difference can be attributed to the materials and compounds used in each type of plastic. It's important to note that not all ABS keycaps have a shiny appearance, especially the higher quality ones. It's always a good idea to test them out before making a purchase.
⦁ Its very up to personal prefferance on the texture, try both for yourself.
PBT keycaps are generally thicker than ABS, although it also depends on the specific keycap set you're looking at. There are instances where you can purchase a thicker ABS keycap set, but this is not always the case. PBT keycaps generally have a thickness of 1.5mm, while ABS keycaps tend to range from 1mm to 1.2mm.
⦁ If you're looking for better quality, opt for 1.5mm thickness PBT keycaps.
PBT keycaps are usually known to produce louder sounds due to their hard and brittle nature. Enthusiasts often refer to the satisfying, crisper, and cleaner sounds of PBT keycaps as "thocky". On the other hand, lower quality ABS keycaps tend to sound quiet and "hollow", although the "hollow" sound is less noticeable in high-quality, thick ABS keycaps.
⦁ PBT keycaps are definitely the go-to choice if you want a 'thocky' keyboard.
Cost to value ratio
Overall, we can conclude that PBT keycaps have a better cost-to-value ratio compared to ABS keycaps in the long run. This is because the durability and satisfaction you get from PBT greatly outclass ABS keycaps. However, this is purely subjective, as you can still find amazing, high-quality ABS keycaps in the market, albeit with a higher price tag.
⦁ PBT keycaps offer a better cost-to-value ratio in general.
We experimented Gradients color on PBT keycaps, its hard to be accurate
When its up to customizing keycaps, ABS keycap makes a great comeback! Despite PBT being the "superior material" keycap, it doesn't perform well on colors and dye. The matte and textured surface decreases the accuracy colors printing, so there's a high chance you'll get a very dim dark blue, instead of the saucy black you wanted. On the other hand, ABS keycap is much easier to dye or print on, with high color accuracy because of the nature of ABS plastic! If you're wondering what "color accuracy" is, we have written another blog post about "How keycaps are printed."
⦁ ABS is cheaper and easier to mold, making it a popular choice for mass-produced keycaps, but it is less durable and its surface tends to accumulate finger grease and wear off easily.
⦁ PBT is a harder and more brittle material that is more expensive and difficult to mold but more durable and resistant to wear and tear. It also has a more textured and matte finish.
⦁ The cost of PBT keycaps is higher than ABS keycaps, but they have a better cost-to-value ratio as they are more durable.