ABS vs PBT Keycaps: Making the Right Decision for Your Keyboard
Expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.2% between 2023 and 2032, mechanical keyboards have become a staple in technology due to their tactile feedback, durability, and long-lasting build. However, as the desire for personalization grows, gamers and typists are stranded between the choice for keycaps — which of ABS vs PBT keycaps is the way to go?
While a seemingly small component of your device, keycaps can mean the difference between a responsive experience and an error-filled one that ends up in fatigue. The type of keys you choose can affect the feel, look, typing sound, and even the durability of your keyboard. So, which option should you pick? Well, read on for a factor-by-factor comparison between ABS vs PBT keycaps, from the weight and feel to cost considerations.
ABS vs PBT Keycaps: Comparison
Definition and Composition
As one of the most commonly used keycaps in mechanical keyboards, ABS holds its ground due to being affordable and widely available. These keycaps are made from Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), a thermoplastic polymer known for its low melting point. Due to this, ABS is easy to melt and remold, letting you create customized keycap designs. This versatility allows ABS plastic to be commonly used in everyday products, including Lego toys and office mice.
PBT keycaps, on the other hand, are composed of Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT), a comparatively stronger thermoplastic than ABS. It has a semi-crystalline structure that translates into increased strength and heat resistance. Since the manufacturing process is based on thicker walls, PBT plastic is generally more friction and heat-resistant than its ABS counterparts.
Finish and Resistance
ABS Keycaps: Lightweight & Less Durable
ABS keycaps have a lightweight build, which provides you with a more nimble and responsive feel while typing or gaming. However, this lightweight nature comes at a cost. Over time, ABS keycaps tend to be more prone to wear and shine. The constant friction from fingers and exposure to UV rays leads to the appearance of a shiny, greasy layer over the caps. This also makes them slipperier and less textured, affecting overall tactile feedback.
PBT Keycaps: Denser & Durable
On the contrary, PBT ones offer a denser and more durable alternative between ABS vs PBT keycaps. Since they are inherently more friction and heat-proof, these keycaps are likelier to resist shining and fading. Plus, they maintain their matte finish even after long, strenuous hours of regular use, which leads to a consistent typing experience. PBT, as a plastic, is more impervious to oil and chemicals, so it doesn’t degrade due to prolonged UV exposure.
Texture and Feel
ABS Keycaps: Smooth, Glossy Texture
Since they have a smooth and glossy texture, ABS keycaps tend to become slippery after a few weeks or months of use (if you’re lucky). The keys you use more frequently, like the spacebar and WASD, may shine and smooth out sooner than the ones used less often. This happens as a result of wear and tear or repeated typing, leading to a polished appearance.
Apart from the look, this keycap shine also makes it difficult to maintain a firm grip on the keys, affecting your typing precision and speed. So, if you’re someone who prefers a smoother, slipperier experience, ABS keycaps are a great option.
PBT Keycaps: Matte & Textured
With a matte and detailed texture, PBT keycaps are all about a textured and grippy feel. Since they have a grainy surface, these caps have better tactile feedback and are less likely to develop a greasy layer over time. Regarding ABS vs PBT keycaps, the latter has a more matte than slippery texture that helps reduce the visibility of smudges and finger oils. As discussed earlier, PBT is resistant to oils and chemicals, which prevents it from having a polished appearance.
Keycap Legends and Printing
ABS Keycaps: Vibrant & Sharp Legends
Customization is one of the most essential factors to consider when discussing the differences between ABS vs PBT keycaps. ABS keycaps are known for replicating vibrant, sharp legends — making them more appealing for those concerned about the aesthetics of their mechanical keyboard.
Since the plastic is easier to work with, it usually features crisp and detailed legends that add to the overall appearance. Plus, ABS keycaps are generally preferred for RGB keyboards since they can easily shine through the colors.
However, since these keycaps are likelier to wear and tear over time due to abrasion, the legends are prone to fading, too. So, if you’re someone who wants their legends to last long, ABS keycaps are perhaps not the right pick.
PBT Keycaps: Muted Tones & Pastel Colors
Regarding ABS vs PBT keycaps, the latter is definitely more durable in terms of legends and printing. While the legends on PBT keycaps may not appear as beautiful or sharp as those on ABS, they are still known not to give in to abrasion. No matter how much you use the space bar or WASD keys, your PBT legends will never turn too light to read or unreadable.
The downside? Well, PBT legends may have slightly muted colors compared to ABS. Since the material is comparatively thinner and it is difficult to customize it in double shots, PBT legends have a pastel-like look. Talking about customizability, you’ll have fewer options and color combinations here.
Cost Considerations: ABS vs PBT Keycaps
Between PBT vs ABS keycaps, the latter is the more affordable, making it a budget-friendly choice for those who want to customize their keyboard without breaking the bank. Since ABS keycaps are made from a common and more economical plastic, they have a lower cost.
On the other hand, PBT keycaps tend to be slightly more expensive than their ABS counterparts. The main reason for the higher sum is the raw material itself — polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) is a higher quality plastic than ABS. Here are a few more reasons why PBT keycaps cost more than ABS options:
- The manufacturing process necessitates high temperatures. This leads to increased energy consumption and production costs.
- The production requires more mold and tools, adding to the expenses.
- PBT keycaps usually undergo more rigorous quality control measures to ensure high quality. This pumps the costs up.
- There is a high demand (due to superior quality and durability) and limited supply.
The choice between ABS vs PBT keycaps often boils down to a trade-off between affordability and quality. Being light on the pockets, ABS keycaps are for those looking for smooth and sleek options with less sound (and feel). On the contrary, PBT keycaps come at a slightly higher cost, which is justified due to their superior material quality and long-lasting build.If you want to infuse your keyboard with a touch of your personality, Goblin Techkeys is your one-stop shop, offering beautiful and durable designs. Blending creativity and craftsmanship, we offer premium tech products that cater to all your work and gaming needs, from keyboards and desk mats to custom keycaps. So, whether you prefer coffee-themed keycaps or something with a hint of the sunset, GoblinTechKeys is here for you.