Anyone who owns a mechanical keyboard is given a privilege: Customization. With that in mind, you can show off your creativity with a set of keycaps. 

However, you should be aware that there are several different types of keycaps, in which there are two most common: ABS keycaps and PBT keycaps. ABS vs PBT keycaps have differences in feeling, sound, durability, color, and price.

This article will guide you in choosing the most suitable materials for you. We’ll break down PBT vs ABS keycaps and discuss their advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s dive in!

ABS plastic – The most common material for custom keycaps

ABS, standing for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a copolymer plastic that can endure millions of keystrokes before deterioration happens.

Abs keycaps
ABS keycaps | Source: Amazon

This is the most popular type of plastic used in custom keycaps. Keycaps made of ABS are typically cheaper to make, resulting in lower pricing for them. Additionally, because of its low melting point, this ABS is ideal for making keycaps.

The method of making ABS keycaps is commonly by injection molding. Following this method, the lettering is made using a variety of techniques depending on the manufacturers. Pad printing, engraving, and laser marking are three common techniques for making lettering.

A frequent concern with ABS keycaps is that their surface can be easily scratched or flammable when exposed to certain chemicals or high temperatures.

Several stock keycaps that come with mechanical keyboards are frequently of flimsy quality. However, there are numerous higher-quality ABS keycaps with custom designs available online. The best keycaps are generally made of thicker plastic and are more durable.

What are PBT keycaps?

The very first point to note about PBT keycaps is that they are produced from polybutylene terephthalate (PBT for short). This type of material was created in Britain and has many industrial applications such as engines and motors aside from being used for mechanical keyboard keycaps.

PBT is a far more solid plastic than ABS. Due to their substantial composition, PBT keycap sets are more expensive to make than ABS keycap sets. This is the reason why they come at high prices and are less popular.

Pbt keycaps
PBT keycaps | Source: Amazon

Seeing as PBT plastics are hard, you can press down on them with vast numbers of keystrokes without the anxiety of breaking or cracking a keycap.

Why are they that hard? This is due to PBT manufacturing needing thicker walls which makes the plastic inherently more heat and friction-resistant. 

As a result, the PBT keycaps not only offer a sturdy texture, and durability but they are also not greasy and shiny after a long time of use. They can also withstand regular exposure to UV rays and other environments.

Besides, this type of plastic has a high melting point, suitable for the Dye Sublimation printing technique. 

There are both low-cost and high-cost PBT keycaps available. The more costly ones will, of course, be of much greater quality and also have a better textural feel. If you want to know which PBT keycap is the best, check out this post: Best PBT keycaps.

For most gamers, their top picks are generally PBT keycaps due to they can maintain the durability and texture feel over time.

>>> Learn more about:

The Complete Guide to different types of keycaps: Materials, Profiles, Printing methods, and more

ABS vs PBT keycaps

As we move on, we will look at the pros and cons of PBT vs ABS keycaps and the battle between them to find out which is better.

Pros and cons of ABS keycaps

Pros and cons of ABS keycaps
Pros and cons of ABS keycaps

Pros

  • More affordable than PBT
  • A lot easier to find
  • Ideal for customizing in a different way
  • Come in whatever color you like
  • Smooth when touching
  • Quieter than PBT

Cons

  • Lower-quality plastic
  • Not the most durable plastic
  • Get greasy and shiny after a long time of use
  • If the design is printed on the top, it will gradually wear out and fade

Pros and cons of PBT keycaps

Pros and cons of PBT keycaps | Source: Tech Jio
Pros and cons of PBT keycaps | Source: Tech Jio

Pros

  • The higher-grade plastic
  • Much more resistant than standard ABS
  • Available for a high level of customization and creativity
  • Produces grainy textures which some people enjoy
  • The matte texture lasts for a long time

Cons

  • More costly than ABS
  • Noisier than ABS keycaps
  • Ink can fade over time

PBT vs ABS keycaps

ABS vs PBT keycaps: Which are better?
Abs or PBT keycaps: Which are better?

PBT keycaps vs ABS: Price and Availability

ABS keycaps are cheaper and easier to find than PBT ones.

The price is among the prioritized factors to consider when choosing between these two keycaps. Of course, a high-quality keycap will cost more than the flimsy one.

ABS keycaps are available for both pricey and cheaper made. So are PBT keycaps. 

Nonetheless, a PBT keycap typically costs more than an ABS one. The reason is that PBT plastic is harder to form and more durable than ABS plastic.

PBT keycaps vs ABS: Greasiness

ABS will be easier to get “shiny”. This slow abrasion polishes the softer ABS plastic to the level that the surface produces an unattractive shine.

Since PBT is harder and denser than ABS, it takes substantially longer to develop the glossy surface related to abrasion. To prevent this eventual shine, some manufacturers often get around this issue by texturing the surface of keycaps.

ABS vs PBT keycaps: Sound

ABS produces a softer sound, and PBT produces a crisper sound. Listen to how ABS vs PBT keycaps sound in this video below:

YouTube video
Due to its thinness, ABS keycaps typically produce a sound that lacks resonance. Sometimes they may sound “flimsy and cheap”; however, some people prefer the soft sound of ABS keycaps to that of PBT keycaps.

PBT keycap sets, on the other hand, are thicker and generate a more resonant sound than ABS keycaps. With their deeper sound, PBT keycaps are often the ideal choice for mechanical keyboard owners seeking “thock” when typing.

Keycaps PBT vs ABS: Color

ABS will have more vibrant color options.

ABS vs PBT Keycaps: Color
ABS colors are more vibrant than PBT colors

In terms of color, ABS offers a wider range of unique keycap color options. Single keycaps can be double or even triple-shot injected during creation, allowing for various colors per cap.

PBT keycap sets are also available in a variety of colors although customization choices are limited. Due to material limitations, PBT keycap sets have a pastel-like appearance when compared to ABS keycap sets.

However, some typists may prefer the more muted tones of PBT over the more vibrant colors of ABS.

ABS vs PBT keycaps: Durability

PBT is among the hardest and most durable components.

Keycaps made of ABS are often thinner. Since it is less solid, it is more prone to cracking if put or removed wrongly.

On the contrary, PBT keycap sets are thicker than standard ABS keycap sets, making them less resistant to warping and severe damage when inserted or removed. When compared to ABS plastic keycaps, customers praise PBT keycaps for their superior sturdiness and durability.

Double shot PBT keycaps vs ABS

Double-Shot is the leading keycap printing method. Although ABS and PBT plastics are the two commonly used materials for double-shot keycaps, double shot ABS keycaps are relatively cheaper and have a lower quality compared to double shot PBT keycaps. Moreover, double-shot ABS keycaps still develop a shiny look to them over time, which is less likely to happen to double-shot PBT ones.

How do I reduce the shine on my ABS keycaps?

After a period of use, ABS keycaps will have a shining look. On the higher-use caps, this shining will make your keycaps appear inconsistent.

Shiny keycaps
Shining keycaps and keycaps with heavy use

The reason behind this is that UV rays cause the plastic to change color over time.

The best way to keep ABS caps from shining is to keep them in an airtight container out of direct sunlight. For those who really hate that shinning, just switch to the new one.

However, if you are on a budget, cleaning your ABS keycaps (which will be discussed in the following part) would be a better choice for you.

What’s the best way to clean ABS and PBT keycaps?

As greasy keycaps are common in some lower-cost PBT vs ABS keycaps, especially those that have been heavily used. The easiest solution for those who dislike the greasy keyboard is simply purchasing new keycap sets with higher quality. Yet, what if the keycaps you’re using are greasy?

You can clean your ABS keycaps with warm water and dish soap. This can remove the grease from your keycaps as the dish soap is a degreaser.

  • Put your keycaps into the warm soapy water container for 30 to 60 minutes. Make sure that the keycaps should be fully submerged in the water
  • Once keycaps have soaked long enough, rinse them and then dry them with a towel
Dip keycaps in warm soapy water
Dip keycaps in warm soapy water

Bottom line

When comparing ABS vs PBT keycaps, there are a lot of factors to consider from the look to the thickness and durability, and even the sound.

In conclusion, when choosing which cap style to wear, it all comes down to your budget and preferences.  Best of luck with your next wise investment!

Besides, there are a lot of ways you can go with keycaps. Check Hirosart to visit the world of artisan keycap.