Best Keycap Materials & Choosing Guide

  • Keycaps 101
  • Posted by: seo_khanhpv
  • May 28, 2022

The best keycap materials are the door to a delightful typing experience that define your interactions with the keyboard, from the feel and durability to the aesthetics and customization.

Thus, choosing the right keycap material is an art to craft a keyboard that resonates with your typing tastes and elevates the pleasure of every keystroke.

Most Common keycaps materials

Keycap Material Pros Cons Suitable for
ABS
  • Cheap
  • Smooth feel
  • High customization
  • Wide availability
  • Not durable
  • Non-grip surface
  • Budget-friendly builds
  • Entry-level keyboard setup
PBT
  • Durable
  • Matte look
  • Premium feel
  • Expensive
  • Less popular
Heavy typists and gamers
Polycarbonate
  • Translucency for stunning RGB effects
  • Modern and futuristic  appearance
  • Less texture
  • Less common
Typists who prioritize aesthetics and RGB features
POM
  • Silky feel
  • Great for RGB
  • Fancy designs
  • Can lead to slower typing
  • Only suitable for some special niche
Regular typists 
PVC
  • Flexible
  • Affordable
  • Sensitive to heat
  • Limited availability
  • Budget-conscious users
  • Casual typists and gamers
Clay
  • Intricate and artistic designs
  • Can be handmade
  • Collectible feel
  • Hard to find
  • Easy to chipping or breaking
  • Expensive
Keycaps collectors
Resin
  • Artistic and unique
  • High level of customization
  • Support excellent RGB
  • Collectible feel
  • Expensive
  • Limited produced quantities
Keycaps collectors
Wooden
  • Rustic and natural aesthetic
  • Collectible feel
  • Heavier
  • Easy to wear and chipping
  • Require more care and maintenance
  • Expensive
Keycaps collectors
Metal
  • Exceptionally durable
  • High-end appearance
  • Solid feel
  • Hard to find
  • Expensive
  • Easy to get cold or hot
Keycaps collectors

Keycaps are typically made of one of two types of plastic: ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) or PBT (polybutylene terephthalate).

ABS keycaps

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a form of copolymer plastic widely used in the manufacture of keyboard keycaps. ABS is a three-mastery polymer with acrylonitrile for hardness, butadiene for flexibility, and styrene as the core material.

Abs keycaps will become greasy over time due to fingers’ oil
Abs keycaps will become greasy over time due to fingers’ oil

ABS keycaps have the following characteristics:

  • Smooth and shiny surface: ABS keycaps feature a smooth and glossy surface that gives them a bit of a gleaming look. Yet, they will not grant any grip for some users during extended typing sessions.
  • Lightweight: ABS is a soft lightweight plastic, making the keycaps thin and easy to handle. But for a modest premium, you can get high-quality, thick sturdy ABS keycaps.
  • Sharp sound: ABS keycaps tend to produce a high-pitched and slightly sharp sound.
  • Quick wear: ABS keycaps are prone to wear down and develop a shiny or greasy appearance over time. This is due to the oils and sweat from users' fingers, causing a sticky touch over time.
  • Less resistant to UV and chemicals: ABS keycaps are more likely to fade and turn yellow when exposed to UV light or certain chemicals.
  • Legends: The legends on ABS keycaps are mostly printed using a variety of methods including pad printing, laser marking, and engraving.
  • Affordability: ABS keycap is a cost-effective option for anyone on a tight budget. ABS keycaps are often found on GMK sets, the major keycap manufacturer.
  • Wide availability: ABS keycaps are common on most non-high-end mechanical gaming and office keyboards.
  • Customization: ABS keycaps come in a variety of design styles, allowing you to easily tailor victory the way you want to. This can be beneficial if you prioritize aesthetics.

Let's explore the pros and cons of these keycaps to better appreciate their appeal and limits.

Pros Cons
  • Smooth feel
  • Affordable
  • Easy to find
  • Highly customizable
  • Wear and tear over time
  • Limited grip
  • Not durable for heavy use

PBT keycaps

PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) is also a type of material commonly used in the production of keycaps for mechanical keyboards.

PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) keycaps offer several benefits, including exceptional durability, resistance to wear and shine, and excellent keycap texture that provides a comfortable typing experience, making it the most sought material for typists and gamer.

Never go wrong with the exceptional durability of pbt keycaps
Never go wrong with the exceptional durability of pbt keycaps

The main characteristics of PBT keycaps are:

  • Top-notch durability: PBT keycaps are praised for their exceptional hardness, durability and resistance to wear, making them less likely to develop a shine over time with extended use.
  • Heavy: PBT keycaps are generally considered heavier than ABS. PBT is a denser material, making the keycaps feel more solid and substantial.
  • Deep sound: PBT keycaps generally produce a deeper and more muffled sound compared to ABS keycaps. The textured surface can also result in a slightly "thockier" and softer sound during typing.
  • Grainy texture: PBT keycaps have a textured surface, delivering a nice tactile feel and boosting grip for rapid typing and long gaming sessions. Besides, this material also reduces the likelihood of fingerprints and oil buildup.
  • Resistance to wearing and fading: The legends are less prone to fading over time thanks to their resistance to UV light exposure. Furthermore, they can keep their matte finish for a long time, preserving a cleaner and more consistent appearance on your keyboard.
  • Heat resistance: PBT keycaps are not easy to warp or deform under higher temperatures.
  • Legends: PBT keycaps can embrace all imprinting techniques, including the double shot, allowing them to last forever.
  • Expensive: PBT is, without a doubt, a higher-quality material than ABS. Producing PBT keycaps requires more sophisticated molding procedures, which might add to the cost.
  • Availability: PBT keycaps are offered as standard stock with entry-level or mid-range mechanical keyboards. They are also used to adorn high-end custom and enthusiast-grade keyboards, making it hard to find than mass-produced ABS keycaps.

Needless to say, the “good” of PBT may outweigh the “bad”. Just pay a little more buck, and you will get the luxury touch holding your fingertips.

Pros Cons
  • Unparalleled level of durability
  • Sandy texture for better grip
  • Excellent legend imprinting
  • Do not quickly become oily or greasy
  • Higher cost
  • Heavier than ABS
  • Some find the deeper sound to be dull

Alright! We explored all the nooks and crannies of these two widely used materials. Hard to choose one? Then, this comparison table will truly help you determine the best keycaps material for your keyboard.

Factors ABS Keycaps PBT Keycaps
Durability Wears over time More durable
Cost Usually cheaper More expensive
Noise Quieter when typing Louder when typing
Comfort  Smooth Textured
Melting Point Around 105-degree Around 225-degree
Double-shot keycaps Available Available
Weight Thinner (Not always) Thicker

Other keycaps materials

Along with ABS and PBT, there are several less popular keycap materials, each has its unique properties and characteristics.

Polycarbonate keycaps

Polycarbonate (PC) is a type of high-performance thermoplastic with various distinct features as a keycap material.

Polycarbonate keycaps excel at giving an eye-catching light show thanks to their transparency or translucent (as you can see in the below image) Besides, these keycaps tend to produce a "hollow" or "resonant" sound due to the nature of the material.

While polycarbonate keycaps can give your keyboard an unmatched unique touch, they are less common and often found in high-end or specialty mechanical keyboard setups.

Polycarbonate keycaps are perfect for rgb effects
Polycarbonate keycaps are perfect for rgb effects

POM keycaps

POM (Polyoxymethylene) keycaps offer a comparable smooth feel as ABS but are less prone to wear. Their silky texture provides an almost candle-like finger feel, while each key exhibits a milky appearance.

Jelly POM is a unique option for fancy designs. This special material also allows keyboard RGB lighting to illuminate the keyboard more effectively.

POM keycaps are a great alternative to ABS with a similar feel and improved durability. Those seeking a more unique vibe to brighten up their setups will not go wrong with POM keycaps.

Pom keycaps feature a smooth-like-butter feel similar to abs ones
Pom keycaps feature a smooth-like-butter feel similar to abs ones

PVC keycaps

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a widely used synthetic plastic material known for its flexibility, affordability, and ease of molding.

PVC keycaps are typically soft and have a slightly rubbery feel. Besides, PVC keycaps can be produced in various shapes and designs, allowing for customized choices that would not be possible with other materials.

As it is sensitive to high temperature, PVC may be the least durable among other keycap materials. Additionally, the production of PVC can have environmental drawbacks, leading to restrictions on its manufacturing in some regions. Nevertheless, PVC keycaps remain a popular choice for those on a budget or seeking entry-level mechanical keyboards, frequently used by mass-market brands like Logitech, Dell, and HP.

PVC keycaps are widely used by mass market brand

Clay keycaps

Add clay to your keyboard? Sounds weird but it is true. Clay keycaps, as the name suggests, are made from clay or a clay-like material.

They provide a unique and artisanal vibe to your keyboard, as they are often exquisitely handcrafted. However, clay keycaps may be scarce and considered a niche or specialty product within the custom mechanical keyboard community.

While it can take a bit of effort to find and purchase them, you can become an artisan yourself with your one-of-a-kind keycap. Simply search for some tutorials on how to make a clay keycap at home.

Clay material allows users customize any keycap style they want
Clay material allows users customize any keycap style they want

Resin keycaps

Resin is a viscous liquid that can be plant or plastic-based and is utilized to make polymers.

Resin keycaps have always been praised for their high degree of customization. Artisans can embed various elements like flowers, and glitter, or even meticulously 3D-paint something (character, landscape, etc) into the resin. This way, they create visually stunning and distinctive keycaps before filling the mold.

The game doesn't stop here! Resin keycaps often have a translucent or semi-transparent appearance, enabling light to shine through and enhancing the attractiveness of embedded parts or designs.

Most people come to artisan resin keycaps as they pursue the uniqueness and DIY-friendliness they offer. Yet, keep in mind that resin keycaps are often produced on a small scale since resin keycaps are individually handcrafted by artisans to become unique works of art.

If you are a fan of these unique works of art, don’t hesitate to take a look at Hirosart’s resin keycap collection, your gateway to meticulously handcrafted, customizable keycaps. Explore a diverse range of captivating designs, including enchanting creations like the Pokémon spacebar and the graceful Koi artisan keycaps, all available for worldwide shipping.

Artisan keycaps are often produced in limited quantities and can sell out quickly
Artisan keycaps are often produced in limited quantities and can sell out quickly

Our custom spacebar Pókemon keycap are available in SA and OEM profile (Source: Hirosart

Wooden keycaps

Wooden keycaps are made from various types of wood such as walnut, cherry, rosewood, or bamboo. They stand out from more common plastic keycaps with their natural aesthetic and organic feel to mechanical keyboards.

Although wood is long-lasting, it may not be as strong as PBT keycaps (can rot over time). As a result, artisans may apply different finishes or coatings to enhance the beauty of the wood and preserve it from wear.

Like resin keycaps, wooden keycaps have carved themselves a unique niche in the mechanical keyboard world, yet they are scarce and highly sought after by keyboard lovers.

Wooden keycaps add a rustic feel to your keyboard
Wooden keycaps add a rustic feel to your keyboard

Metal keycaps

Want maximum durability and luxurious appearance? Go for metal keycaps.

Metal keycaps are made from various types of metal such as aluminum, brass, stainless steel, zinc alloy, or titanium. They often have a polished or brushed finish

What may make you disappointed is that customization options for metal keycaps may be more limited due to the intricacy of the manufacturing process and the nature of metalworking.

Even so, you can make your keyboard an invincible warrior with this best high-end keycaps material.

Metal keycaps ensure an unbreakable typing experience over time
Metal keycaps ensure an unbreakable typing experience over time

How to choose the best keycap material for you?

To pick the best keycaps material for your fantastic builds, do not make a hasty decision and first take a moment to consider the following aspects.

Durability

Of course, no one wants to pay for a set of keycaps that are flimsy and easy to damage. If you're striving for utmost durability, PBT keycaps stand strong as your "stalwart pals". They defy wear and tear over time with legends lasting for years.

Other keycap materials, such as ABS and PVC are considered to be reasonably durable enough for regular use. However, you may need to consider purchasing new keycaps as they tend to wear and turn shiny after a period of use.

Typing Experience

Typing feel is a crucial factor when choosing the best keycaps material, as it directly influences your typing experience and comfort. ABS and POM keycaps are often described as slippery or smooth as glass, while PBT keycaps offer a more textured surface with a somewhat gritty or sandpaper-like feeling.

Ultimately, the typing experience is a subjective experience varying from person to person.

Each keycap material delivers unique typing experience
Each keycap material delivers unique typing experience

Customization options

If you want to add a personal touch to every click, then go for the best keycaps material allowing for a high degree of customization such as clay, or resin. These materials offer a world of artistic possibilities and creativity that other materials can't match. They are much like collectible items that anyone may treasure.

However, it doesn't mean ABS and PBT keycaps are boring. They are also available in more colors and even the most intricate designs with dye sublimation and double shot options.

Explore the world of custom keycaps to match your style and preferences, and check out our selection of the 15 best custom keycaps, starting from just $8.49, to enhance your typing experience today!

Aesthetics

Think about the aesthetics you want to achieve with your keyboard. PBT keycaps often offer more color stability, while ABS keycaps might develop a glossy shine over time.

If you desire to put true works of art into your keyboard, artisan clay and resin keycaps would be a go-to for a fancy build.

Artisan resin keycaps put your interests and styles into little corners of your keyboard
Artisan resin keycaps put your interests and styles into little corners of your keyboard

Sound Profile

The sound profile of keycaps can affect the overall typing experience. Some users find the audible feedback from ABS keycaps enhances their typing rhythm and provides a sense of confirmation with each key press. On the other hand, the muted sound of PBT keycaps can offer a more relaxed and calming typing experience, reducing the potential for distraction.

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Different Use Cases

If you are simply a typist, all the keycaps material here can serve you to the very end. But if you're looking for powerful warriors for intense battles, the high-quality PBT keycaps can cover each of your fingers during extended gaming sessions.

Moreover, for decoration purposes or to express your personality, handcrafted keycaps made from clay or resin will work best.

To choose the ideal keycap material, it's important to consider your intended uses (Source: Interstellar Resin Keycap by Hirosart)

Budget Considerations

Price is also an important consideration driving you to choose the best keycaps material that best fits your budget.

Here is the price list of some common keycaps material on the market in ascending order. We looked into the pricing of certain keycap materials on e-commerce sites like Amazon and Etsy.

Keycap Material Price Range

(Price as of August, 2023)

ABS keycaps $15 to $50

Higher-quality sets might go up to $100 or more.

PBT keycaps $20 to $130

Premium sets and custom designs going up to $150 or more.

POM keycaps $50 to $120
Metal keycaps $10 to $150
Resin keycaps $30 to $200

Depend on the designs (simple or complex)

Wooden keycaps $10 to $340

Personal Preferences

Ultimately, determining the best keycaps material is a subjective process that heavily relies on personal preferences. The mechanical keyboard community is diverse, and there is always the best keycaps material for every typist's taste.

Conclusion

The best keycaps material is essential for a delightful typing experience. ABS is affordable and customizable but less durable. PBT is stronger, with a premium feel but costlier. Other materials like polycarbonate, POM, PVC, clay, resin, wood, and metal offer unique features and aesthetics, transforming keyboards into heirloom treasures.

Regardless of your typing preferences and budget, you can craft your dream keyboard out of any of the materials mentioned above. Just take a moment to evaluate some key factors before buying a new set of keycaps, as they hold the power to make your typing journey a tale of joy and fascination.

FAQs

Does keycap material matter?

Yes. Keycap material does matter as it influences the feel, durability, aesthetics and customization of your keyboard and overall typing experience.

What is the most popular keycap material?

The most popular keycap material is ABS and PBT. ABS keycaps offer a smooth feel with high customization options. PBT keycaps are highly regarded for their durability, matte finish, and premium feel.

What is the cheapest keycap material?

The cheapest keycap material is ABS. ABS keycaps are commonly found in budget-friendly and entry-level; mechanical keyboards. They are an affordable option for those looking for basic customization and a smooth key feel.

What is the most expensive keycap material?

Artisan keycaps made from resin, clay, or other unique materials can be expensive, depending on their rarity and craftsmanship. These keycaps are considered collectible and are sought after by keyboard enthusiasts looking to add a touch of exclusivity to their mechanical keyboards. 

What is the most durable keycap material?

The most durable keycap material is metal. Metal keycaps are made from materials like aluminum, brass, stainless steel, or titanium, which can withstand heavy use and are less likely to develop wear, shine, or fade over time.

What is the best keycap material for gamers?

PBT keycaps are often favored by gamers who demand long-lasting performance. PBT keycaps are famous for their durability and textured surface with enhanced grip during intense gaming sessions. However, the best keycap material for gamers eventually comes down to individual preferences.

What is the best keycap material for typists?

The best keycap material for typists is a matter of personal choice. Some appreciate the longevity of PBT keycaps for forever performance while some love the smooth typing experience of ABS keycaps.

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