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ABS vs PBT Keycaps: Which one should you pick?

While most users think that switches are the most important part of their typing experience, keycaps are equally important. The way a keycap is designed can fundamentally change the entire feel and tactile feedback of the same switch. 

In this article, we’re going over two of the most popular keycap variants, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT) to help you decide what switches you need to pick up. 

Also read: How to clean a mechanical keyboard?

ABS vs PBT: an in-depth look

Weight

Weight is probably the most impactful thing when it comes to picking keycaps. The heavier a keycap, the smoother the response. 

Since ABS keycaps are hollow in construction, they often tend to be almost half as lightweight as PBT ones. If you decide on a smoother response, PBT is the way to go but be sure to give ABS a try as well.

Key Shine

In relation to the point above, key shine is also something you need to think about when picking a keycap. As you type more and more, your fingers leave oil deposits on your keys which gives them a shiny, slippery feel.

ABS vs PBT Keycaps: Which one should you pick?
PBT Keycaps are pretty much immune to key shine

However, this only occurs with ABS keycaps. PBT keycaps, for the most part, are immune to this issue and tend to maintain their even surfaces even after prolonged use.

Durability

PBT is the clear winner here. Owing to their sturdier build, PBT keycaps tend to last a lot longer than their ABS counterparts.

Also, if you’re into DIY dying, PBT is the way to go as more durable plastics are easier when it comes to applying ink. 

Noise

Some people like it, some hate it, it’s largely down to personal preference. Aforementioned, since ABS is hollow, it produces a hollow sound hence contributing to a more clicky noise. 

PBT is a bit on the silent side. Combined with the right type of mechanical switch you can pick either depending upon what you prefer. 

Melting point 

This might seem irrelevant, but this is an important factor in the construction process of each keycap.

ABS has a lower melting point at around a 105° C while PBT melts at a significantly higher 225° C. This basically makes PBT keycaps a bit more expensive as they need more energy to be moulded. 

RedGear MK-881 Mechanical Keyboard review: The best in class?
.These keycaps are ABS The ‘Z’ key here got warped by a hot fairy lights

On the other hand, this higher melting point makes it easy to ink PBT plastic so if you’re into DIY inking, you should opt for PBT.  Be warned though, they take longer to cool down which increases chances of the plastic warping. 

ABS, even though has a lower melting point, is still fine to use in everyday scenarios so it really comes down to personal preference or whether you’re planning to stick your keycaps in an oven.

Double Shot keycaps

Double shot keycaps are made by moulding two plastics into each other. This results in keycaps whose legends don’t really fade away or lighten. You don’t even feel the legend as you type.

Double shot keycaps that are made with ABS tend to become shiny after overtime while PBT stays the same. The only difference here is that ABS keycaps are easier to manufacture and hence, cheaper. 

Also read: Keyboards and wrist rest: A writer’s guide to comfortable typing

So which one should you pick?

ABS is clickier, lighter and cheap while PBT is sturdier, a bit more silent and will last you longer while coming at a premium,

KeycapsProsCons
ABS Keycaps> Cheap;
> Easily Available;
> Becomes shiny after prolonged use;
> Weaker in construction as compared to PBT;
PBT Keycaps> Shine resistant;
> Durable;
> Better for Double Shot keycaps;
> Expensive;
> Availability might be scarce ;

The choice here really comes down to personal preference and whether or not you’re looking forward to inking your keycaps yourself. However, if your everyday use doesn’t involve heavy keyboard bashing (or even with it), you’ll do just fine with ABS.

Also read: Top 7 wireless mechanical keyboards

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