Which Keycap Material is the Best?


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If you’re a mechanical keyboard enthusiast, finding the best keyboard with top-notch keycaps made of the best possible material would be your goal for sure. But choosing the right keycap material can be quite difficult.

You might be wondering, which keycap material is better and which should I get? Well, that’s precisely what I’m here to tell you.

In this article, I’m going to talk about keycap materials, what types there are, how these keycap materials are molded, their features, pros, cons, and comparison to find out which one’s the best and which one you should get for your keyboard or in your next keyboard. So, make sure you read this article till the end before making a final buying decision.

Which Keycap Material is the Best?

What Are the Types of Keycap Materials?

Keycaps are square plastic buttons that we press on a keyboard to initiate a command. Different companies make their keycaps differently, and there are two popular keycap materials in use. So, which ones are these? Let’s take a look at these keycaps.

  • ABS – Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene
  • PBT – Polybutylene terephthalate

These materials are vastly different from molding processes to hardness, texture, printability, and many other features; these materials are vastly different, and both are commonly used in keyboards.

Keycap Printing Techniques

Before we delve deeply into detail of the two types of keycap materials, we must understand the different processes both keycap materials undergo for printing legends. Let’s take a look at these processes.

  • Dye-Sub – The legends are laser-etched onto the keycaps after molding and then filled with color using dye or other materials, making this process Dye-sublimation. This process allows for different colored images and legends which can’t be created through other processes.
  • Laser-Etching – In the Laser-Etching process, the keycaps are molded in a steel mold and then using a high-precision laser, the legends are imprinted onto the keycaps, usually for backlit keyboards.
  • Double-Shot – In this process of molding and printing, separate plastic material is taken and injected into the keycap mold to create a legend imprinted keycap right out of the mold, which is a great way of preservation.
  • Pad Printing – This is the cheapest way of printing legends because, in this type of printing, the legend ink is transferred to the surface of the keycap with a rubber pad. It is not durable and ultimately can chip off quite easily.

ABS Keycaps

ABS Keycaps are made with the ABS plastic material or more formally known as Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, making it a polymer of the three.

Each of the materials used to create ABS keycaps has its own distinct function. Styrene is the key component, while Butadiene is known for making it flexible, and finally, Acrylonitrile is responsible for hardening the material.

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So, in the end, what you get is a decent, commonly used, cheaper, and easier to produce keycap, which is the heart and soul of many popular keyboards in the market as of now.

PBT Keycaps

PBT Keycaps are the ones that are manufactured with the help of PBT plastic material which is Polybutylene Terephthalate, a material known for incredible durability and hardness.

PBT is considered more resilient than other types of plastic, even ABS, when it comes to melting point and chemical effects; however, it is created through quite a strenuous process.

This leads to PBT keycaps being expensive and which is exactly why you’re going to find PBT keycaps in fewer keyboards and most professional level gaming keyboards which are hard to get and expensive to buy for the common low-budget gamers.

Comparison: ABS vs PBT Keycaps

We know what ABS and PBT keycaps are all about, but how do these keycap materials stack against each other in terms of important factors; What makes one better than the other; That’s what our goal is, and that’s exactly what we’re going to find out by comparing ABS vs PBT keycaps over a series of determining factors and key considerations.

ComparisonWinner
TextureDepends on Preference
NoisePBT
DurabilityPBT
Legend ImprintingPBT
CostABS
Keycap ShinePBT
WeightABS
Look and FinishBoth Look Great

Texture

First off, we’re going to talk about the texture. In the case of ABS keycaps, you’re going to find them extremely smooth because of the molding process and melting point differences.

On the other hand, you’re going to find PBT keycaps a little grainy; they’re not as smooth as ABS keycaps, but the overall feel of the keypress is just right, and it feels super-good. Ultimately, it depends upon whether you’re a fan of smooth keys or keys that provide better grip.

Winner: It depends on which one you like better.

Noise

In terms of noise, though, there’s a drastic difference between both the keycap materials. The ABS plastic keycaps make a thicker and louder sound when they’re pressed.

However, PBT keycaps are silent and produce less noise in comparison to ABS keycaps. This can prove better if you’re using your keyboard in a full where someone’s sleeping or in an office setting where you don’t want to disturb other people’s peace.

Winner: PBT Keycaps.

Durability

As I said before, PBT keycaps are known for their extreme durability. If you get PBT keycaps, they’re most likely to be longer lasting than any other plastic keycaps in the market, which makes them a great choice for you.

Although they seem hard and tough, ABS keycaps wear out much quicker than PBT keycaps, which is why they’re not the best option for you if you’re looking for a keycap that will last a long while before you need another pack.

Winner: PBT Keycaps.

Legend Imprinting

The legends imprinted on an ABS keycap are more likely to seem rough and even fade away after prolonged usage, which I dislike about ABS keycaps. I believe other keyboard enthusiasts do too.

But in the case of PBT keycaps, the legend imprints feel smooth, look better, and do not fade away even after long usage, which is a great thing because legends fading away would take away from the aesthetics of the keycap, and we surely wouldn’t want that to happen.

Winner: PBT Keycaps.

Cost

This is one factor that I believe ABS keycaps have PBT keycaps bested by a long margin. ABS keycaps can be found commonly at low prices on their own as well as in mechanical keyboards.

On the other hand, PBT keycaps on their own are super expensive due to their difficult molding and creation process and the durability and demand for them. That’s why they’re mostly used in keyboards that are either made for luxury or professional e-sports.

Winner: ABS Keycaps.

Keycap Shine

This is a proper problem that many gamers have faced because gaming is a proper sport that takes a long time to get fun out of, and in that time, we can end up eating greasy foods to gain our energy.

On the smooth ABS keycaps, oil and grease can leave a keycap shine that makes keycaps weird and oily when you touch them, whereas the same is not the case with PBT keycaps keycap shine-free.

Winner: PBT Keycaps.

Weight

We know the creation and molding process of both keycap materials is the same but which one’s heavier; At the end of the day, weight does matter when using 87 or 104 of the same kind of keys.

Due to the harder and more durable consistency, PBT keycaps are significantly heavier compared to ABS keycaps, which are quite light and easy to move around.

Winner: ABS Keycaps.

Look and Finish

Ultimately, what it all boils down to, is the aesthetic look and finish of the keycap materials. I have to say both the materials look pretty good if your keyboard is neatly designed.

But if you get a bit closer, PBT keycaps have a better look and finer finish than ABS keycaps which is why I believe that they’re more expensive and why they’re generally higher-end than ABS plastic keycaps.

Which One is Better Overall?

Both ABS and PBT keycaps have their pros and cons, but if you ask me, I’d say the clear winner in terms of features and determining factors is PBT plastic material. It might be expensive, but in the long run, it will be worth the investment.

That doesn’t mean that ABS is bad, though. ABS is good, and if you’re starting with gaming keyboards, ABS might be a good option on a low-budget, but ultimately, you should switch to PBT keycaps; you’ll definitely thank me!

Conclusion

When choosing the right mechanical keyboard, one important decision is to decide on the material of the keycaps. The material plays a major role in determining the longevity of your keyboard.  

The material of the keycaps on your keyboard is very crucial in the long run. From spill damages to legend fading, keycap breaking, lesser durability, and many other problems can occur if you choose the wrong keycaps. We need to make sure we avoid this and get the best features possible.

So, always make sure you make the right choice when getting keycaps for your keyboard or getting a brand-new keyboard with the keycaps you want. I hope you have an incredible keyboarding experience!

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