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ABS vs PBT Keycaps: An In-Depth Comparison

As a mechanical keyboard enthusiast, one of the most important customization options is your keycaps. Beyond choosing an aesthetically pleasing colorway and profile, understanding the core materials of keycaps – ABS and PBT – can ensure you get the right tactile feel and durability.

In this guide, we’ll break down the key differences between ABS and PBT keycaps across a range of factors. Read on to determine which material matches your budget, preferred typing sound and feel, and long term durability needs.

What Are ABS and PBT Keycaps?

First, a quick definition of each material:

ABS keycaps are made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a common thermoplastic polymer used across industries from car parts to toys to keyboards. The material is relatively affordable and easy to manufacture in custom colors and finishes.

PBT keycaps use a more premium plastic called polybutylene terephthalate. PBT starts as a granular powder that is melted and injection molded into keycaps. It has higher dimensional stability as it resists warping and shrinkage.

Now that we know the core materials, let’s look at how they differ when crafted into keycaps for your mechanical keyboard.

Key Differences Between ABS and PBT Keycaps

Texture and Feel

ABS keycaps tend to have a smooth, almost glossy finish. In contrast, PBT has a textured, grainy feel reminiscent of sandpaper. PBT’s textured finish helps your fingers grip and provides a more tactile sensation under your fingertips.

Sound Profile

In general, PBT keycaps provide more audible feedback and are louder than ABS keycaps when typed on. This can enhance the satisfying “click clack” of a mechanical keyboard.


Due to the intrinsic properties of the materials, PBT stands up better against oils from your fingers, environmental elements, and long term use. PBT keycaps maintain their original coloring and sculpted shape substantially longer than ABS.


As a rule, PBT keycaps cost more than comparable ABS sets. This reflects both scarcity of material and higher manufacturing costs. However, the investment in PBT pays dividends down the road with extended lifespan retaining a “like new” quality.

Types of Keycaps Available

You’ll encounter a few main methods used to manufacture keycaps suitable for backlit and non-backlit keyboards:

Doubleshot keycaps use a two step injection molding process, usually with ABS plastic. This permanently fuses the outer keycap with a secondary inner piece to form the legend.

Dye sublimated keycaps start with a solid color keycap, then use a heat printing process to bond the legend color into the surface. PBT dye sublimated sets stand up extremely well over time.

Shine through or “pudding” style keycaps work well for RGB keyboards, as the dual layers include a translucent base to radiate illumination.

Which Should You Choose – ABS or PBT Keycaps?

Now that you understand the core differences, should you choose ABS or PBT for your next keyboard? Here are some guidelines:

  • ABS tends to work well for budget builds, starter keyboards, and office peripherals focused more on affordability than enthusiast specs. They still allow fun customization.

  • PBT is the preferred choice for mechanical keyboard enthusiasts, hardcore gamers, and those typing for many hours per day. The durable construction and textured finish make them well suited for high volume typing over an extended product lifespan.

Within those recommendations, you can fine tune based on preferred sound profile, backlighting needs, and desired aesthetics like color and font style. Both ABS and PBT are widely available in a range of designer sets to match your keyboard setup. PBT does come at a higher initial cost, but pays back over years of like-new performance.

Final Thoughts

Choosing between ABS and PBT keycaps depends on your budget, typing requirements, and keyboard priorities – whether that’s custom aesthetics, durability for high volume use, or premium typing sound and feel.

Use this guide to hone in on the right material for your needs. And as always, the enthusiasts at your favorite keyboard forums and subreddits can also provide personalized recommendations.

Happy typing!