Mechanical keyboards have seen a surge in popularity among typists and gamers who want a more tactile and responsive typing experience. One of the most important customization options for mechanical keyboards is replacing the default keycaps with higher quality aftermarket ones. But when looking at all the keycap sets available, one of the first decisions is whether to go with PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) or ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic. They both have their own advantages and disadvantages that are important to weigh.
The Durability Advantage of PBT
One of the main benefits of PBT plastic is its durability. It has a higher resilience to wear, abrasion, and chemicals. Unlike ABS which will develop a smooth, shiny surface over time with daily use, PBT retains its textured matte finish even after years of heavy typing. This resistance to “shining” makes it perfect for keyboard enthusiasts who want their keycaps to last. The thick construction of most PBT keysets also contributes to their long lifespan.
Texture and Sound Differences
PBT has a natural texture that ABS lacks, providing a grainy feel reminiscent of sandstone. This textured surface helps fingers grip the keys better and not slide around as much. The rougher feel also produces a lower-pitched sound signature when typing. Some prefer the deep thock of PBT while others like the sharper clack of ABS keycaps. It comes down to personal preference, but both offer auditory and tactile feedback.
Better Colorfastness in PBT Keycaps
The dye-sublimation printing process used to apply legends onto most PBT keycaps has an advantage when it comes to colorfastness. Because the dye infuses into the plastic, the legends don’t wear away from extensive use. And the base plastic color remains vibrant and resistant to fading or yellowing over time. ABS keycaps are more likely to experience discoloration after prolonged use.
Customization and Cost Considerations
When it comes to custom legending, ABS does have some advantages over PBT. Doubleshot ABS keycaps allow for translucent characters and complex color combinations. But thick PBT keycap sets with quality dye-sublimation legends have greatly closed this gap in recent years. The cost difference between quality keysets of each type has also narrowed. Though PBT still carries a slight premium, the investment is worth it for many looking for durable long-lasting keycaps.
In summary, while ABS plastic allows for more customization options, PBT delivers on resilience and retains a like-new look and feel even after thousands of hours of use. For most keyboard enthusiasts prioritizing longevity, PBT is the best choice. But the needs of specific users may make ABS the better option in some cases. Evaluate each material’s pros and cons against your priorities to decide which keycap plastic fits your needs.