ABS vs PBT Keycaps: Which Is Better?

July 28, 2023

Mechanical keyboards have become a popular choice among enthusiasts and professionals alike, revolutionizing the way we interact with our computers. While the mechanical switches inside these keyboards are the heart of their tactile experience, keycaps play an equally vital role in enhancing typing comfort, durability, and aesthetics.

The importance of keycaps lies in their ability to transform a simple typing device into a personalized and efficient tool tailored to each user's preferences. As we delve into the world of keycaps, we discover that different materials, textures, and designs significantly impact the overall typing experience and even influence the lifespan of the keyboard.

In this article, we will explore two commonly used keycap materials: ABS and PBT. We will analyze their unique properties and advantages. By understanding the distinctions between these materials, users can make an informed decision when selecting keycaps for their mechanical keyboards, ensuring a truly enjoyable and customized typing experience.

What are Keycaps?

Keycaps are the individual caps that cover the top of each key on a mechanical keyboard. They are essential components that serve as the interface between the user and the keyboard's mechanical switches. When a key is pressed, the keycap physically moves downward, actuating the switch underneath. This action registers the keystroke and sends the corresponding input to the computer.

Keycaps come in various shapes, sizes, and materials, and they play a crucial role in determining the overall typing experience. Different keycap profiles offer different ergonomic designs to accommodate various typing styles and preferences. Some keycaps may have unique legends (letters or symbols) printed on them to indicate the key's function, while others may be blank or customizable for personalization.

Mechanical keyboards are highly customizable, and changing mechanical keyboard keycaps is a popular way for keyboard enthusiasts to enhance the aesthetics and feel of their keyboards. Keycap sets can be purchased separately, allowing users to mix and match different colors, materials, and profiles to create a unique and personalized typing experience.

What are ABS Keycaps?

ABS keycaps are keycaps made from a material called Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). ABS plastic is a common thermoplastic used in various industries, including consumer electronics and keyboard manufacturing. ABS keycaps have been widely used in mechanical keyboards for many years due to their affordability and ease of manufacturing.

Advantages of ABS Keycaps?

ABS keycaps offer several advantages that make them a popular choice for many mechanical keyboard users:

  1. Affordable: One of the significant advantages of ABS keycaps is their cost-effectiveness. ABS is a relatively inexpensive thermoplastic, making ABS keycap sets more budget-friendly compared to some other materials like PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate).
  2. Vibrant Color Options: ABS keycaps can be easily manufactured in a wide range of vibrant colors. This makes them an excellent choice for users who enjoy colorful and visually appealing keyboard designs. Keycap sets with various color combinations are readily available, allowing users to create personalized and eye-catching keyboard aesthetics.
  3. Smooth and Glossy Texture: Keycaps made of ABS plastic have a smooth and glossy surface, which some users find appealing. The smooth texture allows their fingers to glide more easily across the keys, potentially enhancing typing speed and comfort for certain individuals.
  4. Easy Customization: Due to the ability to retain vibrant colors and the ease of manufacturing, ABS keycaps often are used in custom keycap sets. Keyboard enthusiasts can easily find and customize quality ABS keycaps in various styles, colors, and legends to match their preferences and create a unique look for their mechanical keyboards.
  5. Rapid Manufacturing: The manufacturing process for ABS keycaps is well-established and efficient, allowing for faster production and quicker availability of new keycap designs in the market.
  6. Lightweight: ABS is a lightweight material, which ensures that the overall weight of the keyboard remains relatively low. This characteristic can be advantageous for users who prefer a more portable or lightweight mechanical keyboard.

Disadvantages of ABS Keycaps

While ABS keycaps have these advantages, it's essential to consider that they also have some drawbacks.

  1. Wear and Shine: One of the significant drawbacks of ABS keycaps is that they are prone to wear and shine over time. With extended use, the smooth and glossy surface of ABS keycaps can become polished and develop a shiny appearance. This shine can affect the overall aesthetics of the keyboard and may make legends (letters and symbols) harder to read.
  2. Less Durable: Because ABS is a softer kind of plastic, ABS keycaps are not as durable as some other keycap materials like PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate). ABS keycaps are more susceptible to developing hairline cracks or becoming brittle with heavy use.
  3. Legend Fading: The legends on ABS caps may fade over time, especially with exposure to UV light or frequent cleaning. As the legends fade, it can become challenging to identify the key functions.
  4. Chemical Sensitivity: ABS is sensitive to certain chemicals, which means that some cleaning agents or solvents can potentially damage the keycaps. Users must be cautious when cleaning ABS keycaps to avoid using harsh chemicals that could lead to discoloration or other forms of damage.
  5. Smell during Manufacturing: Newly manufactured ABS keycaps can emit a noticeable chemical smell, often referred to as "outgassing." While this odor typically dissipates over time, some users may find it unpleasant, especially during the initial use of the keycaps.
  6. Limited Texture Options: ABS keycaps generally have a smooth and glossy texture. If users prefer a more textured and matte feel for better grip during typing, they may need to consider alternative keycap materials like PBT.
  7. Environmental Impact: ABS is a type of plastic, and its production and disposal can have environmental implications. Some users may prioritize eco-friendly alternatives when choosing keycap materials.

What are PBT keycaps?

PBT, on the other hand, is a high-quality plastic used in keycap manufacturing, bringing a textured and matte feel to the keycaps. PBT keycaps are known for their durability and resistance to wear and fading. They are less common and more expensive to produce compared to ABS keycaps.

PBT keycaps are usually thicker and more rigid, giving them a solid and substantial feel. Additionally, PBT keycaps have a different sound when typing, slightly louder but crisper. They are also compatible with mechanical switches and key switches.

Moreover, PBT keycaps are suitable for those who prefer RGB lighting as they allow the light to shine through the legends. Overall, PBT keycaps offer a premium feel and are a popular choice among enthusiasts seeking high-quality keycaps.

What is PBT?

PBT keycaps are a type of keycap made from a material called Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT). As a material for keycaps, PBT is a thermoplastic known for its durability, high heat resistance, and excellent mechanical properties. This makes PBT keycaps superior to ABS in several ways. They are popular keycaps for keyboards.

Advantages of PBT Keycaps

PBT keycaps are favored by users who prioritize durability, resistance to shine, a textured typing experience, and stable legends.

  1. Durability: PBT keycaps make great keycaps for heavy typists because they are highly durable and resistant to wear, making them ideal for extended use. Because they are thicker than ABS keycaps, they are less likely to develop hairline cracks or become brittle.
  2. Resistance to Shine: One of the standout features of PBT keycaps is their resistance to shine. With prolonged use, ABS keycaps tend to develop a polished appearance on frequently used keys, which can impact the overall aesthetics and make legends harder to read. PBT keycaps maintain their original matte finish even after extensive typing sessions, preserving the keyboard's appearance.
  3. Texture and Feel: PBT keycaps typically have a textured and matte surface, providing a more tactile and grippy feel during typing. Because they're more textured than ABS keycaps, they enhance the overall typing experience, especially for users who prefer a bit of resistance and enjoy a satisfying touch while typing.
  4. Legends Stability: The legends (letters and symbols) on PBT keycaps are more stable and less prone to fading compared to ABS keycaps. The legends remain readable for an extended period, ensuring that the key labels stay clear and easily identifiable.
  5. Sound Dampening: PBT keycaps sound quieter. They produce a slightly lower-pitched sound during typing compared to ABS keycaps. The reduced noise can be appealing to users who value a quieter typing experience, particularly in shared or quiet environments.
  6. Chemical Resistance: PBT is more chemically resistant than ABS, making PBT keycaps less susceptible to damage from cleaning agents or solvents used during maintenance. They are also more heat resistant than ABS keycaps.
  7. Customization Options: While PBT keycaps may have fewer vibrant color options compared to ABS, they are still available in a variety of colors and designs. Additionally, custom PBT keycap sets are widely available, allowing users to personalize their keyboards with different color combinations and legends.
  8. Longevity: Due to their durability and resistance to wear, PBT keycaps tend to have a longer lifespan compared to ABS keycaps. This makes them an excellent investment for users seeking long-lasting keycaps.

What is PBT?

While PBT keycaps offer numerous advantages, they also have some disadvantages that users should consider when choosing keycaps for their mechanical keyboards:

  1. Cost: PBT keycaps are typically more expensive to manufacture than ABS keycaps. As a result, PBT keycap sets are more expensive compared to ABS keycap sets.
  2. Limited Color Options: Although PBT keycaps come in a variety of colors and designs, they may have fewer vibrant color options compared to ABS keycaps. Users looking for specific and striking color combinations for their keyboards may find a more extensive selection in ABS keycaps.
  3. Lower Vibrancy and Color Retention: While PBT keycaps are available in different colors, they may not retain the same level of vibrancy as ABS keycaps. The matte texture of PBT can make colors appear slightly muted or less vivid, which may be a factor for users seeking highly saturated colors.
  4. Slower Manufacturing Process: The PBT manufacturing process for keycaps can be more time-consuming compared to ABS keycaps. This slower production rate might lead to occasional delays in the availability of specific PBT keycap designs or sets.
  5. Stability with Legends Printing: PBT keycaps are much more challenging to work with when it comes to printing legends (letters and symbols) on the keycaps. Achieving sharp and precise legends on PBT can be more complex, potentially leading to less consistent printing quality on some keycap sets.
  6. Weight: Due to their density, PBT keycaps can add slightly more weight to the overall keyboard build compared to ABS keycaps. While the weight difference may not be significant, it might be a consideration for users who prefer a lighter keyboard.

Ideal Uses: ABS vs PBT Keycaps

The choice between PBT and ABS keycaps depends on various factors including individual preferences, typing habits, and budget. Both materials have their strengths and weaknesses, making them suitable for different use cases:

Ideal Uses for ABS Keycaps 

  1. Budget-Friendly Builds: ABS keycaps are generally more affordable to manufacture, which makes them an ideal choice for users on a budget. If cost is a primary concern, ABS keycaps can offer a colorful and visually appealing option without breaking the bank.
  2. Customization: ABS keycaps are commonly used in custom keycap sets due to their ability to retain vibrant colors and ease of manufacturing. Users who want to create personalized and unique keyboard aesthetics with various color combinations and legends may find ABS keycaps more suitable for their customization needs.
  3. Smooth Typing Experience: Some users prefer the smooth and glossy texture of ABS keycaps, which allows their fingers to glide easily across the keys. If a smooth typing experience is a priority, ABS keycaps might be the preferred choice.
  4. Lightweight Builds: ABS is a lightweight material, making ABS keycaps suitable for users who prefer more portable or lightweight mechanical keyboards.

Ideal Uses for PBT Keycaps

  1. Durability and Longevity: PBT keycaps are highly durable and resistant to wear, making them an excellent choice for users who prioritize keycap longevity and want a set of keycaps that can withstand heavy use and typing over extended periods.
  2. Resistance to Shine: PBT keycaps maintain their original matte finish even with prolonged use, avoiding the issue of shine that often occurs with ABS keycaps. Users who desire a clean and consistent appearance on their keycaps will benefit from PBT's resistance to shine.
  3. Enhanced Typing Experience: The textured and matte surface of PBT keycaps provides a more tactile and grippy feel during typing. Users who enjoy a satisfying touch and a bit of resistance while typing may prefer PBT keycaps.
  4. Stable Legends and Legibility: PBT keycaps have stable legends that are less likely to fade over time compared to ABS keycaps. Users who want clear and readable legends for an extended period will find PBT keycaps advantageous.

What are Double Shot Keycaps?

Double shot keycaps are made of either PBT or ABS. Double-shot is a type of keycap manufacturing process used to create legends (letters and symbols) on the keycaps. The term "double shot" refers to the two-step molding process involved in making these keycaps. The result is a keycap with legends that are physically molded from two different colors of plastic, creating a durable and long-lasting design that won't wear off or fade over time.

Here's how the double shot keycap manufacturing process works:

  1. First Shot: The base of the keycap is molded using one color of plastic, typically a lighter color. This forms the outer shell of the keycap.
  2. Second Shot: A different color of plastic, usually a darker color, is molded to fill in the cavity of the legends on top of the base keycap. This forms the legends, which are a different color than the rest of the keycap.

Since the legends are physically molded into the keycap during the manufacturing process, they are part of the keycap itself and not simply printed or painted on the surface. This makes double shot keycaps highly durable and resistant to wear, ensuring that the legends remain clear and visible even after extended use.

Double shot keycaps are popular among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts and gamers who want keycaps with long-lasting and vibrant legends. They are known for their high-quality construction and the ability to maintain their appearance and readability over time.

What are Pudding Keycaps?

Pudding keycaps are a type of keycap design that features a unique two-tone translucent design, resembling the appearance of a pudding. The keycaps are made from a combination of opaque plastic and translucent plastic, creating a distinct look where the legends (letters and symbols) appear to float above the keycap surface.

The key features of pudding keycaps include:

  1. Translucent Legends: The legends on pudding keycaps are made from translucent plastic, allowing the RGB backlighting of the mechanical keyboard to shine through the keycap, illuminating the legends. This creates a visually striking effect.
  2. Opaque Keycap Body: The body of the pudding keycap is made from opaque plastic, which provides a solid background for the translucent legends. The opaque body can come in various colors, providing a contrast to the legends.
  3. Double Shot Design: Pudding keycaps are typically double shot keycaps, where the legends are molded into the keycap using the double shot manufacturing process. This ensures that the legends are durable and resistant to wear.
  4. Enhanced RGB Aesthetics: Pudding keycaps are particularly popular among users who enjoy the visual aesthetics of RGB backlighting on their mechanical keyboards. The translucent legends allow for vibrant and colorful lighting effects to shine through, enhancing the overall RGB experience.

Note that the term "pudding keycaps" does not refer to a specific keycap material like PBT or ABS but rather to the unique two-tone translucent design. Pudding keycaps can be made from different keycap materials, and they are compatible with most mechanical keyboard switches.

Tips for Buying Keycaps

Buying keycaps for your mechanical keyboard can be an exciting process, but there are a few important factors to consider to ensure you get the best keycaps that suit your preferences and needs.

  1. Keycap Material: Consider the material of the keycaps such as ABS or PBT. ABS keycaps are smoother and glossy. PBT keycaps have a textured and matte feel and are more durable than ABS keycaps.
  2. Profile: Keycaps come in various profiles, such as OEM, Cherry, SA, and DSA. Each profile offers a different shape and height, which can impact the typing experience. Research and try out different profiles to find the one most comfortable for you.
  3. Compatibility: Ensure that the keycap set you are interested in is compatible with your mechanical keyboard's layout and switch type. Some keyboards have non-standard layouts, so double-check the keycap set's compatibility before purchasing.
  4. Keycap Legends: Decide if you prefer keycaps with printed legends, blank keycaps, or keycaps with translucent legends for RGB backlighting. Printed legends provide visual guidance for key functions, while blank keycaps offer a clean and minimalist look.
  5. Customization Options: If you enjoy customizing your keyboard, look for keycap sets that allow you to mix and match different colors, legends, and designs. Double-shot PBT or ABS keycaps are particularly great for this as the legends won't wear off over time.
  6. Quality and Brand: Look for reputable keycap manufacturers or brands known for their quality and craftsmanship. Read reviews and seek recommendations from other mechanical keyboard enthusiasts to ensure you're getting a reliable product.
  7. Budget: Set a budget for your keycap purchase. Prices can vary significantly depending on the material, profile, and customization options. Determine how much you're willing to spend and explore keycap sets within your price range. As a rule of thumb, PBT keycaps are generally more expensive than ABS keycaps.
  8. Availability: Some keycap sets may be limited edition or produced in small quantities. If you have your eye on a particular set, be mindful of its availability and consider making the purchase sooner rather than later.
  9. Group Buys and Pre-orders: Keep an eye out for group buys or pre-orders as these can offer unique, exclusive, and custom keycaps at more affordable prices. However, be prepared for longer wait times as they might take time to be manufactured and delivered.
  10. Seller Reputation: If you're buying keycaps from a third-party seller or marketplace, ensure they have a good reputation and positive reviews from previous customers.

Where to Buy ABS and PBT Keycaps?

You can buy ABS and PBT keycaps from various online and offline sources. Here are some popular places where you can find these keycap sets:

  1. Online Retailers: Websites like Amazon, Newegg, and MechanicalKeyboards.com offer a wide selection of keycap sets, including both ABS and PBT options. These platforms provide user reviews and ratings to help you make informed choices.
  2. Specialized Mechanical Keyboard Stores: Online stores that specialize in mechanical keyboards and accessories often carry a broad range of keycap sets, including high-quality ABS and PBT keycaps. Examples include Drop (formerly Massdrop) and Originative Co.
  3. Group Buys and Pre-orders: Keep an eye on group buy websites and forums like Geekhack and Reddit's Mechanical Keyboards community. Group buys and pre-orders allow you to participate in limited-run keycap sets that may not be available elsewhere.
  4. Keycap Manufacturers' Websites: Some keycap manufacturers, such as Signature Plastics (Pimp My Keyboard) and MaxKeyboards, sell their keycap sets directly through their websites.
  5. Custom Keycap Artisans: For unique and handcrafted keycap designs, you can explore custom artisans. Websites like Etsy and r/mechmarket on Reddit are good places to find custom keycap makers.
  6. Mechanical Keyboard Enthusiast Forums: Online forums and communities dedicated to mechanical keyboards often have classifieds sections where members buy, sell, and trade keycap sets. r/mechmarket on Reddit is one such active marketplace.
  7. Brick-and-Mortar Stores: Some specialty electronics or computer stores may carry mechanical keyboards and accessories, including keycap sets. However, the selection may be more limited compared to online retailers.
  8. Keyboard Enthusiast Conventions and Meetups: If you attend keyboard enthusiast events, conventions, or meetups, you might find vendors and sellers offering keycap sets for purchase.


When it comes to choosing between ABS and PBT keycaps, it ultimately boils down to personal preference. ABS keycaps are cheaper, more common, and offer a smooth feel, but they tend to wear down and fade over time.

On the other hand, PBT keycaps are known for their higher quality, durability, and textured matte feel. They are also more resistant to deterioration.

Consider your priorities and preferences to determine which keycaps are best for you. Happy typing!

Erickson, a certified Interior Designer and Ergonomist, has cultivated a unique career blending aesthetics, functionality, and well-being. Holding a Bachelor's degree in Interior Designfrom a prestigious institution, Erickson is well-versed in creating spaces that are both visually pleasing and conducive to human comfort and health.
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