Different Mechanical Keyboard Keycap Materials: The Durability Test

March 15, 2024

As a savvy keyboard user, you're probably aware that keycaps can vary significantly. For example, the widely used and budget-friendly ABS keycaps tend to wear out more quickly. Robust and textured PBT keycaps are more enduring, albeit a tad pricier. 

Yet, there are still other types of keycap materials that can help determine your gaming and typing comfort, efficiency, and enjoyment.

We'll put these materials through a durability assessment in this article.

What are Common Materials Used in Making Mechanical Keyboard Keycaps?

Do you want to customize your mechanical gaming keyboard with new keycaps? Two materials are most commonly used in manufacturing keycaps: ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate). Each has its unique characteristics and benefits.

But do you know there are materials other than ABS and PBT plastic? 

  1. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
    • Characteristics: Smooth and shiny surface, cost-effective, versatile for printing techniques
    • Pros: Cost-effective, versatile printing, widely available
    • Cons: Less durable, prone to wear, can develop a shiny appearance over time
  2. PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate)
    • Characteristics: Textured and matte surface, durable, resistant to wear, thickness
    • Pros: High durability, resistant to wear, resistant to shine, comfortable texture
    • Cons: Limited availability, higher cost in some cases
  3. POM (Polyoxymethylene)
    • Characteristics: Smooth surface, high durability, resistance to wear
    • Pros: High durability, resistance to wear
    • Cons: Limited availability, can be more expensive
  4. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
    • Characteristics: Smooth surface, cost-effective
    • Pros: Cost-effective
    • Cons: Less durable, may develop a shiny appearance over time
  5. PC (Polycarbonate)
    • Characteristics: Transparent or translucent appearance, smooth surface
    • Pros: Unique aesthetics, smooth surface
    • Cons: Less common, may not be as durable as some other materials
  6. PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene)
    • Characteristics: Low friction, smooth surface
    • Pros: Low friction, smooth surface
    • Cons: Limited availability, may not be as durable
  7. Metal (Aluminum, Zinc Alloy, etc.)
    • Characteristics: Solid and heavy feel, often used for artisan keycaps
    • Pros: Aesthetic variety, premium feel
    • Cons: Limited availability, can be expensive
  8. Wood
    • Characteristics: Unique aesthetics, natural feel
    • Pros: Unique appearance, natural feel
    • Cons: Limited availability, may require special care
  9. Silicone/Rubber:
    • Characteristics: Soft and flexible, often used for dampening or custom applications
    • Pros: Soft touch, dampening properties
    • Cons: Limited use for full keycap sets, may not provide a traditional typing feel

Which Keycaps are the Most Durable

a close-up of a mechanical keyboard

A good-quality mechanical keyboard is a significant investment. Thus, if you're planning on customizing your keyboard by replacing the stock keycaps,  you would want to know which are the most durable.

PBT keycaps are generally considered the most durable. They exhibit superior resistance to wear, chipping, and the development of a shiny or greasy appearance over time. 

ABS keycaps, on the other hand, are less durable compared to PBT. ABS is more prone to wear, chipping, and developing a shiny surface with prolonged use. While ABS keycaps are still widely used and can provide a smooth typing experience, they may not maintain their original appearance as well as PBT keycaps over time.

What about other keycap materials? Let's check them out.

  1. POM
    • Durability: POM keycaps are durable and resistant to wear, providing longevity
    • Texture: POM keycaps generally have a smooth surface similar to ABS
    • Availability: Less common than ABS and PBT, but they can be found in high-end or specialized keyboards
  2. PVC
    • Durability: PVC is less commonly used for keycaps due to its lower durability
    • Texture: PVC keycaps may have a smooth or slightly textured surface.
    • Availability: Not as widely used in mechanical keyboards as ABS or PBT
  3. PC
    • Durability: Polycarbonate keycaps are durable and resistant to wear.
    • Texture: PC keycaps can have a smooth or textured surface, depending on the manufacturing process.
    • Availability: Less common than ABS or PBT but can be found in certain mechanical keyboards
  4. PTFE
    • Durability: PTFE keycaps are known for their low friction and chemical resistance but may not be common due to challenges in manufacturing.
    • Texture: PTFE keycaps often have a smooth surface.
    • Availability: Less common, and production may be limited due to material properties.
  5. Metal
    • Durability: Metal keycaps, commonly made of aluminum or zinc alloy, are highly durable and resistant to wear.
    • Texture: Metal keycaps may have a smooth or textured surface, depending on the design.
    • Availability: Metal keycaps are popular in the enthusiast community and are often used for specific keys rather than entire keycap sets.
  6. Wood
    • Durability: Wood keycaps are not as durable as plastic or metal options and may be susceptible to wear.
    • Texture: Wood keycaps have a unique natural texture and appearance.
    • Availability: Wood keycaps are less common and are often considered decorative or for niche applications.
  7. Silicone/Rubber
    • Durability: Silicone or rubber keycaps are flexible and durable, but they may wear out more quickly than most other materials
    • Texture: Soft and typically smooth, providing a different feel than hard plastic keycaps
    • Availability: More common in specialized applications, such as industrial or medical keyboards

Keycap Use Cases

For many gamers, the texture and response rate of the keycap are important. ABS keycaps, with their smooth and lightweight characteristics, can offer gamers an advantage when every fraction of a second is crucial. They're gentle on the fingers, which reduces fatigue during extended gaming bouts.

For those engaged in coding and typing, PBT keycaps are ideal. With their durability, you can go for long coding and typing sessions for many years. Their textured surface also makes them pleasant to type on while enhancing your accuracy through their feel.

Here are potential use cases for keycaps made from different materials:

  1. POM: POM keycaps may be used in high-end mechanical keyboards for industrial or professional settings.
  2. PVC: PVC keycaps can be used in more affordable or entry-level mechanical keyboards due to their cost-effectiveness. PVC keycaps may be suitable for keyboards used in less demanding environments.
  3. PC: PC keycaps might be used in high-end or premium mechanical keyboards. Being translucent, these keycaps are ideal for keyboards with backlighting to create visually appealing effects.
  4. PTFE: PTFE's chemical resistance can provide an advantage in settings where exposure to chemicals is a concern. These include specialized keyboards for environments with specific requirements such as laboratories or cleanrooms.  
  5. Metal: Metal keycaps are popular among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts who like a premium look and feel on their keyboards. Metal keycaps, especially aluminum or zinc alloy, can be used for specific gaming keys to enhance durability and aesthetics.
  6. Wood: Wood keycaps are used as artisan keycaps, providing a unique and natural aesthetic to individual keys. They are mostly used for decorative purposes, adding a distinctive touch to the keyboard.
  7. Silicone/Rubber: Silicone or rubber keycaps are commonly used in industrial keyboards due to their flexibility, durability, and resistance to harsh conditions. 

Why Keycap Durability Is Important

an image of various kinds of keycaps

The durability of your mechanical keyboard's keycaps is important for several reasons, especially for users who prioritize a reliable and long-lasting typing or gaming experience. 

  1. Longevity and Value: Durable keycaps contribute to the overall lifespan of a mechanical keyboard. Users invest in quality keyboards with the expectation that they will provide reliable performance over an extended period. Durable keycaps ensure that the keyboard maintains its functionality and appearance for a more extended period, providing better value for the investment.
  2. Resistance to Wear: Keycaps are subject to continuous physical contact during typing or gaming. Durable keycaps resist wear and abrasion, preventing the legends (letters or symbols) on the keycaps from fading or becoming illegible over time. 
  3. Maintaining Aesthetics: Keycaps contribute significantly to the overall aesthetics of a mechanical keyboard. Durable keycaps retain their original appearance, whether glossy or matte without developing an unsightly shine or greasy surface. 
  4. Consistent Typing Experience: Durable keycaps provide a stable and predictable typing experience. You become accustomed to the feel and feedback of your keyboard, and durable keycaps help maintain a uniform typing experience throughout the keyboard's life. 
  5. Resistance to Impact and Chipping: Durable keycaps are less prone to damage from accidental impacts, drops, or other physical stress. 
  6. Enhanced Gaming Performance: Gamers, especially those engaged in competitive gaming, benefit from keycaps that can withstand rapid and repeated keystrokes. Durable keycaps ensure that the keyboard remains responsive and reliable during intense gaming sessions.
  7. Reduced Maintenance and Replacement Costs: Keycaps that maintain their durability over time require less frequent maintenance and replacement. This can lead to cost savings since you won't need to invest in replacement keycap sets or undergo the hassle of replacing worn-out keycaps as frequently.

Conclusion

Good-quality, durable keycaps are important in maintaining the integrity and the optimal functioning of your keyboard. Knowing their distinct characteristics can impact your gaming and typing experience. Your choices should mirror your typing requirements, visual inclinations, financial capacity, and personal preferences.

Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Pinstack

Pinstack is a dedicated online media platform focusing on selling and reviewing mechanical keyboards. Our commitment is to provide comprehensive reviews, in-depth guides, and much more. With our active presence on YouTube and our website, we strive to deliver top-quality content across multiple platforms, aiming to bring the best to our audience.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscription Form
We care about the protection of your data. We’ll never share your details.

Pinstack is an Amazon Affiliate. All earnings from this website are from qualified purchases. Learn more about our affiliate disclosure terms.
2023 - Copyright, All Rights Reserved
magnifiercrossmenu
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x