Keycap materials guide- ABS vs PBT and more!

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Even if you’re not a gamer or don’t have a man cave, your surfing sessions need to be calm and relaxing.

So, we’ll help you choose the right materials for your keycaps- for the best longevity and typing experience.

Press the down key to ‘unlock’ the best keycap materials.

Keycaps

Keycaps are a small cover, usually made of plastic (though we’ve found some unusual materials that may pique your interest), placed over a key switch of a mechanical keyboard. Check out switches matter for more on switches.

Keycaps are the face of your keyboard, and have a great impact on the comfort level, the feel, and the overall typing or gaming experience.

On top of material choices, the range of keycap profiles available continue to grow. Just about every feel preference is catered for.

Overwhelmed by profiles? Give overview of keycap profiles a read.

Keycap Material

The material used to create a keycap can make a huge difference to how it feels and performs. Keycaps are generally made of plastic, but there are some other less common materials that are used.

Now, you must be wondering ‘what is the best keycap material?’

Best Keycap Materials

ABS and PBT are the two most common materials that are used to create keycaps. I’ll explain the differences, and also bring some alternatives to your attention!

All keycaps discussed here have strong compatibility towards Cherry MX switches and clones.

Interested to know all about the best keycap design in 2022/2023 on a budget? Have a look.

Now, let’s discuss ABS vs PBT.

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

Welcome to Chemistry Class

ABS is a thermoplastic, meaning, it can melt at low-temperate and can easily be molded.

Pros

·       ABS Keycaps are completely recyclable which makes them environmentally friendly.

·        ABS keycaps are extensively used because they are inexpensive and are manufactured easily.

·       ABS keycaps have a smooth texture when your fingers slide over them.

·       Makes less noise while typing.

Usually, mechanical keyboards come with inexpensive ABS keycaps that are thin and seem fragile to use.

But recently, there have been advancements and GMK Keycaps have stolen the show. They are pricier than regular ABS keycaps but every penny is worth it!

GMK keycaps are the best ABS keycap you’ll lay your hands on.

Cons

  • Develops a shiny texture when used for years.
  • Lettering wears off due to excessive usage.
  • Thin and non-durable.

PBT (Poly Butylene Terephthalate)

PBT is a less frequently used keycap material because it is costly. It has smoother texture than ABS and is robust towards use.

Pros

·       PBT is also a thermoplastic and can also be recycled.

·       PBT has a textured feel when touched due to its matte finished appearance.

·       Moreover, PBT has high impact resistance, which means it can endure all kinds of aggressive gaming and typing pressures.

Just like GMK (ABS), PBT has something to offer too- EPBT (Enjoy PBT)!

epbt keycaps

ebpt keycaps stand for Enjoy pbt, which is a Chinese manufacturer. They are considered among the best in class of Chinese manufacturers of keycaps. They use pbt keycaps in their sets and boards. When buying a pbt keycap set it is better to go with an established vendor such as ebpt due to greater quality control. This is great for helping ensure you stay away from pbt keycap sets that may have warping problems.

Ebpt are a great choice when it comes to keycaps made using the pbt material.

GMK ABS Keycaps vs EPBT PBT Keycaps

Comparing Alignment/tooling and visual appearance of the top ABS keycap and PBT keycap manufacturers

PBT Keycaps are often considered a better typing experience- the consensus is that they have a bit more of a solid quality feel, and have the benefit of robustness of the harder plastic.

However, premium abs manufacturers such as GMK may have a slight upper hand in terms of key alignment, die quality and lettering precision- so if these factors are a concern it may be better to go the ABS keycap route with GMK. Or, check out Signature Plastics PBT keycaps. EBPT are considered to have some of the best lettering of Chinese PBT manufacturers, so their legends are still pretty nice though.

Check out these ebpt keycaps at kono store:

ePBT RamenStop

ePBT Less But Better

ABS vs PBT-The Common Differences

MaterialDurabilityCostFeelDouble-ShotWeight Sound
ABSWears over timeInexpensiveSmoothYesLightNo
PBTDurable even after prolonged useExpensiveTexturedYesHeavy (comparatively)Yes

Signature plastics Pbt keycaps

Another major player in the Pbt realm is signature plastics. They are known for super build quality and some of the most popular keycap profile designs on the market- including SA-P: check out the SA-P Snowcap here.

Check out my spotlight for signature plastics

·       Have engraved artisan options.

Both ABS and PBT keycap materials are made by injection molding. the melted keycap material is injected into a mold and then pressed to form a shape. Letter printing techniques include laser and pad printing.

GMK (ABS) Keycaps and Enjoy PBT (PBT) Keycaps – Comparison

MaterialsVisualStrengthAlignmentDye-Quality
GMK ABSHas cool and Bold tones and also adds a pop of gold in the ENTER, Space keySturdier as compared to regular ABS keycapsMore aligned.Better.
Enjoy PBTAesthetically pleasing and has wide range of themes like pour and expresso.  Enjoy PBT has a solid feel but GMK is sturdier.Medium alignment.Good.

Both GMK ABS Keycaps and Enjoy PBT Keycaps have high-quality legends printing which does not wear off over time, but enjoy PBT is a step ahead when it comes to legends.

Another PBT set I must mention is the super popular HyperX Pudding keycaps. These are OEM profile and feature translucent PBT, which is the key feature of pudding keycaps.

Sale
HyperX Pudding Keycaps – Double Shot PBT Keycap Set with Translucent Layer, for Mechanical…
  • Translucent design: The dual-layer design of these keycaps is designed to let more light through, making your keyboard’s RGB lighting even more stunning.
  • Durable double shot PBT material: These PBT keycaps are made with thick walls and are resistant to wear, friction, and solvents.
  • Signature HyperX font: Our bold, wide font allows for more light to shine through, enhancing the visibility and legibility of the individual keys.

Other Keycap Materials

Ceramic Keycaps

Cerakey Ceramic keycaps are some of the most artisan keycaps-by definition- on the market. They offer an extremely sturdy look, while also being fairly light- each letter key weighs less than 4grams! Cerakey say they’ve achieved this by using industrial grade alumina ceramic. They are also rumored to be among the thockiest sounding keys.

One cool benefit is that the ceramic keycaps transmit light much better than plastic, so you can get a great backlit effect. They really are ceramic and have been fired at temperatures of up to 1300 degrees Celsius/ 2372 F!

Cerakey have produced a small ceramic cherry profile keycap set that you can buy now. They’ve also got an 113 key set in 13 different colorways that you can preorder by backing on Indiegogo

https://www.cerakey.com/

Resin Keycaps

As the name suggests, these keycaps are made of resin and offer a great color and pattern to your mechanical keycaps.

Over the years resin keycaps have gained tremendous popularity because:

·       Visuals-Resin keycaps provide the best visuals, they can be crystalline, have patterns or even dried petals in them.

·       Ease of making – You can DIY your very own resin keycap according to your taste and desire.

·       Inexpensive-Resin Keycaps are inexpensive, especially when you make them yourself.

How are Resin Keycaps Made?

Customized budget friendly keycaps have been our dream since we were first introduced to keyboards. Everyone has a different taste when it comes to visual appearance, color and texture.

Can you DIY a Resin Keycap?

Absolutely!

Here are the things you need:

-Keycap Molds or Old Keycaps

-Epoxy Resin

-Patience

Get your very own DIY Resin Keycap Kit and make your first move today. Make epoxy resin keycaps and spacebars that are smooth to touch and appealing to the eyes.

Keycaps Epoxy Resin Casting Molds Set for Mechanical Gaming Keyboard Polymer Clay Crafts 6 Silicone…
  • 3D key caps resin silicone molds with 6 counts 30 cavities. Cat paw and blank keycap molds to make tab, caps lock, space key, ctrl, backspace, shift, enter, function, number, letter. For handmade…
  • Key cap molds and cross-shaped base molds. Suitable for “+” shaped mechanical keyboard. Comes with a keycap puller, convenient to pull key caps. Gift for boys, gamer, programmers and more.
  • Mainly use with modelling clay (air clay, paper clay, resin clay, polyclay, polymer clay, salt clay, metal clay, liquid clay etc.), resin(epoxy resin, rethane resin, uv resin), concrete, cement,…

This video here is a complete guide for making your very own Resin Keycaps.

Artisan Resin Keycaps

To simplify, artisan resin keycaps are keycaps that are hand-made and offer a wide variety of customization.

Craving to purchase an artisan resin keycap? Try this Hand engraved koi pond OEM profile resin keycap.

Check out What are artisan keycaps? for more info about artisan keycaps.

Metal Keycaps

The phrase ‘Metal keycaps’ just doesn’t seem quite right, but what if these could actually be pretty good?

Metal keycaps as the name suggests are keycaps made of thin metal. Commonly used metals in making keycaps are aluminum, silver and stainless steel.

There are mixed views when it comes to ‘are metal keycaps good?’

·       They are a little denser than plastic keycaps.

·       Have a solid steel feel to touch.

·       Expensive and give off a luxurious look.

Gamers have given metal keycaps a slow thumbs up.

Your keycaps can even make you feel like a superhero- there are Batman themed metal embossed keycaps.

Polycarbonate Keycaps

Polycarbonate Keycaps are transparent keycaps and are commonly used. One of the worth mentioning characteristic of polycarbonate keycap is that they do not yellow over time.

They often appear as crystals or jellies and are backlit due to their crystalline structure.

Clay Keycaps

For keyboard enthusiasts or someone who likes a cute custom mechanical keyboard, clay keycaps are a perfect pick.

Polymer clay is used to mold keycaps according to desire and aesthetic sense. You can follow a theme, or just pick whatever you like.

Conclusion- what’s the best keycap material?

Between ABS and PBT it’s tricky to place one over the other as both ABS and PBT have a lot to offer.

ABS is a cheap but efficient material to be manufactured, while PBT is expensive but has better durability. One common thing is that both of them are made of plastic and are conducive to recycling.

Transforming your mechanical keyboard into something that’s outstanding and pleasing to the eyes is a good move.

Just keep in consideration the comfort and best suited profile in mind when buying a new keycap set.

Try to invest in higher quality abs keycaps as lower quality ones can be thin and become greasy- higher quality keycaps are often double shot (added layer of lettering) which can help with the lifespan of the lettering.

References:

https://switchandclick.com/abs-vs-pbt-keycaps-whats-the-difference/#:~:text=What%20are%20ABS%20Keycaps%3F,resistant%2C%20but%20cheap%20to%20produce.

https://mechanicalkeyboards.com/shop/index.php?l=product_list&c=448

https://thegamingsetup.com/gaming-keyboard/buying-guides/abs-vs-pbt

https://deskthority.net/viewtopic.php?t=23044

https://www.cerakey.com/

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/cerakey-first-keycaps-set-that-made-of-ceramic#/

https://reclaimplastics.com/materials-we-recycle/abs-recycling/

Last update on 2023-01-31 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API