Understanding Keycap Materials: ABS vs. PBT

Decoding the Keycap Mystery: A Comprehensive Guide to ABS vs. PBT Materials

If you've dipped your toes into the world of mechanical keyboards, you've likely encountered discussions about keycap materials. Whether you're a casual user, a heavy typist, or an avid gamer, the type of keycap you choose can dramatically affect your interaction with the keyboard. In this post, we'll dive into the two most commonly used materials for keycaps: ABS and PBT. Our goal is to provide you with an in-depth comparison to help you make an informed decision for your next keyboard setup.

Why Material Matters

The material of a keycap is far from a trivial matter. It directly influences how the keyboard feels under your fingers, how it sounds when you type, and even how it ages over time. From durability to texture, different materials offer different benefits and drawbacks, shaping your overall experience with the keyboard.

ABS Keycaps: The Basics

What Is ABS?

ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. It's a type of plastic commonly used in a variety of consumer products.

Main Characteristics

  • Durability: ABS keycaps are generally less durable than their PBT counterparts. They tend to shine and show wear more quickly.
  • Feel: ABS keycaps are usually smoother to the touch, which some users prefer for a slick, fast typing experience.
  • Customization Options: ABS is often used for double-shot keycaps, a method that allows for multi-colored designs and legends that won't wear off.

Pros and Cons of ABS


  • Generally less expensive
  • Wider variety of colors and designs
  • Smoother texture


  • Less resistant to heat and chemicals
  • Develops a shiny appearance over time
  • Softer material can feel less stable

What This Means for You: If you're looking for a budget-friendly option with a wide range of design choices, ABS might be the way to go. Just keep in mind that you may need to replace them sooner than PBT keycaps.

PBT Keycaps: The Basics

What Is PBT?

PBT is short for Polybutylene Terephthalate, another type of thermoplastic commonly used in keycap manufacturing.

Main Characteristics

  • Durability: PBT keycaps are known for their resilience. They resist shining and are less prone to wear over time.
  • Feel: The texture of PBT keycaps is often described as grittier or rougher, which provides more tactile feedback when typing.
  • Customization Options: While PBT can be somewhat limited in terms of elaborate designs, newer methods are improving the range of customization available.

Pros and Cons of PBT


  • Highly durable
  • Resistant to solvents and heat
  • Gritty texture provides tactile feedback


  • Generally more expensive
  • Limited design and color options
  • Can be brittle and prone to breakage in extreme conditions

What This Means for You: If you value longevity and tactile feedback and don't mind spending a bit more, PBT keycaps are likely a better fit for you.

Head-to-Head Comparison

Let's put ABS and PBT side by side to see how they measure up in different areas:

  • Longevity: PBT wins for its resistance to wear and tear.
  • Typing Feel: This is subjective but if you like a smooth experience, go with ABS. For a grittier, tactile response, choose PBT.
  • Sound: The sound profile can actually be quite complex. While ABS keycaps are often associated with a higher-pitched sound and PBT with a deeper, more muted tone, this isn't a hard and fast rule. The thickness of the keycaps can change the sound dramatically. For instance, thicker premium ABS keycaps from a manufacturer such as GMK can produce a milder, softer sound comparable to PBT. 
  • Customization: ABS offers more design flexibility due to its suitability for double-shot molding.


Choosing between ABS and PBT keycaps comes down to what you value most: the aesthetic and feel, or durability and tactile feedback. Both materials have their merits and drawbacks, so your personal preference will be the deciding factor.