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PBT vs ABS – Which is better?

What's the difference between PBT and ABS? We break it all down for you here

Updated: Apr 11, 2022 4:00 pm

Browsing for a new keyboard continues to escalate in difficulty. Mechanical or membrane? Tactile or linear switches? PBT or ABS? The product pages are fraught with vague and unexplained industry jargon which is confusing and intimidating for the beginner. Luckily for you, dear reader today we’re going to explain everything about ABS vs PBT. Keyboard enthusiasts tend to be very picky about the specific material that the keycaps are made from. Regardless of ANSI Vs ISO layout, there are generally two options to choose from, ABS, or PBT. The two have some very key differences in texture, longevity, and price.

What is ABS?

ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is the plastic that most keycaps are made from ABS due to its cheap and easy production, relative robustness, and lighter weight. The problem comes from wear and tear, over time the keycaps will wear down and legends will become illegible. If you ever noticed that the keys on your keyboard have become shiny, that’s ABS plastic wearing down. The other issue is the texture. It tends to be smoother than what a lot of keyboard enthusiasts like, and not so enjoyable to type on. The argument of PBT vs ABS is usually won in favor of PBT.

Unpleasant texture
Prone to discoloration

What is PBT?

PBT (Polybutylene terephthalate) Is the type of plastic most enthusiasts consider to be superior for keycaps. The consensus is pretty definitive too as PBT is far more resistant to wear, and isn’t prone to discoloration over time. Additionally, the surface has a slight texture to it which proved more grip and an overall more enjoyable typing experience. The only drawback is that PBT is more expensive to produce so the prices are correspondingly high. Most people, including us at the WePC office strongly prefer PBT and consider it a worthwhile purchase for anyone who spends a lot of time on a keyboard.

Harder wearing
Nicer texture
Resistant to discoloration

PBT vs ABS – Final verdict

So, you’ve acquired absolute knowledge of the materials in question and their corresponding properties. PBT is superior to ABS in most respects aside from cost. We consider it strongly worthwhile to make the upgrade if your keyboard has removable keycaps. Additionally, we feel compelled to mention that if you use an ISO format board over ANSI, you might experience difficulty finding keycaps that fit, as even the best custom keycaps seem to favor ANSI. We’ve dropped a few of our favorites below for you.

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