ABS vs PBT vs POM Keycap Plastic | Mechanical Keyboard Info (2022)

By: Henz Llarves | Date Posted: May 23, 2022

ABS vs PBT vs POM Keycap Plastic | Mechanical Keyboard Info (1)

Keycaps, they’re probably the most recognizable customization component of a mechanical keyboard. And the plastic that makes up these keycaps can alter the feeling and sound when used.

Some keycaps use dense plastics that feel “dry” or sandy to the touch while also giving a more solid sound when pressed. Others can be “wet” but offer durability in other ways.

Plastics have varying strengths and weaknesses so it’s hard to just say one is better than the other. What’s right for me may not be right for you. Hence why it’s worth having a rough idea before making a purchase.

Keycap materials

Keycaps are created out of many different materials. From silicone to wood, to metal, you name it there’s probably a design for it somewhere.

For the most part, plastic is the most commonly used keycap material. And of that, three types of plastic are the most prominent.

From most common to least common, they are; ABS, PBT, and POM.

Compare plastics

Here’s a handy comparison table of each of the plastics:

ABSPBTPOM
Price$$$$$$$
TextureSmoothRough – SandySmooth
Feels like“Wet”“Dry”“Wet”
Yellows with UV ExposureYesNoNo
Shines over timeYesNoNo
Rate of wearFastSlowSlow
Melting Point (°C)105°225°166°

ABS –Acrulonitrile Butadiene Styrene

ABS vs PBT vs POM Keycap Plastic | Mechanical Keyboard Info (2)

The most commonly used plastic in today’s world of mechanical keyboards. ABS is cheap and semi-durable.

It’s also easy to mould thanks to its low melting point. Meaning ABS is better at producing more consistent keysets and is the better choice for double-shot keycaps.

(Video) ABS vs PBT vs Rubber! What Are The Best Budget Keycaps in 2020? [RK61 Giveaway Closed]

ABS by nature is smooth, think Lego smooth, as it’s the plastic Lego is made of. This gives ABS essentially a slick, wet feeling to the touch.

It is possible to get textured ABS, though, over time this texture will wear. In fact, ABS wears the quickest of the three plastics.

That’s not the only downside to ABS, over time the keycaps will shine with wear as well as yellow when continually exposed to UV light.

Cheaper ABS keysets can feel somewhat mushy when compared to PBT but it’ll be hard to notice without doing a side-by-side comparison.

PBT –Polybutylene Terephthalate

ABS vs PBT vs POM Keycap Plastic | Mechanical Keyboard Info (3)

The more expensive option, PBT continues to gain traction in the mechanical keyboard community as of late. PBT feels solid in comparison to ABS.

To the touch, PBT feels grainy or dry, quite different to smooth ABS keycaps. However, it is entirely possible to find PBT sets that are smooth, eg. Signature Plastics’ IceCaps.

PBT wears slower than ABS, and as the texture is a component of PBT it doesn’t go away.

Comparing PBT to ABS highlights the slower rate of wear. And, unlike ABS, there’s no yellowing problem nor does PBT shine with use.

It’s not without its drawbacks, though. As mentioned above, PBT plastic can be expensive.

Moulding PBT is not an easy process either. PBT has to reach higher temperatures in order to melt, and this much energy output is quite expensive.

Respectively, PBT has to cool down from a higher temperature and this process can cause warping or shrinking. Warped keys can be fixed by applying small heat while under uniform pressure, thanks to the increased durability.

(Video) ABS vs PBT Keycaps

This is why PBT double-shot keys are quite hard to find. It’s expensive but more importantly harder to produce thanks to shrinkage during the moulding process. However, the durability and higher melting point make PBT an excellent choice for dye-sublimation, which bonds the ink to the plastic. It also makes DIY dying quite easy.

ABS vs PBT vs POM Keycap Plastic | Mechanical Keyboard Info (4)

POM –Polyoxymethelene

ABS vs PBT vs POM Keycap Plastic | Mechanical Keyboard Info (5)

Also known as Delrin, POM is not commonly found as whole keycaps, though they do exist. Hard and durable, while also much less dense compared to PBT or ABS keycaps.

To the touch, POM is like ABS with its smooth surface that feels “wet” to the touch. Think of POM as a hybrid that’s smooth like ABS but also durable like PBT.

There aren’t that many manufacturers using POM. Vortex use POM for their lettering infill in their double-shot PBT keycaps.

Laser-etching or laser-etched infill is used to legends on POM keycaps.

Manufacturer differences

ABS vs PBT vs POM Keycap Plastic | Mechanical Keyboard Info (6)

As with any kind of personal preference articles, there’s always a caveat or two. This time it’s keycap manufacturers.

For the most part the information mentioned above is fairly consistent. However, I do need to note that there is a scale when it comes to buying keysets.

Some aftermarket ketset manufacturers produce keycaps of ABS that is greater in quality than most PBT keysets. GMK and Signature Plastics are some that come to mind. These are manufacturers who have excellent production conditions as well as some of, if it not, the best moulds. Keycaps from these manufacturers are also of significant thickness.

GMK’s double-shot keysets are considered to be the best available. Their colour schemes are highly desired, while the ABS they produce does have a slight texture to them. It is inevitable that over time the ABS will wear and eventually shine but this process happens slower than most ABS keyset manufacturers. Similar with Signature Plastics.

(Video) PBT vs ABS keycap, there’s a difference!

It’s also entirely possible to get cheap PBT keysets. These are cheap to produce to offer a more premium sense of value over competitors. But do not be fooled. A lot of the time these keysets are also relatively thin. This type of PBT keycap is generally better than keyboards with stock ABS keycaps. However, they’re not much better than aftermarket producers.

Just some food for thought when it comes to purchasing a keyboard with ABS or PBT keycaps. Especially when PBT sets are cheaper than GMK’s ABS sets.

Me, personally I prefer PBT sets over ABS keysets. I use EnjoyPBT as my daily driver over my GMK sets due to the feeling and the rate of wear.

Production process for different plastics

Due to each plastic having different compositions and attributes means different processes are used to make keysets. While some processes of adding legends can be used for the three different types of plastics, other processes are much harder to reproduce.

Let’s talk about adding legends onto keysets. (Legends are the letters or numbers on each keycap. They indicate each keys’ function.)

Printing

ABS vs PBT vs POM Keycap Plastic | Mechanical Keyboard Info (7)

Through various creative means, printing is one of the cheaper ways of adding legends to keycaps. A printer is used to print legends onto keycaps.

This process is notorious for the rate they wear and disappear over time. It’s quick, with some sets deteriorating significantly quicker than others.

Commonly found on the majority of keyboards worldwide.

Laser marking

ABS vs PBT vs POM Keycap Plastic | Mechanical Keyboard Info (8)

A few different lasers marking methods exist; engraving/ablation, charring, and foaming. These processes are rather similar in execution with the primary differences being the amount of heat applied as well as the finish.

Charring heats the plastic to produce a dark shade of the original plastic’s color. Foaming simply leaves tiny, solidified bubbles that are brighter than the keycap.

(Video) Comparing PBT Keycaps vs ABS Keycaps: What's the Difference?

Engraving, or ablation as it also goes by, burns grooves into the plastic. These grooves can work in a few different ways, they can be left as is or filled with a color. The more creative option is to use transparent plastic for the keycap base, paint over the top and then engrave the top layer, mimicking the double-shot process.

Double-Shot

ABS vs PBT vs POM Keycap Plastic | Mechanical Keyboard Info (9)

Much more expensive and more complex than any other processes on this list is double-shot injection moulding (double-shot for short). Produced by forming one part of the keycap with a mould first, then another colour of plastic is added to make up the rest of the keycap. This means 2 colours can be used to form one piece of plastic.

Considered the best type of keycap production method as the legend and the surrounding keycap are both individual pieces that make one whole piece. Moulds have to be produced as well as the cost of using two sets of plastic to create the keycaps, means this is an expensive way to create keycaps.

Wear on each keycap is uniform as the legend is comprised of two pieces of plastic. This means the legends won’t rub off over time (well if you don’t wear the plastic down to the stems).

Predominantly ABS is used but we’re starting to see more double-shot PBT sets being made.

Dye-sublimation

Dye-subbed for short is another printing process but with different limitations due to its complexity.

Printed legends, designs, and even colors are added to keycaps by heating both the keycap and the ink. The ink’s temperature needs to be raised high enough that it turns into a vapour. This process allows the pores of the plastic to open and for the ink vapour to enter them.

As the vapour is added to the base keycap color, white inks cannot be printed as nothing is brighter than white, while black keycaps cannot be printed on top of, as nothing is darker than black.

On very rare occasions you will find dye-subbed ABS keycap but nearly all the time PBT will be used. This is due to the higher melting point of PBT.

Conclusion

I hope this helps shed some light on keycap plastics, and the processes used to make them. I understand that it’s not always possible to buy the best but if you do your research you’ll find arguments for why one is better than the other.

The most important consideration is what your personal preference is. If you’re a person who likes the slippery feeling of ABS keycaps, then you probably won’t enjoy PBT. Inversely, if you prefer grip and texture on your keycaps then PBT is the way to go.

(Video) Topre Keycap Comparison: PBT vs. POM vs. ABS

Just remember that thickness and build quality really do determine a good keyset, hence why GMK gets ample praise despite being ABS.

FAQs

Whats better for keycaps ABS or PBT? ›

ABS keycaps are the cheapest and most common plastic used for keycaps. PBT plastic is less common but is usually higher quality than ABS. ABS keycaps feel smooth and develop a greasy shine over time, while PBT keycaps feel textured and are more durable.

Is Pom better than PBT? ›

POM slots in nicely between ABS and PBT in that it offers durability comparable to PBT, lower friction, and higher rigidity.

What is POM keycaps? ›

They are OEM profile keycaps made of POM. What is POM? Polyoxymethylene (POM), also known as acetal, polyacetal, and polyformaldehyde, is an engineering thermoplastic used in precision parts requiring high stiffness, low friction, and excellent dimensional stability.

What Keycap material is best? ›

Keycaps are typically made of one of two types of plastic: ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) or PBT (polybutylene terephthalate). ABS is more common as it's used by GMK, the dominant keycap manufacturer, but PBT is gaining popularity as the material of choice with newer profiles like KAT and MT3.

Is PBT or ABS better for gaming? ›

ABS is a softer plastic and produces a milder, softer sound. PBT is harder and produces a more tactile sound. Neither is better, it's up to preference, but there are a lot of fans of the sound a premium ABS keycap like GMK produces.

What is POM switch keyboard? ›

JWK Durock POM Linear Switches, also known as Durock Piano Switches, use a proprietary POM blend for the top and bottom housing with a redesigned stem composed of a mystery material. This combination of switch materials provide a deeper sound signature while still giving you that smooth JWK feel.

How do you know if you have PBT? ›

Differences Between ABS and PBT Keycaps - YouTube

Are POM keycaps PBT? ›

It have PBT frosted feeling. Featuring wear and oil resistance. POM balances the advantages of ABS and PBT well. POM material is commonly used in medical devices, artificial heart valves, prosthetic limbs and other medical materials.

How do POM keycaps feel? ›

Re: How do pom keycaps feel? They are in the middle ground in terms of texture when you compare them to ABS and PBT. They are definitely on the more smooth side but retain a bit of texture so they aren't completely slippery.

Are POM Jelly keycaps soft? ›

The Jelly POM keycaps you're referring to (I would like to score a set also, fWIW) are "jelly"-like because of their color and translucency, but they are a hard plastic just like most keycaps (POM is just a kind of high-quality plastic).

Does PBT yellow over time? ›

What is PBT? PBT (or “polybutylene terephthalate”) is one of the hardest and most durable keycap materials available. Unlike other materials, PBT does not turn yellow over time, and is extremely resistant to heat and chemicals.

What are the types of keycaps? ›

Keycaps come in two main categories: cylindrical and spherical. Cylindrical keycaps have a “u” shape across their entire surface and usually have flat, angled sides with straight corners. Spherical keycaps have a rounded concave surface, rounded sides and are often much taller.

What is the most common keycap profile? ›

ABS keycaps are the cheapest and most common plastic used for keycaps. ABS keycaps are mass produced because of how easily they are injection molded. PBT plastic is less common but is usually higher quality than ABS.

Do PBT keycaps get oily? ›

Or did I get bad quality or fake PBTs? PBT key caps do shine over time, they just take longer to shine than ABS would with your fingers.

Do keycaps affect sound? ›

Your keyboard's typing feels, and its sound depends upon the keycaps used. ABS keycaps are supposed to make more noise as compared to PBT keycaps. You can prefer PBT keycaps if you want your keyboard to make less noise. Also, the rough surface of your keycaps prevents slipping of the fingers.

How long does it take for ABS keycaps to shine? ›

The ABS keys on my Leopold are starting to show some signs of shine after about 4 months of owning it.

Is durock pom Thocky? ›

The Durock POMs have a deeper sound signature than the usual PC fare but I do not venture to say that these are “thocky”. Rather they are a rather dull thud on the downstroke and a rather muted sound on the snapback. That is not to say that it is all positive in this regard.

What are FR4 plates? ›

FR4 is a high-density fiber material that feels given between an aluminum plate and PC. It is solid with a certain flexibility and also solid with hardness, which enables you to get a balanced typing experience.

How can I tell if my keycaps are PBT? ›

Put a drop of acetone on something like a toothpick and swirl it on the underside of a key cap. If it etches the surface, it is ABS. If the surface is impervious, it is PBT.

Can acetone melt PBT? ›

No, the only true way to tell difference between PBT and ABS is science. As mentioned, acetone will 'melt' ABS while PBT will be fine.

What is an OEM keycap? ›

OEM profile keycaps are a sculpted keycap set that is what most people find in prebuilt mechanical keyboards. It is mass produced and considered standard among commonly branded mechanical keyboards such as Logitech, Corsair, and Razer.

What is Ducky keyboard? ›

Ducky manufactures gaming peripherals with its primary focus on mechanical keyboards. Their keyboards are highly customizable, and you can purchase them in a variety of Cherry MX, Gateron, TTC, and Kailh switches, depending on what model you're interested in.

Why do puddings have keycaps? ›

Pudding keycaps are keycaps with a translucent design that allows more lighting to shine through the keycaps' sides. These are excellent options for users who want to highlight the RGB lighting of their keyboard.

Does PBT yellow over time? ›

What is PBT? PBT (or “polybutylene terephthalate”) is one of the hardest and most durable keycap materials available. Unlike other materials, PBT does not turn yellow over time, and is extremely resistant to heat and chemicals.

Are PBT keycaps better than GMK? ›

To improve your keycaps, most people recommend upgrading them to a PBT plastic set instead, as PBT plastic is known to last longer and be more durable (read more about ABS vs. PBT here). What is this? GMK goes in a different direction, they make their high-end keycaps out of a thick ABS instead.

Are GMK keycaps ABS or PBT? ›

Unlike a lot of keycap sets, GMK keycaps use ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastics rather than PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) plastics.

Are Double Shot keycaps better? ›

Doubleshot keycaps aren't necessarily “better” than other keycaps, but they do offer a few advantages. Since the legends aren't printed on, they won't wear down or scratch. Doubleshot keycaps are usually thicker and more durable, and generally feature a transparent legend that lets backlighting shine through.

Videos

1. POM Jelly Keycaps Unboxing, Sound Test, and Review // They're NOT what they look like.
(KeebNews)
2. PBT vs ABS Keycap Comparison
(Modoko)
3. ABS vs. PBT Keycaps | Basic Things You Should Know!
(GadgeDee)
4. Do all Keycaps sound the same? ABS vs PBT vs RUBBER Keycaps Sound Test
(leStripeZ)
5. ABS vs PBT Keycap Sound Comparison
(The Raygin Asian)
6. ABS Vs PBT Keycaps with sound test - What suits you best???
(Nai Kittra)

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Kerri Lueilwitz

Last Updated: 11/11/2022

Views: 6324

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (67 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kerri Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1992-10-31

Address: Suite 878 3699 Chantelle Roads, Colebury, NC 68599

Phone: +6111989609516

Job: Chief Farming Manager

Hobby: Mycology, Stone skipping, Dowsing, Whittling, Taxidermy, Sand art, Roller skating

Introduction: My name is Kerri Lueilwitz, I am a courageous, gentle, quaint, thankful, outstanding, brave, vast person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.