If you’re a keyboard enthusiast, you’ve likely come across the term “ABS keycaps” before. As one of the most common materials used to make keycaps today, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic has remained a popular choice for its durability and customization potential.
But what exactly are ABS keycaps, and what makes them different from other materials like PBT? This guide will explain everything you need to know about these ubiquitous keycaps.
What is ABS Plastic?
ABS, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, is a common thermoplastic polymer typically used to make light, rigid, molded products like pipes, golf club heads, automotive body parts, toys, musical instruments and of course, computer keyboards.
Some key properties include:
- Durability and impact resistance
- Rigidity and toughness
- UV light resistance
- Heat resistance
- Customization capacity – it can be easily molded and shaped
Compared to metals and wood, ABS plastic provides a lightweight, affordable, and versatile option perfect for technology applications.
How are ABS Keycaps Made?
ABS keycaps follow a simple “sprue and runner” injection molding process commonly used for mass manufacturing plastic items.
The steps are:
- ABS plastic pellets are melted at high heat into a liquid state
- The liquid plastic is injected into a mold with the keycap shape
- Once cooled and hardened, the keycaps are removed from the mold
- Excess plastic from the sprue and runner systems is trimmed off
- Keycaps are separated, packaged and shipped out!
Molds are precision-machined metal blocks that give ABS keycaps their distinct shapes, fonts and profiles. Many keycap producers like MechDynasty utilize CNC machining to create highly complex molds capable of churning out sets of extremely customized keycaps.
The Benefits of Using ABS for Keycaps
Given its balanced material properties and mass manufacturability, ABS brings certain advantages to custom mechanical keyboards:
Durability – ABS has high impact strength and abrasion resistance compared to materials like PBT. Keys won’t crack or deteriorate easily.
Customization – Injection molding facilitates unique sculpted profiles and novelty shapes that aren’t possible with other methods.
Affordability – Simple production means ABS is cheaper than higher-end plastics. Great for budget builds.
UV Resistant – Contains protective chemicals that prevent fading, yellowing and other UV damage over time.
The Downsides of ABS Keycaps
No material is perfect. Here are some potential drawbacks to consider with ABS:
Shininess – The smooth surface and composition causes shiny wear over time with heavy use.
Porous surface – ABS is slightly porous, which allows the material to absorb dirt, grease and grime more easily compared to PBT. Can require regular cleaning.
Thermal expansion – More prone to warping at high temperatures versus other plastics. Don’t leave in direct sunlight!
Less acoustically pleasing – Generally produces a “high pitched” typing sound versus deeper sounds of PBT.
Why Choose ABS Keycaps For Your Keyboard?
If durability, customization and value are higher priorities for your keyboard, ABS remains tried and true choice today. Its capacity for unique shapes, fonts and colorways is hard to match.
And modern manufacturing advancements have vastly expanded the level of artisan-grade custom ABS sets on the market.
Just be aware of the potential long-term shine, cleaning requirements or subtle acoustic differences versus other materials. But overall, you can count on ABS keycaps to deliver on looks and longevity.
Whether you’re building a flashy RGB gaming keyboard or a minimalist typing machine, knowledge about keycap materials is key. So next time you see those three little letters “ABS”, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting!
From its composition and manufacturing process to practical benefits and drawbacks, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene keycaps offer custom mechanical keyboards a proven blend of resilience, personalization and value. Just keep the shine, sounds and cleaning needs in perspective depending on your priorities.
And with stunning sets continuing to hit group buys every month, the era of ABS innovation and creativity shows no signs of slowing.