If you're considering getting aftermarket keycap sets, it's essential to understand the different materials available. Broadly speaking, keycap sets can be categorized into three main groups based on the material they are made of:
ABS, short for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is one of the most commonly used materials in the injection molding industry. Notably, even LEGO bricks are made of ABS. This material is durable, well understood, and easy to work with, which is why it is widely used in keyboard keycaps, both for mechanical keyboards and non-mechanical ones.
However, ABS has one significant downside - it is susceptible to shine over time. The oils from our fingers and our environment can cause the surface of ABS keycaps to shine and become less appealing. Although it is unlikely for acetone to be involved in regular typing, some substances found on our fingers and around us can have a similar effect on ABS keycaps over time.
Despite the shine issue, ABS remains a popular choice due to its ease of manufacturing and versatility in creating legends (printing characters on the keycaps). Doubleshot ABS keycaps are relatively easy to produce compared to other materials, making them ideal for designing complex color combinations that require doubleshot manufacturing.
In terms of feel, ABS has a more traditional "plastic" texture, resulting in a more high-pitched sound profile. While this might sound negative, it's important to note that a high-quality thick ABS keycap set can still provide an excellent typing experience.
PBT, or Polybutylene Terephthalate, addresses the shine issue of ABS but introduces another challenge. PBT is highly resistant to oils and greases, making it difficult to shine, which is a significant advantage.
However, PBT is more challenging to process, and until recently, doubleshot PBT sets were not widely available. Even now, premium doubleshot PBT sets are not as common in the enthusiast space, and the available sets may not always meet the highest standards of legend quality.
On the positive side, PBT can have legends applied using the dye-sublimation (dye-sub) legending process, resulting in equally durable legends as doubleshot keycaps. Although PBT might have slightly fewer color combination options, it remains a favorite among many enthusiasts due to its softer and more forgiving typing feel.
Now, let's talk about POM, or Polyoxymethylene, which is quite unique. POM keycaps offer an even softer and more comfortable typing experience compared to PBT, making them highly sought after by those who prioritize comfort.
However, POM has more limited processing options. As of now, I haven't come across any POM caps with printed legends, and most POM keycaps are translucent white or other pale/milky colors. If that style doesn't suit you, you may prefer to stick with ABS or PBT keycaps. Nonetheless, for those who appreciate it, POM is considered the best option available, despite its relative rarity in the market.
In conclusion, each keycap material - ABS, PBT, and POM - has its unique characteristics and advantages. When choosing a keycap set, consider factors such as shine resistance, feel, legend quality, and color combinations that align with your preferences. Whether you prioritize durability, comfort, or aesthetics, there's a keycap material that suits your needs and enhances your typing experience.