Longevity of soft touch finish?

It seems like all new electronic products now feature a soft touch finish in some area, or are even completely soft touch. To anyone unfamiliar with the term, soft touch is that rubbery feeling on products like this:

My question is, how durable is this finish? I’ve heard and seen that it can easily be scratched or rub off on the edges and corners, leaving the shiny plastic underneath exposed. Does this simply depend on the quality and application of the finish? Or is all soft touch inherently short lived, being a coating rather than a surface finish? Do people perceive it as “cheap”?

As someone who sees soft touch featured commonly in products we’re designing at work, I’m interested to hear from people with more experience with the finish.

I actually have those headphones, in white. I know your question isn’t about those specifically, but so far they have held up really well in this application as they do not get touched or rubbed in a consistent place to wear away the rubber paint. Although, I can say they do get dirty from setting them on my desk so there is some dirt patches that i can’t seem to wash away.

From my short experience, I have learned that if it is primarily going to be for aesthetic purposes, rubber paint will suffice. But if you want a highly durable finish on a highly touched/rubbed area, silicone or TPU (Edit: TPE) would probably be the best choice.

The wear is most noticeable on auto interiors in high-rub areas. Look at a VW or Audi from 2007 or so, in the door handles and maybe steering wheel or center console areas. You will see the shiny plastic under the soft touch paint.

FWIW I have heard that the soft touch finish can’t be sprayed in many places in the USA (e.g. California).

I know a few former cell-phone industry designers. They say that PPG was the only company they would trust to do durable soft touch on a phone. Of course, no matter how durable, it will wear out eventually.

It all depends on your application.

There are some pretty “Good” soft touch finishes available, but combinations of base surface finish, abrasion and chemicals (skin oils, cleaners) all play into the durability. For example I have soft touch on my Logitech mice, and I tend to replace them every 2 years because the finish starts to get crusty. Especially if it’s the one I leave in my laptop bag which tends to bang around a lot more. Once it scratches it’s easier for oils to seep underneath and start wearing away from the outside.

You can also do accelerated life testing to see how some finishes hold up to others depending on your application.

Thanks for all the insight everyone. Seems like all these trendy products with all soft touch finish these days are just going to end up looking like crap in 2 years and thrown out. I’m guessing soft touch involves all kinds of nasty chemicals too.

it’s made from the same types of chemicals as the part that it’s covering, which is usually ABS or some blend with it,
only with none of the “A”

so if you don’t like what’s underneath then you won’t like what’s on top.

On the other hand if you don’t mind handling and using a phone or calculator or just about any electronic item, then you can sleep easy.
(for now)