4 common types of keycaps classified by printing technology
Keycaps are the main factor of a keyboard and instead of basic and plain plastic pieces, there are lots of types of keycaps which can meet anyone’s aesthetic.
With the booming of video game and streaming, people no longer consider a keyboard as a basic gear for their PC but an item which shows off their personalities. And, with this motive, lots of PC manufacturers offer various unique designs of keycaps with different printing technology. And, you might be surprised by how a keycap is made. So, let’s take a look at the most common technology to create a keycap.
This is one of the most famous keycaps printing techniques at the moment. With this technology, you will have keycaps that last almost forever. With double-shot molding, one keycap needs to experience 2 processes. The first one is for the legend-carving and the second one is for the keycap cover. Instead of being printed, the legend is molded into the plastic, which keeps the color last long and creates a great contrast.
And, of course, thanks to these processes, the legends won’t wear down even with heavy gaming for a long time. Moreover, the legends look more vibrant and bolder. The keycaps are also smoother themselves. However, these features only show on high-quality double-shot keycaps.
Laser etching keycaps
Among the common types of keycaps, laser-etched keycaps are as durable as double-shot ones. However, due to the difficulty in production, the price for one set of keycaps are quite high. Therefore, this technique is not the favorite of keycap manufacturers. Moreover, it collects dirt easily and it’s quite difficult to clean laser-etched keycaps.
To create keycaps with this technology, they use a laser beam to carve the legend in the keycap. Then, the color will be filled in the slot. It’s normally used for ABS keycaps.
One of the most desirable keycaps is dye-sub ones. With this technology, the keycap is impregnated with dye by heat so that the legends won’t be faded away. While printing is creating a layer of paint on the plastic, dye sublimation causes the integration of the dye and plastic as one. And, different from the laser etching, this technique can be used for a mixture of colors. The technique also offers us durability and vibrant legends. However, there are lots of downsides which don’t make manufacturers unhappy. First of all, dye sublimation only can be used on PBT plastic because ABS can’t stand high temperature, which makes the price fly high. Secondly, the dye must be darker than the material which is printed on. Therefore, with the popularity of basic black and white keycaps, not many manufacturers like this type of keycap.
Like laser etching, this technique also uses a laser beam. However, instead of carving, the laser only marks legends on the keycaps. Lots of manufacturers use this technology because it’s easy to produce high-quality keycaps. Laser-marked keycaps are quite resilient and have good contrast. There are lots of big manufacturers that use this technology such as Apple, Matias, etc.
However, you can see that the straight lines look perfect with this technique, while the solid areas don’t have great coverage (like the arrowheads).
Common materials for keycaps
Different types of keycaps not only have different printing technologies but also are made out of various materials. As you can see, some technique is only used with a specific material.
ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene plastic, which is the most common material for keycaps. This material is quite cheap and easy for injection molding production. With ABS plastic, we can have durable and lightweight keycaps. However, keycaps made from ABS tend to wear down and become shiny after long use. Of course, if you get high-end ABS keycaps, they are still in good condition after heavy gaming.
To avoid the aging with time of ABS plastic, manufacturers have another option which is PBT plastic. PBT is short for Polybutylene Terephthalate. This material is more durable and heavier than ABS. PBT keycaps are produced to last. It means the legends won’t be faded away, the bounce of the keycaps is the same even if you press the keycaps thousands of times. And, of course, the sound is so satisfying if you know how it is. The only problem with this material is that it’s expensive and difficult to process when it comes to massive production.
Polyoxymethylene keycaps are less common than other types of keycaps. However, we can say that this is the most expensive material for keycaps. It has the same features as BPT plastic such as durability, sturdiness, rigidity, etc. However, like PBT, this material is less competitive, so not many brands have POM keycaps.
Here are some common printing technologies for keycaps. Each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages for using. Choose the one that is suitable for your needs.
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