If you’re a mechanical keyboard fanatic, getting the greatest keyboard with the best keycaps built from the highest-quality materials would undoubtedly be your desire. However, picking the best keycap material can be tricky.
In this post, we’ll discuss keycap materials, including the many materials, how they’re molded, their features, and a comparison to see which one is the best material for keycaps and which one you should acquire for your current keyboard or your next keyboard.
So, before making a final purchase decision, make sure you read this article all the way through.
Keycap Printing Techniques
Dye sublimation is a method of impregnating a material with a dye using heat. Printing creates a layer of paint on top of the plastic, while dye sublimation allows the dye to sink into it.
Dye sublimation, on the other hand, is more costly than pad printing since the dye must be much darker than the material it is dyeing. This indicates that dye sublimation cannot be used to print white writing or black keycaps.
The desired letters are burned into the keycaps through a laser. Letters are difficult to wear off on this type of keycap. Burning will leave a trail on the keyboard, and the laser will produce black characters as a result of the burning. As a result, this printing is primarily utilized on white or grey keycaps. Letters are invisible on black keycaps.
Injection with two shots Molded keycaps (also known as Double Shots) is widely regarded as the best option.
The design and the underside of the keycap are formed on one piece of material, while the upper half of the keycap is made from another. After that, they’re fused together to make a dual-layer keycap.
This method produces markings that cannot be worn off since they are physically attached to the keycap, as well as excellent contrast because the printed character is not impacted by the color of the keycap’s surface.
You may also wonder about the differences between double-shot and dye-sub. You can find it here: Double-Shot vs Dye-Sub Keycaps: how different are they?
Since the 1990s, pad printing has become one of the most common methods of keycap printing. The printing concept is straightforward, in which pads are dipped in ink and then pressed onto the keycap to create an ink layer on top.
This technology has been quite flexible due to the fact that it can be used to print any character in any color that customers require. However, one negative point is that the ink is prone to wear.
Pad printing has the problem of low efficiency, which results in high prices; therefore, it is commonly found in high-end keyboards. Those companies that can afford a laser printing machine can utilize this form of printing since the machine is inexpensive to purchase.
Most common keycap materials
What is ABS Keycap?
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a copolymer plastic that is one of the best materials for keycaps. ABS plastic is chosen as it is both durable and cost-effective to manufacture.
The texture of ABS keycaps is smooth. Gliding your fingertips across the keyboard can be enjoyable due to the texture. However, it’s costly to do it, since cheap and poorly made ABS keycaps will have a greasy or shiny appearance after prolonged use.
This is due to UV rays causing the plastic to progressively change color. ABS keycaps are typically thinner, but for a modest premium, you can get high-quality, thick ABS keycaps.
Injection molding is used to manufacture the shape of the majority of ABS keycaps. After that, depending on the manufacturer, the legends are printed on the keycaps using a variety of methods. Pad printing, laser marking, and engraving are the most frequent methods.
What is PBT keycap?
PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) keycaps are a less frequent material for keycaps.
Since PBT is more costly to replace and create, you’ll have to buy them separately or pay a premium for many keyboards. PBT is more stiff and brittle than ABS, which means it lasts longer but is also more difficult to mold and manufacture. PBT keycaps can be used for an extended period of time before showing signs of wear.
ABS vs PBT Keycap: What are the main differences?
|ABS Keycaps||PBT Keycaps|
|Durability||Wears over time||More durable|
|Cost||Usually cheaper||More expensive|
|Noise||Quieter when typing||Louder when typing|
|Melting Point||Around 105-degree||Around 225-degree|
|Weight||Thinner (Not always)||Thicker|
Which one is the better keycap material overall?
Which one is the best material for keycaps? While PBT keycaps are typically thought to be stronger than ABS keycaps, you can choose whatever type you like. Some PBT keycaps have a sandy-gritty feel to them, and some people dislike the matte color. It’s very natural to like ABS plastic because it’s smooth and shiny.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to personal preference and what you think looks and feels best. Both options have a large selection of higher-end keycaps, so regardless of the plastic-type, you can obtain elegant keycaps.
Other keycap materials
Clear and transparent polycarbonate (PC) keycaps are one of the most common keycap materials. PC is more impact-resistant than acrylic (PMMA) and does not yellow like polystyrene/ABS. ABS-PC is created by blending it with ABS.
POM (Polyoxymethylene) is a thermoplastic material. It’s also known as “Acetal” or “Polyacetal.” POM is tough and long-lasting, although it has little friction and is slick to the touch. It has a higher density than PBT and ABS, and POM keycaps have a muffled downstroke.
POM keys typically have laser-engraved legends with or without infill.
PVC (standing for “polyvinyl chloride”) is a medium-hard material commonly used in keycaps. Because PVC production is relatively environmentally unfriendly, it is not produced in several places in the world.
After ABS, it’s perhaps the most popular keycap material. PVC has a medium hardness and friction. However, it is heat sensitive and will deform.
Due to their widespread use in the mass market, PVC legends are frequently pad printed or stickers, while laser printing with infill can also be seen.
The keycaps are described as two-shot ABS in the US catalogs from 1973, 1974, and 1979 (“1982”). The M7 and M9 tall keycaps are listed in the 1982 German catalog as two-shot Tenite (marked as “TENITE”), but the low-profile M8 keycaps are still ABS.
Polymer clay is used less frequently in production keycaps, and it is occasionally linked with artists who are just getting started and don’t yet have the equipment needed for resin casting.
Despite the fact that many people misjudge the price of detailed clay craft, it is true that clay is less intimidating to get into than resin craft. As a result, some individuals wrongly believe that clay keycaps are a more amateur approach.
Resin keycaps – the most aesthetic material for artisan keycaps
What are Resin Keycaps?
A polymer is made up of resin, which is a liquid substance originating from plastic or plant origin. Resin keycaps are, in essence, one of the applications of resin. They’re curing resin keycaps poured into a keycap mold.
A few years ago, resin keycaps were not particularly popular. However, if we look at resin keycaps and artisan keycaps nowadays, we can find them practically anywhere keycaps and keyboard materials are available.
The general aesthetic and visual appeal of resin keycaps, as well as the flexibility to DIY with your own patterns and colors, are the reasons for their unexpected popularity.
All of these features make resin keycaps a strong competitor to PBT and ABS plastic keycaps, which are widely used in the market.
How Are Resin Keycaps Made?
Resin keycaps aren’t easy to create, to be sure. However, you can generally get very artistic artisan resin keycaps on the internet and in shops all over the world.
If you’re considering making your own, this video covers what you need to know.
Benefits of Resin Keycaps
Let’s look at some of the main advantages of resin keycaps.
- Visual aesthetics. Resin keycaps offer a distinct visual appeal when compared to other keycaps. If an artist created them, they have workmanship, and they’re a greater canvas for artistic patterns than other sorts of keycaps, making them the best type of keycap.
- DIY creation. PBT plastic and ABS keycaps are manufactured on an industrial scale in factories using several aggressive techniques. Resin keycaps, on the other hand, are simple to create and may even be homemade, which is a huge plus.
- Add your own patterns. Resin keycaps serve as a blank canvas for your ideas. You can use them plain if you’re not an artist. In comparison to artisan keycaps, you can use various colors, patterns, and decorations to add to your resin mold to make the keycaps colorful and attractive.
- Cheap. The nicest part about resin keycaps is their low cost. They’re not as expensive as you may imagine, especially if you make them yourself. You’ll only have to spend money on resin. If you want to decorate the resin keycaps yourself, you can acquire everything else for the least amount of money.
Where to find the best artisan resin keycaps?
Group buys and raffles are frequently the greatest places to find one-of-a-kind keycaps, but there are other choices for individuals looking for ready-made keycaps.
The following is a list of the finest places to buy artisan resin keycaps you should know:
Besides several popular places, Hirosart – a handmade keycap brand is also a great place offering a collection of various resin keycaps that you should consider. Check out our store to find the best resin keycaps!
It’s up to your personal taste
No matter whether they are mechanical keycaps or DIY keycaps, when it comes to the best keycap material for you, there will be several aspects to consider, such as durability, weight, noise, comfort, and price.
For mechanical keycaps, we recommend PBT plastic material. It may be costly initially, but it will be worthwhile in the long run.
If you want to DIY your keycaps, the resin keycaps will definitely be your best keycaps material.
>>> Check out this article for a better understanding of the different types of keycaps.
It’s enjoyable to replace your old keycap set with a unique and personalized keycap set. It can also help you get rid of long-term boredom by using just one style of keycap on your mechanical keyboard.
In the long run, the material of your keyboard’s keycaps is critical. If you choose the wrong keycaps, you risk everything from spill damage to legend fading, keycap breakage, lower durability, and a slew of other issues.
So, whether you’re replacing keycaps on your keyboard or purchasing a new keyboard with the keycaps you desire, always make the best decision and buy the best keycap material.