How To Choose Keycaps For Your Mechanical Keyboards?
If mechanical switches are the soul of a keyboard, Keycaps are considered to be the heart of said keyboard. When a mechanical switch determines the actual feel and actuation of the keyboard, keycaps determine the looks of the keyboard. One can simply change its set of keycaps and make his/her old keyboard brand new with all-new themed or simple keycaps. But when one goes into the market for a set of keycaps, they might get overwhelmed by the variety of keycaps available in the market today. There are over thousands of sets you can purchase and it is not only about the design and look of the set. When you look for keycaps, you have to decide on several different factors such as the material, the profile, the printing method, etc. And all this is gonna confuse even the simplest of the people out there.
We can’t shorten the ever-growing market of Keycaps to make it easier for anyone to decide, but we can update you with all the different things you have to notice while purchasing your next set of keycaps. With this guide, we are going to explain different things, and different elements, one has to look at in his/her keycaps. So, without any further ado, let’s begin.
Keycap Material(ABS or PBT):-
First and foremost, one should decide what material they are looking for in their next set of keycaps. Most of the keycaps in the market are available in two different materials, ABS and PBT. There are fans of both, some love the glossy finish and bright colors of ABS keycaps while other prefer the textured matte finish of PBT keycaps. ABS vs PBT is a lifelong debate, which in our opinion is never gonna end. It’s up to the user who needs to decide what he prefers and what he wants. Both the plastics have benefits and cons of their own, let’s note them down below.
Benefits of ABS material keycaps:-
>Colors on ABS material look more vibrant and shiny.
>These are mostly softer and smoother to touch.
>Are usually cheaper than PBT material keycaps.
Cons of ABS Material Keycaps:-
>These are prone to oil and usually get shinier and slippier on the surface with use.
>ABS material is not as durable as PBT material.
Benefits of PBT material keycaps:-
>PBT material keycaps usually have a nicely-textured matte finish.
>These feel rich.
>PBT keycaps are highly durable, they don’t wear off easily.
Cons of PBT material keycaps:-
>Pricier, compared to ABS material keycaps, the PBT ones are slightly pricier.
Apart from ABS and PBT materials, you can also find novelty keycaps in Ceramic or Metallic materials. But they are not available widely and usually come under high-tier premium price segments. Once you decide on the material, you can look forward to the second point, which will be the keycap profile. Let’s discuss them now.
Keycaps are usually classified into different profiles based on their shape. Mainly the height and the shape of the top side usually define the profile of a keycap. Commonly available profiles in the market are OEM(universal standard slanted shape at the top, normal height, easy to use), Cherry profile(flat top, slightly shorter than OEM, looks great and leveled), XDA profile(concave top surface, short height, usually comfortable as fingertips sit firmly on to the concave surface), and SA profile(concave top, but tall keycaps, again very comfortable with concave top). Most widely, you will find Keycaps with OEM profile as it suits most users and offers decent performance. But you can decide not to the keycap profile as per your liking. When in doubt, you can always look at the image of the keycaps and notice the profile for an easy decision.
Choosing the right profile will always depend on your preference, there is no hard and fast rule to choosing a single profile but you should always check the compatibility of a said profile with your keyboard too. SA profile has tall keycaps which might not be suitable with all different layouts, so choose accordingly.
Printing Technique: Double-Shot, Dye-Sublimed, Laser-Engraving, & More:-
One also has to keep an eye out for the different techniques being used for printing legends while manufacturing the keycaps. The most common ones today will be the Laser-engraving, Dye-sublimation, and Double-Shot injection molding. For all those who are new, Legends refers to the alphabets or symbols on your keycaps. As easy as it might seem to be the process of printing the legends, its quite complicated. There are multiple processes that are being used today to print the legends, the most common one will be the laser-engraving process.
As the name suggests here, Legends are printed using a laser that engraves the legends onto the keycaps. This technique is usually used when crafting RGB-compatible keycaps as they will have transparent legends through which the RGB effects could peep out. This method usually printed crisp, sharp legends. The takeaway from the Laser-engraving process is that this method is not very durable. After a few months of usage, one might see the keycaps losing the print by chipping off around the edges.
Usually found in PBT material keycaps, Dye-Sublimation process legends are printed by using heat and dye to permanently print them onto the keycap. This process is durable and produces solid printing where legends pop out beautifully. Using the Dye-Sublimation process, colorful legends can also be printed. The only cons of using the Dye-Sublimed printing technique would be, that these don’t have transparent legend printing. Also since this is normal printing, this is not as durable as the next method.
Dual-Color Injection Molding:-
Injection molding technology is used mostly in ABS technique, but you will also see PBT keycaps with Dual-Tone injection-molded printing technique. In this technique, two layers of plastic are molded together to create the legends. This way, the legends are crisp, are highly durable, and they just don’t fade off easily with usage. You won’t see any Dual-Tone Injection-molded keycaps to wear off quickly or get issues in printing easily. Although this process is costly and usually needs two layers of material.
These above-mentioned printing methods are being used today widely. Laser-engraving is common in RGB-compatible keyboards, Dye-Sublimed printed keycaps will be there in most artistic keyboards. Now let’s move forward to the next point and that would be, RGB or non-RGB.
Backlit or Non-Backlit Keyboard Keycaps:-
This is a relatively simple decision. For backlit keyboards like RGB ones or even simple monochrome ones, you need to have transparent legends so that the backlight peeps through. Double-Shot keycaps and Pudding style keycaps are the ones suitable for backlit keyboards. Pudding-style keycaps have transparent keycap bodies too. They emit the backlight from the sides as well as the legends, in our opinion, every RGB keyboard deserves a set of Pudding-styled keycaps. You can purchase these Double shot or Pudding styled keycaps for non-backlit keyboards too but they won’t make a difference.
Simple Or Artistic Keycaps:-
There are two types of designs for keycaps primarily available in the market, one being simple, single-colored ones and the other having multiple contrast colors, and artistic designs. There are some novelty artistic keycaps which are used only as a set of four or just a single keycap on each keyboard. These are called Novelty keycaps and are very famous among the keyboard enthusiasts. You can check out our collection of novelty keycaps here too. Simple, artistic, or colorful, this depends on everyone's preferences, and people should choose accordingly.
Choosing the right set of keycaps is not an easy game. Of course, we get impressed by every other set being released every day. But we hope with this guide of ours, you will be able to understand the concept of keycaps right from their material type to their printing method that in the long run helps you to choose your next set. You can check out our collection of high-quality keycaps on our website here. Feel free to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any further questions or queries.