Keycaps are a great and easy way to express your own unique character and enhance the experience of your RGB keyboard. With the wide variety of keycaps on the market ranging from ALPS to unique Pokemon characters, sometimes choosing the right one can be overwhelming.
Here’s a quick guide that will explain all the key factors to help you make your first purchase.
Keycap materials become important as you spend more time on your keyboard. You’ll start noticing small factors such as the shine or it’s resistance to wear. You want to be picky and choose the right one to get the most out of your time pressing keys.
You’ll often hear the acronyms ABS and PBT when researching keycaps. They refer to the two most common types of plastics that are used in keycaps. Of course there are other materials such as POM or PVC, however we won’t go into those as they are outliers in the majority of aftermarket caps.
- ABS is short for “Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene” are one of the most common materials used in keycaps. Its ingredients are Polystyrene, Butadiene for flexibility and Acrylonitrile to make it firmer. These keys often have a higher “click tone” in comparison to PBTS
- Smoother: Most ABS keys have a smoother and harder finish
- More intense Light: The thinner quality is a bit more translucent on the lettering where light has more opportunity to escape.
- Yellowing - The ABS caps have a tendency to turn yellow after long exposure to UV lights.
- Shine - The keys will eventually shine and wear as a result of the oils on your hand.
- Smudge - Letters and symbols on the keys may eventually smudge over time depending on the build quality.
- Thinner/Low Quality- Since most are widely produced, you’ll fine many thinner finishes or poorer built ones on the market.
- PBT is short for “polybutylene terephthalate”. These keycaps are known for their tougher quality and rougher finish. You can also notice a lower “click tone” in comparison to ABS.
- No Shine: The keycaps will not have the oily shine even after you’ve used it for many years to come.
- Resistant: You’re touching the material in comparison to ABS keys where you are just touching the paint.
- Texture: The PBT has more texture, providing a better overall feel to it.
- Not as Easy to Mold: Due to its properties such as it’s high melting point makes it much harder to create certain legends.
- Expensive: Most of the PBT keycaps on the market cost much more than ABS.
Types of Print
Double-shot: This method involves two layers of plastic (in most cases ABS). The first plastic used to create a mold for the legend where the second plastic shot into the first to fill up the space of the keycap. This method is used by companies such as Vortex, where the print is often much more crisp.
Single-shot: This method involves a single injection mold to product a blank keycap where the legends are created through another process.
Pad-Printing: This method prints the legends on the keycap. Most keycaps on the low-end side are made through this method.
Sublimated dying- This method is often used with PBT because of it’s higher melting point. Ink is filled into the plastic through a heating process to press out the legends.
Laser Printing: This method is quite popular in RGB keyboards as the process helps print legends on a variety of keycap types. For example, white keycaps would use laser etching to leave a black trail to market the legend. These legends can be filled with different colored paint. Another laser printing method is laser engraving where the laser removes paint to reveal the legend. This method is quite popular for backlit keycaps.
Types of RGB keycaps
Translucent - Translucent keycaps are essentially a see through cover where you can see the switches and the led bulbs flash. These types of caps are particularly good for those who want to see the mechanics of their keyboard while enjoying a wide array of RGB dance.
- Pudding Caps - These are a great blend for those who enjoy seeing their legends while wishing for the most RGB lighting. These keycaps are great for pulsation or flashing effects. The white sides allow colors to essentially explode from each keycap, leaving an amazing array of colors.
- White Tops - These keycaps do a great job of showing each RGB color on the keycaps. The white tops essentially serve as mini projects for each led bulb, which leaves a stunning display of colors.This works especially well for effects that mimic the screen such as the Element Keyboard as your keyboard will synchronize with the actions on your monitor. However, for those that enjoy seeing the legends, they may not want this options as most of these keycaps have white legends.
- Backlit Keycaps- These keycaps are for those that want just enough RGB on their keyboard but do not wish an overwhelming light effect. The clear legends allow just enough light to shine through while a small gap allows some RGB lights to seek through the sides. For those that want a bit more RGB can look at options such as the Element keycaps where there is more space for the RGB to shine on the case.