There is a wide variety of keycaps in the market. Ranging from the material they are made with, all the way to how they are put together and have their legends put on. Here we are going to go into the two well-known types of keycaps Double Shot, and Dye Sub. We are going to find out what the actual difference is between them, and what makes each special. So that by the time you are done reading, you will have all the knowledge needed to pick your own! Let’s get into it.
When it comes to building out keyboards, we want them to turn out the best way possible. We choose the best keyboard size according to our taste.
We pick our favorite switches suiting our needs. But what about the keycaps? There are a bunch of types to choose from each varying in the way they are built and the durability of the plastic used to make them. Double Shot and Dye Sub are ways the keycaps are developed. But before we jump into them, let’s take a closer look at what a keycap really is, and what the different types of materials used in them are.
What are the different types of keycaps?
Keycaps are basically the face of a keyboard. They are the first thing that you look at when you check one up. And they can come in different shapes and sizes. But none of the pretty colors or the cool figures printed on them really matter if they are not made out of good durable plastic, right? There are three well-known types of plastic that you should know about, and they are ABS, PBT, and POM. Let’s get a quick look at each of the three:
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene):
This is the most commonly used plastic in the market for making keycaps. The durability this plastic offers is not the best, in fact, it is the worst in terms of durability out of the three. Double Shot keycaps mostly use this type of plastic (more about this later on). And it feels great and smooth at first. But after a while, this is the type of plastic that wears out giving that shiny and greasy look a lot of us don’t like.
PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate):
This is a more expensive plastic that has been getting a lot of love in the mechanical keyboard world. The durability here is significantly improved. The feel is grainy compared to the smooth feel of the ABS. But the texture here does not wear out or become shiny and greasy like an ABS. This plastic is frequently found as the material used to make in Dye Sub keycaps.
Read more about ABS vs PBT keycaps here.
This one is the least known out of the three because it is rarely used. It is the hardest and most durable out of the three (and most expensive). Coming with a slippery feel on the keycaps. This plastic is also often used to make a part of a keycap, sometimes in the middle of the home button with a printed logo on top.
Now that we know the basics of the plastics used to make our beloved keycaps. Let’s dive into the two different types that we want to compare the Double Shot and the Dye Sub.
What are Double Shot Keycaps?
It is a complex process to make Double Shot keycaps. The Double Shot keycaps are basically two (hence double) properly molded pieces of plastic fit together to form a whole piece. The outer layer is what is mostly visible, with the legend (letter, sign, symbol) being hollow. And the second layer is on the inside, fitting like a puzzle. Only filling and showing the spot of the legend of the key.
This way of manufacturing keycaps is the most costly and complex out of the two we are talking about here. You are basically filling up two molds per key with plastic. Letting them take the corresponding shapes. Then putting them together. This does make the whole set of keycaps much more durable. And brings the plus side of the legend on the keys not wearing out, because it is not printed on them, it is an actual piece of plastic coming out from inside.
In the beginning, these were only made using ABS plastic. The reasoning behind this is the lower melting point in this type of plastic, making it easier to melt and mold. But nowadays you can find a perfect set of Double Shot keycaps fully made of PBT plastic. Making the whole thing more expensive but much more durable.
What About Customization?
These are perfect for bi-color keyboards as the outer layer of plastic comes in one color. And the inner one that is basically the color of the legend, in another.
What Are Dye Sub Keycaps?
Dye Sub is short for Dye Sublimation. This process is the most extraordinary out of the two no doubt. This one is not as simple as having two molds and solidifying molten plastic in them to put them together. This process involves preparing a full keycap, and the legend (letter, sign, or symbol) printed on a special paper.
After that comes the process of putting the paper on top of the keycap, but the crazy part is that it is not just printed. They are both heated up to the point where the keycap is opening its “pores” and the ink starts to turn into vapor.
Since they are already pressed into one another, the vapor has nothing to do but escape into the opened “pores” in the keycap plastic, while still keeping the shape of the legend.
These keycaps are made using PBT plastic thanks to their high melting point. A high melting point helps heat up the key enough to get it to where it needs to go without melting. It is rare to find them made with ABS but there are some out there.
The PBT plastic is much more durable than the ABS as explained above, but the same can not be said about the ink of the legends. The keycaps will not turn into that ugly greasy and shiny look but the legend or any special art on them may start to wear out over time. The ink is always supposed to be darker in color compared to the keycap it is being put on.
What About Customization?
Just like with the Double Shots, these keycaps open the door to a whole new world of customization. You can go for keycaps that come with cool colors on the legends. Or you can jump into the whole new world of styles of art these keycaps have to offer. I am talking about full pieces of art. Like blossom trees on your space bar, maybe a dragon on your keycaps, the possibilities are endless.
Which Type of Keycap is Better?
It depends on what you are looking for really. Want durable keycaps that will last a good amount of time and wont turn shiny? Go for Dye Sub Keycaps, the harder plastic will not let you down. Don’t care about them turning shiny but want the legends to never wear out? Go for the Double Shot, the legend is not going anywhere because it is hard plastic and not ink. Looking for a clean and simple color combination between the keys and legends? The Double Shots will be perfect for you. Want to have a whole piece of inked art on your keyboard? Go Dye Sub!
These keycaps both have their pros and cons. But one thing that remains the same is their use, they are still just keycaps! So just go for what you feel suits your lifestyle and the needs of your keyboard.
- Keycaps are the plastic keys you press on your keyboard. There are three well-known types of plastic they can be made from.
- ABS is the most commonly used one. Feels smooth. Wears out over time giving that shiny greasy look.
- PBT is a better quality plastic with higher durability. Feels grainy. Do not wear out into a shiny keycap over time.
- POM is the hardest and most durable. But hardly ever used to make full sets of keycaps. Feels slippery wet. It can be found used in details for keyboards.
- Double Shot Keycaps are double layered ABS (and possibly PBT). The two layers are made out of plastic poured into two different molds, each key goes through this process. The outer layer is the most visible. While the inner layer can only be seen as the legend (the letter or sign of the key). Can wear out with time to become shiny, but the legends will stay there.
- Dye Sub Keycaps are made with PBT plastic. The high melting point of this plastic allows for the ink with the legends to be incorporated into the key without it melting. The key itself is durable, the only thing that may wear out is the ink.
- They are both awesome and have ups and downs. Look at the characteristics of each, and make your choice depending on your needs and desires!
The KBE team is dedicated to sharing our knowledge and creating useful resources about computer keyboards. This article was written as a team collaboration, combining our knowledge and years of experience using, building and modding keyboards. Meet the team here.