The A to Z Guide to Keycap Profiles and Materials - Mozano

Keycap Profiles and Materials

Everyone knows that keycaps are the character buttons on the keyboard, the part that we touch when typing, so the keycap plays an extremely important role in the feeling of typing and working performance on a mechanical keyboard. Talking about keycaps with people addicted to mechanical keyboards is never enough, but as briefly as possible, when you remember the keycap, you need to remember the following headlines:

1/ Material

Currently, there are two most popular materials for keycaps: ABS and PBT. Keycap ABS seems to be more popular for LED keyboards, while ABS is affordable, has a certain shine, but it is often not durable and easily damaged over time. PBT is a plastic commonly used for keycaps of keyboards that focus on typing, with little external flashy visual elements, PBT creates a certain roughness for each key, giving a very good typing feeling and very high durability.

In more detail, ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) has high elasticity and shrinks the least of all plastics when molded and keycaps ABS when typing will hear a clear sound.

Pros: very durable and very hard to break

Cons: the surface will become glossy when used for a long time, turn to yellow when exposed to a lot of sunlight (because of ultraviolet rays)

Meanwhile PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) is harder than ABS, has a slightly rougher surface, shrinks more when molded. Keycaps PBT when typing will sound more “opaque”. Most mid-range products and below, such as membrane keyboards, use PBT plastic for keycaps, and the keyboard frame can use both PBT or ABS.

Pros: no shine or yellowing when used for a long time

Cons: plastic material is brittle, so it's easy to break

In addition to ABS and PBT, there are some other materials, which are quite rare and picky for keycap use, such as:

POM (Polyoxymethylene) plastic has very good resistance, scratch resistance - resistance to cleaning chemicals. Belonging to high-quality and somewhat luxurious materials, few manufacturers choose this type of plastic to make keycaps, only brands who like exclusive rights dare to use this material.

Pros: anti-scratch, not strongly affected by cleaning chemicals

Cons: high cost, little surface grip, so it feels slippery

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) plastic is quite hard, used to manufacture keycaps, not the keyboard frame. The popularity is behind ABS plastic, used by big brands like Logitech - Dell - HP and many others. PVC resin has medium hardness and grip but is quite sensitive to temperature.

Pros: hard, quite durable

Cons: susceptible to high temperature

The main metals used today are aluminum and zinc, the metal is more expensive to process but in return the finished product is much more beautiful and shimmering. Not only can you print pictures on keycaps, but you can also create patterns that stand out from the surface making the keyboard both unique and beautiful.

Pros: beautiful, durable, many designs

Cons: expensive, noisy when typing strongly

2/ Profile keycap

In addition to the material, the keycap profile also affects the typing feeling and working performance. Keycap has a reasonable profile that will give a solid typing feeling, moderate notch and reduce deviation when pressing a lot of keys. The standard thickness of the keycap according to major mechanical keyboard brands such as Leopold, iKBC, Ducky... commonly used is 1.5mm.

Currently, there are commonly used keycap profiles:

Curved backplane: the angle of the keys relative to the foot is the same, the keyboard body will be slightly curved, most of which are old membrane keyboards.

Contoured keys: the angle of the keys relative to the foot is completely different in each row of keys, the keyboard body is straight, commonly found in mechanical keyboards.

Staircase: the angle of the keys relative to the legs is the same, the keyboard body is straight or slightly parallel to the table top. This is the most common type, from membrane keyboards to mechanical keyboards.

Flat: the keys are upright compared to the legs, the keyboard is straight and parallel to the table, the space bar can be slightly protruding, a rare commodity.

Chiclet: flat keys and parallel to the table surface, this is the type exclusively for laptop keyboards, but the exception is Apple's keyboard.

3/ Sculpture 

There are currently 4 popular sculpting technologies for keycaps:

Pad printing: colors are printed directly on the keys to create characters, so the durability is low and the color often fades after a period of use.

Laser engraving: use a hot laser to create transparent grooves with character strokes, and use color to put in the grooves, or leave the groove empty, use leds from the bottom up to create color for the characters. Laser engraving is now rarely seen with modern mechanical keyboards, partly because the printing technique is quite complicated, the cost is high, but the durability is not long, or it is affected by the light below the keycap.

Double shot: the keycap is composed of two layers, between these two layers is the ink that makes up the characters, so over time it does not fade to ensure absolute durability.

Dye-sub: this is a technology that uses heat to make the ink penetrate deep into the keycap and can only be done with PBT plastic.

Combining the above factors, a keycap is said to be good if it has good material, reasonable thickness, good hand-grip rough surface and characters do not fade over time.

There is no single best standard to choose the ideal keycap for mechanical keyboard users, it's all based on preference, habit and addiction. People addicted to keycaps are like women addicted to accessories, once they get involved, it's very difficult to get out, once they play, they can only level up, but they can't stop.


4/ Layout keycap

Before purchasing keycap, it's important to make sure it's compatible with your keyboard layout and design. Depending on the brand, the layout will change differently. The layout you choose should pay attention to the purpose of use, mobility and your workspace to be the most convenient and comfortable. Another thing you need to pay attention is whether your keycap set is compatible with ANSI and ISO layouts. The main distinction is the size and shape of the enter key. 

For many people, once they own a first set of keycaps, they will want to buy another set right away, which is a push that makes them fall into the pit of mechanical keyboard preferences. Through this article, hopefully you will find out the difference between different keycap types and be able to choose your own first set of keycaps.


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