You are probably familiar with the regular plastic keys that come with the keyboard of a laptop. Well, nowadays, people tend to switch to customization solutions to add life to their keyboard keycaps. They are basically plastic coverings on keyboard keys. Essentially, they identify each key with a letter, number, or symbol when typing on a computer.
Keyboard enthusiasts can choose keycaps in various sizes, colors, textures, and shapes to suit their preferences or to keep up with a unique trend. As the name has it, custom keycaps have custom designs to meet the needs of people who dwell on specifics. You might want to customize your mechanical keyboard with enhancers and appeals that the standard market doesn’t satisfy. Custom keycaps can give that extra touch of appeal and beauty you want.
How are Keycaps Made?
Most keycaps are made through a custom injection molding process. The steps entail melting plastic using intense heat and forcing it under pressure into steel molds. It sets, shrinks, and cools to take the shape of the part.
Keycaps can be produced using several materials, like wood and metal. However, most are made of plastic. Within that category, the common chemical structures include:
Lesser known as Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, ABS is a copolymer of three monomers: styrene as the primary ingredient, butadiene to increase flexibility and reduce brittleness, and Acrylonitrile to harden end products. ABS blends with other common plastics and is easily available to manufacture affordable keycaps. It is common on mechanical keyboards.
Relative to other essentially useful plastics, ABS is preferable for molding double-shot keycaps because of its low melting point. Another unique feature is the natural smoothness that feels slick on the palm.
Legends on ABS keycaps are often etched or engraved using lasers, double-shot, or pad-printed. The latter wears off and loses its shine and glossiness after prolonged use. These two features significantly vary with the type of plastic material. Some ABS caps can sustain their shine for a long time and cost a lot to manufacture.
At a higher cost, Polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) is a hard plastic material for making durable keycaps with good textures. The hardness specifically increases production costs because PBT is difficult to mold. It makes most of the keycaps found on the market, but loses its shine after some time.
Between the two materials, PBT is the hardest and most durable plastic. It is also considered the best and most qualified option because of its resilience to chemicals and heat. PBT legends are commonly produced using dye-sublimation and laser-etching. However, they aren’t made as double-shots because the materials shrink a lot in the molding process.
Moreover, PBT keycaps are thicker than ABS because of the additional density and weight. The latter also has a higher tone, while PBT is more lower-toned.
PVC is a hard plastic and is one of the least preferable options for making keycaps. That is mainly because the manufacturing process negativity affects the environment. PVC legends are commonly pad-printed, but laser printing is also applicable.
Other plastics for custom injection molding keycaps include PC, mainly used for making translucent keycaps. It occasionally blends with ABS to create ABS-PC plastics. POM legends can also be laser-etched to give a slippery and slick texture. Essentially, it is durable, hard, has low friction, and is denser than PBT and ABS. However, most manufacturers avoid POM because of its slippery effect.
Some plastic keycaps are coated with an extra layer of rubber to give a better grip in the hand. The coating significantly benefits gamers who are gaming on PCs for the first time and want to avoid slipperiness.
Moving on, custom keycaps can be customized into various designs using 3-D printers. You can choose any color, texture, or shape according to your preference to create unique and exclusive caps.
For example, you can opt for an ergonomic design whereby caps have OEM heights and a wide radian to fit your fingers, thus enhancing your typing experience. Besides adapting to wear-resistant and top-notch quality plastic material, a custom injection molding process will give you characters that don’t fade easily and have great visual effects.
Custom keycaps can also be hand-molded to create unique forms and designs, although this is expensive. Artisans mold clay into various shapes and shape them into silicone molds of the design. They are then put in resin to produce caps. While the method is tedious and time-consuming, it is significantly profitable. Both the 3-D printing and hand-made options use single-shot or double-shot processes to make single-color or multicolor caps.
With the above insight, answering two important questions is critical to improving your experience with plastic injection molding for keycaps.
Do Custom Caps Apply to All Keyboards?
The answer to this question significantly depends on the type of keyboard you are using. Ideally, keycaps are not removable in some computer equipment, so they are not compatible with other customized solutions.
Additionally, companies that manufacture PC devices like mechanical keyboards use different switches, some of which may not be compatible with custom caps. It would be best to first check your device’s compatibility before customizing your keycaps. You can always choose from a variety of unique designs for teenagers, or girly options, etc., according to your choice.
Is Customizing Keycaps Expensive?
In regards to price, custom keycaps are more expensive than conventional options on the market. The price varies depending on the design you want; more complex designs are more costly because they require intense injection molding processes. More to customization, specific designs can’t be found in other keycaps. Custom ones are more unique and exclusive to match higher market price points.
Plastic injection molding companies manufacture custom keycaps based on particular customer requirements. Due to the costly molding process, their market supply is limited. Customers have to order first to enable manufacturers to satisfy their unique specifications.
Ideally, a professional custom injection molding company will ensure its customers are happy about every design that gets fulfilled. It meets specifics, and the quality you get matches the value of your money.