Keycap Printing Methods
This is the type of printing you'll find on 99% of keyboards. It is the cheapest method possible, short of leaving the keys blank. Pad Printed letters are kind of like stickers, or decals, and you can feel the letter raised above the key surface.
Example: (Microsoft Ergo Keyboard)
- Low Cost
- Easy to use multiple colours
- Any face of the key can be pad printed
- You can feel the lettering
- Wears out quickly
Laser Etching and Laser Engraving
Laser etched keycaps are produced by using lasers to mark a design into the surface of the keycap. The process traditionally worked best on light colored keys because light keycap colour contrasts with the dark colour of the burnt plastic, and darker coloured keycaps usually had coloured infill to provide better contrast in the etching. However, recent developments in laser etching has meant that darker keycaps can now have lighter coloured etching without the need for any infill.
Laser engraving is similar to etching, but deep grooves are cut into the plastic. This type of keycap is preferred by many enthusiasts as it allows you to see the character on the keycap if you want to, but without the high-contrast look of other types of printing, giving the board most of the sleek look of blank keycaps, but without the impracticality if you can't find a character.
Example: (Dell AT101W)
- Doesn't wear out easily
- Not as expensive as some competing printing methods
- You can feel the lettering
- Edge of the character not particularly crisp, slightly blurrier than some comparable printing techniques.
Dye Sublimation produces much nicer keys than either of the other two printing methods. A dye is set into the plastic, and seeps a tiny bit into it. As such, even as the plastic is worn down from use, the character is still clear.
- Doesn't wear out
- Can't feel the lettering
- Can print multiple colors on a single key
- Can be used on any face of the key
- High Visibility
- High cost compared to some other printing choices
- Can only print letters that are darker than the plastic (no white lettering on black plastic, for example)
Double-Shot Injection Molding
With this method, the keycap actually consists of two pieces. The first piece is the outside of the keycap with the letter basically cut out of it, and the second piece is placed inside it with the lettering embossed to fit into the top piece. You can see it in this diagram:
This method of printing results in the highest quality keycaps possible. The edges of the letters are perfectly sharp, and it achieves the highest contrast, clearest lettering possible. Unfortunately, because of the very high price, they are relatively uncommon as stock keycaps, meaning you may only be able to source them direct from custom keycap companies or via group buys elsewhere. It's easy to check if a keycap is double-shot or not, just look underneath and you'll be able to see two distinct piece of plastic if it's double-shot
Example: Old OCN Keycap
- Doesn't wear out, ever
- Perfect edges
- Highest contrast and visibility
- Very high cost compared to other printing types
- Limited to two colours per key
- On worn keys you can sometimes feel the edge where the plastics meet