Keycap customization is perhaps the most popular way of personalizing a keyboard, as keycaps are what we directly feel and see while using a keyboard.
Just like the shape, the size, and the material of a keycap, the printing technique used for the characters on the keycap is also a significant part of keycap customization. As each printing technique comes with strengths and weaknesses of its own, there is a vital choice to be made for choosing the printing technique that will be used for your keycaps.
Out of all printing techniques, dye-sub and double-shot are the two that stand out in the realm of keyboard customization. Both methods produce higher-quality prints compared to the more widely available techniques such as pad printing or laser etching, making them a favorite among enthusiasts.
At this point, the question becomes how dye-sub and double-shot keycaps are different from each other, which is the topic of our discussion today.
Dye sublimation utilizes a process where dye is imprinted onto the keycap, causing it to become one with the plastic instead of creating a layer. On the other hand, double-shot keycaps are produced by combining two separate pieces of plastic; one for the legend and one for the rest of the keycap.
Between the two, double-shot keycaps are the superior option due to the limitations of dye sublimation, but they also come with a hefty price tag.
Now, let’s get to the details of the differences between dye-sub and double-shot keycaps. As there are a handful of factors such as the technologies used for printing, the available colors, how the print looks, and many more that separate the two, knowing all about them will help you make a better decision.
Differences Between Dye-Sub and Double-Shot Keycaps
Despite being the two most commonly preferred keycap printing techniques by keyboard enthusiasts, these two processes are different from one another in almost every way possible.
As we have mentioned earlier, dye-sub keycaps are made by imprinting the legends onto the keycap by using very high temperatures, whereas double-shot keycaps are essentially two separate pieces of plastic that are molded into each other.
Due to the difference between the printing techniques, there are a fair few areas where dye-sub keycaps and double-shot keycaps behave differently than one another.
- While both techniques are highly resistant against legends fading, double-shot keycaps are essentially impervious to it, whereas dye-sub keycaps can eventually show signs of wear and tear.
- As the legend of a double-shot keycap is manufactured out of solid plastic, it looks sharper than the legend of a dye-sub keycap. While this is often not a problem in dye-sub keycaps either, you may find fuzzy-looking letters on low-quality dye-sub keycaps.
- Due to the limitations of the dye sublimation process, the color of the legend must be darker than the color of the keycap. On the other hand, there is no color palette limitation on double-shot keycaps.
- While double-shot keycaps can be produced in every color, the color options are restricted for dye-sub keycaps.
- Double-shot keycaps can be made out of different types of plastic (such as ABS and PBT), but PBT is the only option for dye-sub keycaps.
Dye-Sub (Dye Sublimation) Keycaps
Even though dye sublimation is one of the best (only second to double-shot) keycap printing methods, you can only find dye-sub keycaps in enthusiast-grade keyboards nowadays.
While dye-sublimation was one of the most popular techniques for keycap printing in the 80s, it was replaced by a cheaper (and worse) technique called pad printing in the 90s.
In a nutshell, the dye sublimation technique is performed by printing the legend on special paper and then merging it onto the keycap with the help of high temperatures.
This technique allows dye-sub keycaps to be resistant to wear and tear, making it near-impossible for the legends to fade out over time.
That being said, due to the limitations of the process, dye-sublimation only works with PBT keycaps, eliminating your freedom to choose a different material.
Lastly, the dye sublimation technique requires the color of the keycap to be lighter than the color of the legend, which is a significant point to keep in mind.
Double-shot keycaps are objectively the best keycaps around, only found in enthusiast-grade keyboards nowadays despite double-shot injection being the standard printing technique in the 70s.
As you may predict, the reason behind their replacement is also price-related rather than the newer technologies being better, as this 50-year old technique provides better results than anything else on the market right now.
The double-shot injection molding process is an interesting one, especially considering that it is an older technology than both dye-sublimation and pad printing.
First, the keycap is manufactured in a way where the spot of the legend is empty. Then, the legend is injected into the empty space on the keycap, essentially combining two different pieces of plastic to complete the process.
This process allows the keycap to be produced without the need for any external printing, eliminating all the disadvantages that come with it, such as fading (pad printing) or limited color palette options (dye-sub).
Aside from the price tag, the one thing that can be considered a disadvantage with double-shot keycaps is that they can only have two colors. For three different colors, triple-shotting would be necessary, making the process even more expensive.
Choosing Between Dye-Sub and Double-Shot Keycaps
Now that we have gone into the details of both dye-sub and double-shot keycaps and how they differ from each other, it’s time to compare the two in usage-related categories.
There isn’t much to separate the two in the feel department as both printing techniques allow the keycap to be smooth to touch. With either of these keycaps, you won’t feel the legend itself as opposed to pad-printed legends that are clearly bumpy.
That being said, as dye-sub keycaps can’t be manufactured out of anything other than PBT plastic, there might be slight differences in feel compared to double-shot keycaps made out of ABS.
Considering that PBT is of higher quality compared to ABS, there is no clear winner or loser in this category.
While the legends of a double-shot keycap always look sharp due to how the process works, lower-quality dye-sub keycaps may have fuzzy-looking letters.
That being said, if you purchase dye-sub keycaps of decent quality, there won’t be much to separate the two in the looks department.
Even though double-shot keycaps get a small number of points for always providing sharp-looking legends, we would say that this category is closer to a tie than a win for double-shot keycaps.
The longevity of both of these keycaps is excellent, and the chance that you experience legends fading is near-impossible even after a very long time of usage.
That being said, double-shot keycaps get a small number of points in this category since it’s literally impossible for the legends to be wiped out.
Once again, we would call this a tie rather than a win for double-shot keycaps, but if we are to be specific, double-shot keycaps have a slight advantage here.
Flexibility is where double-shot keycaps leave dye-sub keycaps in the dust, which is why they are the best keycaps available.
The most significant advantage of double-shot keycaps is that any color combination can be used in them, whereas dye-sub keycaps require the keycap part to be a lighter color than the legend. This advantage itself is enough to convince most keyboard enthusiasts as freedom is a vital part of customizability.
Lastly, double-shot keycaps are flexible in terms of plastic. While PBT plastic is considered to be the best (which is what dye-sub keycaps also use) anyway, the freedom that double-shot keycaps offers earns it a few more points in this category.
Since the amount of resources and effort required to produce double-shot keycaps is quite large, its retail price is much more expensive than its alternatives, including dye-sub keycaps.
As a result, dye-sub keycaps are the winner of this category, making them a better option for those on a budget.
While there is no dispute that both dye-sub and double-shot keycaps are better than their alternatives, the limitations that come with dye-sub keycaps allow double-shot keycaps to win this competition.
If you are looking for the absolute best keycaps money can buy or require the flexibility in color and plastic choice, you will want to go with double-shot keycaps without a doubt.
On the other hand, if you don’t require the advantages that come with double-shot keycaps, such as the color flexibility and the ability to choose the material of your keycap, dye-sub keycaps will serve you well for a very long time.