Keycaps come in all sorts of different shapes, colors, and styles, that allow you to design your keyboard any way you want. You can build your keyboard around your favorite game, show, or you can just pick your favorite color.
The point is the choices are endless, so what makes this tiny piece of plastic so expensive?
Keyboard keycaps can become very expensive due to the manufacturing quality of the keycaps, exclusive color selection, and limited availability. Most keycap sets are only sold one time, after that the only way you can buy that same set is to pay the aftermarket price which can be very expensive.
Are these expensive keycaps even worth it? I will go through what you should look for in your keycaps, how much you should pay, and what not to buy.
Why are Some Keycaps so Expensive?
Keycaps aren’t made with expensive rare materials that you would expect to pay an expensive price for, they are actually made with cheap plastics.
With that being said you are not paying the expense of the material of the keycap. You are paying for the process of how the keycaps are made, molded, and colored, which can be an expensive process.
The way the keycap is made can also change the sound of your keyboard, and if your keyboard has high-quality keycaps your keyboard will sound high-quality too.
Companies such as Ducky, GMK, Matrix, EPBT, and JTK are keycap manufacturers that specialize in making high-quality keycaps. What separates these brands from low quality cheaply made keycaps is that they spend time making sure each keycap is made to look, and feel good, and most importantly, last for a long time.
There are two types of plastic that keycaps are made out of which are PBT and ABS. Most cheaply made keycaps are made out of ABS plastic, and the downside to this is that the keycaps will slowly start to degrade over time.
In saying that ABS keycaps can also become some of the highest quality keycaps when manufactured by the right company.
On the other hand, you have PBT keycaps which are stronger than ABS keycaps but are harder to manufacture. This is because it is harder to manufacturer bigger keys such as the space bar without it warping, and you can also start to see your keys warp over time if your PBT keycap set was poorly made.
PBT keycaps are built tough, but lack in other aspects such as the color options. ABS plastic blends well with brighter colors and keeps its color over time. Whereas PBT keycaps don’t sit well with bright colors and will end up looking a little bit dim when finished.
If you compare a cheaply made keycap, to a high-quality keycap side by side you will be able to tell the difference of quality in an instant.
You can see that a more expensive keycap is made with thicker plastic, that reinforces the stem, which helps it last longer.
You can also see that the corners at the bottom are sharp and the sides are straight, this shows that the keycap is of good quality and won’t warp and degrade over time.
With many lower-quality cheaply made keycaps, you can see that they only have a thin layer of plastic and that the sides are a bit rounded and uneven, this is a sign that the keycaps aren’t very good quality and you should try to stay away from these when you can.
What Makes Expensive Keycaps Better?
You might’ve noticed the words Doubleshot and dye sublimation in the description of some expensive keycaps you want to buy.
That’s because these are two methods that are used to create a higher quality keycap that will last a long time.
The lettering on most low-end keycaps is printed on, which can cause the lettering to fade over time due to the extended use of your keyboard. However, if your keycaps were made using the Doubleshot method, then you won’t have to worry about your keys fading over time.
That’s because Doubleshot is made when the manufacturer makes a second mold. One mold is for the base of the keycaps, and the other mold is made for the lettering.
Once these molds have been made, they are then put together to make a single keycap that is now reinforced with a second layer of plastic, which the lettering is made out of.
Doubleshot is great for this reason. It will help reinforce the lifespan of your keycaps, while at the same time making them look brand new even when they have been used heavily for years.
On the other hand, you might have dye sublimation keycaps. This is when the keycap is stained a specific color all the way through. This is a very labor-intensive job, but it makes the keycap worth it in the end.
Dye sublimation can be better than Doubleshot keycaps because it allows for a wider range of colors and designs. That’s because with dye sublimation you can combine colors to stain the keycaps, whereas in Doubleshot you can only use two different colored plastics.
This also makes dye sublimation better than just printing each letter onto the keycap because the color is soaked into the plastic as opposed to just being drawn out on the surface just sitting there to be scratched off.
How Much Should You Pay For Keycaps?
A good set of keycaps can be expensive, but how far should you go for a good set of keycaps?
Well, this depends on the person. Personally, I wouldn’t spend more than $100 on a nice set of keycaps and that’s because anything over that is overpriced from the aftermarket.
If you find a cool-looking set of keycaps that is available on the aftermarket, you should look on online stores such as Amazon or Banggood to see if they’re selling replicas of the same set.
Most of the time replica keycaps are still made with good quality you just have to check the reviews and specs of the keycaps to make sure.
Why are GMK Keycaps so Expensive?
When you’re talking about keyboard keycaps the name GMK is sure to pop up in the conversation, but why does this company make their keycaps so expensive?
GMK is one of the biggest keycap manufacturers and also one of the more expensive ones and for good reason. A set of GMK keycaps are usually found for around $150-$200, and that’s only if you’re able to get your hands on a set before the aftermarket scalpers do.
One of the reasons why these GMK keycaps are so expensive is because they are made in limited quantities. GMK is constantly making unique and cool-looking keycaps that you can only buy through a group buy months in advance.
Once the group buy is over GMK stops making that set of keycaps and the only way to get your hands on that same set again is to either, buy them for the aftermarket price (usually costing you $100 extra), or buying any extras that were made, which sells out really fast.
Due to the nature of these older GMK keycap sets, they start to become very expensive because their value and rarity go up.
GMK is also one of the only higher-end keycap companies that make their keycaps out of ABS plastics. Even though this material is usually used in lower-end keycaps, GMK does a great job at making high-quality keycaps that are thick, and last a long time.
Because GMK uses ABS to make their keycaps they have more flexibility in their designs and that’s the reason why their designs are so nice and rich in color.
Are Expensive Keycaps Worth it?
That’s up to the person. Buying a good set of keycaps might look good or even feel good, but it’s down to whether you’re willing to spend the money or not.
Right now I have two custom-built keyboards that I used daily and I don’t regret spending extra money on the keycaps. I’ve found that I play games better on Cherry-style keycaps, but I like the sound and feel of XDA-style keycaps better. Not only that but the color combination and style of my keycaps both fit well with my two keyboards.
If I were to choose some cheap plain keycaps I would end up being unsatisfied with my build that I already spent so much time and money making, so what’s the point in building a high-quality keyboard if you’re just going to ruin it with a few low-quality parts.
In my opinion, it’s like buying a car with a really good engine, seats, etc, but the exterior is all rusty and dented. Yeah, you have a really good car on paper, but would you enjoy driving that in real life?
The point is if you want high-quality keycaps and don’t mind spending your money on some nice keycaps go for it. Some people want to save their money on a new car or a vacation, but if spending a little extra to make you have the keyboard you always wanted makes you happy, then go for it!