What Are Dye Sub Keycaps? [Explained]

Almost all quality gaming keyboards have the keycaps printed with a dye sub or a double shot process. But what does dye sub keycaps really mean?

To help you understand what dye sub keycaps are and how they differ from double shot keycaps, we’ll look at how they are made, how you can tell it’s a dye sub keycap and the pros and cons of dye sub keycaps. We’ll also look at dye sub keycaps’ feel, aesthetics, durability, and customizability.

But let’s first start with the basics: 

What Are Dye Sub Keycaps? [Quick Answer]

Dye sub keycaps have had their legends printed on by a process known as dye sublimation. It’s a heat treatment process that engraves the legends onto the keycaps so they won’t fade over time.

How Does Dye Sublimation Work?

The dye sublimation process works by quickly heating the printed legend so it sublimates, which means it goes directly from its solid form into a gaseous state. The gas is then absorbed into the material of the keycap.

Since this process uses high temperatures, it’s most common to use dye sub keycaps in combination with PBT plastic. PBT stands for Polybutylene terephthalate and is a durable material that can handle abrasion, chemicals, and high temperatures.

Since the legends aren’t printed on top of the keys and are instead injected into the material of the keys, it’s almost impossible that the legends will fade or rub off.

When using the dye sublimation process, it’s considerably easier to print the colors on a lighter color than the legend. It’s possible to find dye sub keycaps with a darker base than the legend. Those keycaps are called reverse dye sub keycaps. Reverse dye sub keycaps aren’t as common since they are harder and more time-consuming to make than the standard dye sublimation process.

How Can You Tell It’s a Dye Sub Keycap?

The easiest way to find out if it’s a dye sub keycap is to use the method of exclusion:

If it has more than one color of plastic underneath, it’s not a dye sub keycap and most likely a double shot keycap. Another common technique of printing legends that is common on cheap keyboards is called pad printing. If you look at the surface with a magnifying glass and see a raised print, it’s most likely pad printed. 

If you checked and know it’s not a pad printed or double shot keycap, it’s most likely laser printed or a dye sub keycap. Look at the contrast of the legend. Dye sublimated keycaps tend to have much higher contrast than laser-printed keycaps.

Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Tend to be cheaper than double-shot keycapsSince the ink turns into a gas and gas like to spread out, the edges can be a bit fuzzy compared to the crispness that you would find in double shot caps
A large variety of colors and designsCan only dye the caps to a darker color than the cap already is, so black on white is a very easy task, but white on black is a little trickier
Very durable, and the legend won’t fade over time

Feel

Dye sub keycaps are smooth to touch. You won’t feel the dye sub legend unlike cheaper pad-printed keycaps. There isn’t much difference when it comes to the feel compared to double shot keycaps.

Aesthetics

Since dye sub keycaps don’t need any specific mold, there are a wide variety of designs. You can find everything from single colored standard keys to wild patterns and designs that you’ll find on special group buys. Some cheaper dye sub keycaps might have fuzzy letters. They are fuzzy because the dye sub process uses a gas that wants to expand, which, if done incorrectly, can cause uneven and blurry edges.

Durability

Dye sub keycaps are very durable. The dye sub legends won’t fade over time, and since they are often made of durable PBT plastic, they will often last for over 50 million key presses.

Flexibility

Dye sub keycaps aren’t as flexible as double shot keycaps. The reason they are not as flexible is that due to how the dye sublimation process works, it’s difficult to print anything darker than the keycap material. Therefore, the actual keycap has to be lighter than the legend. Dye sub keycaps are also almost always PBT plastic. Yes, PBT plastic is considered better, but other techniques such as double shot have the added flexibility to go for ABS keycaps.

Pricing

Dye sub keycaps are pricier than cheap laser-etched keycaps but are less expensive than double-shot keycaps. In addition, since the keycaps don’t require any molds and you can often find dye sub keycaps for cheaper.

Conclusion

We hope this guide has helped you better understand dye sub keycaps. Dye sublimation is one of the best ways to print keycaps. The legends will look nice, won’t fade over time, and dye sub keycaps are often more affordable than double shot keycaps. 

While choosing how the keycaps are printed is important, it’s just one small part of choosing keycaps. Make sure to check out our full guide on choosing keycaps.