If you’re in the mechanical keyboard game and looking to upgrade your keycaps–you might come across several different terms. “ABS” and “PBT” and “doubleshot.”
- Doubleshot keycaps are made from two separate pieces of plastic that are injection molded (stuck together) to create the keycap.
- This manufacturing process allows for the keycap legends (numbers, letters, and symbols on top of the keycap) to be transparent so the RGB backlighting shines through (rather than painted on the keycaps).
- Doubleshot keycaps are available in both PBT and ABS plastics.
But what about pudding keycaps? ABT vs PBT? Dye sub??
Keep reading fam, and let’s learn about mechanical keyboard keycaps!
What Are Doubleshot Keycaps?
The term “double-shot” refers to the process through which keycaps are made. (This process has been around since the 1970s!)
Plastic is “shot” (or injected) in two different molds during construction.
- The first piece of plastic is the keycap with a hollow legend
- The second piece is transparent and includes the legend. It’s pushed up inside the outer keycap piece
The two pieces form together into one smooth keycap (you can’t feel where the two plastics meet at all. It’s smooth).
Pro Tip: What is a keycap “legend?” A legend is the printed or embedded text on a keycap. I.e. your “a” key probably has an “a” printed on the top of the keycap. This is the legend.
These keycaps do NOT have their legends printed (or painted) on top, and so the legends won’t rub off or scratch over time!
Also, they’ll let the RGB backlighting of your keyboard shine through the legends for a really cool effect.
How can you tell if a key is doubleshot?
There are 2 ways to tell if a keycap is doubleshot.
- Take the keycap off of your keyboard and look underneath. Is there a transparent white/grey plastic underneath? It’s probably a doubleshot keycap
- Look at the legend on top of the keycap. Is it transparent-ish? Or printed in white or color dye?
If your keyboard is on with backlighting, you should easily be able to tell if the legend is transparent or not. There will be light shining through!
How are Double Shot keycaps made?
Here’s how the process works:
- A mold of either PBT or ABT plastic is shaped into the keycap
- This “outer” plastic has a “cutout” of the legend missing on the top, and is also thinner than standard keycaps (because they are about to add another layer of plastic underneath)
- A 2nd mold is created (usually with transparent plastic) that will fit underneath the 1st mold
- This insert molding has the legend protruding from the top, which will fill into the open space from the first top mold
The two pieces are then injected together to form one solid keycap.
Doubleshot keycaps pros and cons
There are several distinct advantages and disadvantages to using doubleshot key caps on your keyboard.
- Transparent doubleshot keycaps let RGB backlighting shine through if you’re into that sorta thing
- Generally more durable
- The legend won’t scratch or wear off
- Maximum contrast legends, and they’re usually sharper and less prone to printing mistakes
- Often more expensive (because the manufacturing process is a bit more involved)
- Fewer color options (doubleshot keycaps are usually 2-tone only, no fancy prints)
But honestly, that’s about it. Doubleshot keycaps are available just about anywhere these days and are of fantastic quality!
What Is Dye Sub (Or Sublimation) Keycaps?
By contrast, “dye sub,” or “dye sublimation” refers to a printing method for keycaps.
- The key caps are molded of plastic (mainly PBT plastic)
- Using high heat, the legends are printed onto the keycaps
More specifically, the “paint” for sublimation keycaps are turned into a gas and literally absorbed into the PBT plastic, making them very durable and long-lasting.
Are dye sub or doubleshot keycaps better?
It mostly comes down to personal preference.
The process of sublimation printing can lead to fancier designs, colors, etc, but doubleshot key caps can yield a transparent RGB shine through.
And although dye sub keycaps should last a long time, the prints will eventually wear off slightly, whereas this won’t happen with doubleshot keycaps.
ABS vs PBT plastic – what’s the difference?
Like we mentioned already, double shot key caps can come in either ABS or PBT plastic.
Both of these also have advantages and disadvantages depending on your personal preference!
What are ABS keycaps?
ABS stands for “acrylonitrile butadiene styrene,” and is a long-time material used for keycaps.
ABS plastic is…
- Generally cheaper
- Feel very smooth
- Look more shiny (especially after years of use)
ABS keycaps themselves will be very durable, but the biggest drawback is that the plastic will wear down and become more shiny and smooth overtime. The legends might even fade away at some point (unless it’s a doubleshot ABS)!
But actually, some people (myself included!) actually ENJOY the shiny, worn-down look! Gives my keyboard a vintage feel. In fact, I’m typing this blog post on dye sub ABS plastic keycaps, the SA Gas Attack keycaps.
What are PBT keycaps?
On the other hand, there is a relatively new plastic called PBT (“Polybutylene Terephthalate”).
PBT keycaps are…
- More expensive
- Feel a bit textured
- More of a matte finish
PBT is also a bit thicker (and therefore louder) than ABS plastic.
Here are some PBT Akko keycaps on my GMMK keyboard:
What are pudding keycaps?
You might also see the term pudding keycaps a lot, especially when talking about RGB backlighting.
Pudding keycaps are keycaps with a solid color top, but with transparent sides that let a lot of RGB backlighting shine through. They’re usually made with PBT plastic (textured feel and matte finish look).
For anybody who is really into their RGB lighting, pudding keycaps are the keycaps that let the maximum amount of RGB shine through (even more than standard doubleshot keycaps).
If you’re not into RGB, don’t buy pudding keycaps.
Keycap Buying Guide
Here are some of the key factors you want to look for when shopping for mechanical keyboard keycaps:
Even though there are a ton of different plastics, features, and profiles, keycaps play a huge part in the overall look of your keyboard!
Choose keycaps based on their design, colors, and RGB effects! Grab keycaps that make you happy 😎
The second most important thing to look for with keycaps is the profile.
Keycap profiles are the different shapes & sizes of computer keyboard keycaps (the plastic piece that you press on when typing).
Keycaps come in a variety of heights and shapes including flat, curved, sculpted, or uniform, and range from very short (like a laptop keyboard) to very tall.
Profiles make a huge difference in how your keyboard will feel (and can even lead to a bad experience, i.e. purchasing tall keycaps that end up hurting your fingers or wrist).
Some common keycap profiles include:
|Keycap Profile||Height||Shape||Top of Keycap||Notes|
|OEM||Medium: 10mm-12mm||Slightly sculpted||Cylindrical||Common on many keyboards. The center rows of keys are 10mm, the edges are 12mm|
|Cherry||Medium: 10 mm||Slightly sculpted||Cylindrical||Also very popular. These are probably the most “normal” profiles|
|SA||Tall: 16.5mm||Heavily sculpted||Slightly spherical||They’re huge! And awesome. I own some Domikey SA keycaps and love them.|
|XDA||Medium: 9mm||Uniform||Spherical||Similar to DSA, but taller and have larger keytop typing area|
|DSA||Short: 7.6mm||Uniform||Spherical||Similar to XDA, but much shorter|
ABS and PBT plastics make up 99% of keycaps these days (see the section above).
- If you’re on a budget, choose ABS keycaps. They’re smooth & will get “worn in” and shiny over time
- If you like a more clacky experience, and like the matte look, choose PBT keycaps. They have a tiny amount of texture.
Keycaps (of any material) are surprisingly expensive, so do your research beforehand (especially for the materials and profile).
The good news is that there are more and more budget keycap sets available even on Amazon!
Our Recommended Doubleshot Keycaps
You can find double shot keycaps just about anywhere these days, so here are a few of our favorites:
- 【ASA Profile Keycaps Full Set】If OEM profile or classic Cherry Profile wasn’t your jam, you may have luck in AKKO unique keycaps profile, ASA profile. This profile is built in high profile,...
- 【Los Angeles Color Scheme】Made of creamy beige alphas, golden purple modifiers and purple legends, the set looks great with many case colors. Imagining yourself walking on the quiet LA street in...
- 【Durable Fade-resistant PBT Doubleshot Material】Made from PBT plastic—long considered the superior keycap material—this MX-compatible set is both long lasting and resistant to the shine that...
Akko is a fantastic mechanical keyboard brand! They make keyboards, switches, and PBT keycaps (doubleshot of course).
There are lots of colors to choose from as well!
GMK (premium keycaps)
- Fierce keycaps with an edge — Strap on some armor, unsheath your katana, and prepare to defend your desktop: GMK Red Samurai, the first keycap set from designer RedSuns, features a striking colorway...
- Thick & compatible doubleshot ABS — Made in Germany using custom Cherry tooling, this GMK Red Samurai kit's keycaps are made from 1. 5-millimeter-thick doubleshot ABS for longevity and strength
- Switch compatibility — Sculpted in Cherry profile, GMK Red Samurai is compatible with Cherry MX switches and clones including but not limited to Kaihua, Halo, and Gateron
You might have heard of GMK keycaps before–they are some of the premium (or at least the most expensive) keycaps on the market.
You can find few GMK sets on Amazon, but most are reserved for Drop, etc. Personally, I don’t think GMK keycaps are worth it!
- Cherry profile (sculpted 1-1-2-3-4-4)
- Compatible with Cherry MX and clones
Although Domikey makes lots of keycaps, I really like their ABS plastic sets! Doubleshot of course, these are of the highest quality.
They have TONS of colors and themes too!
Are All Doubleshot Keycaps Shine Through?
No. Although most doubleshot keycaps do feature a transparent piece of plastic that will let RGB shine through the keycap legend, they do make doubleshot keycaps with two solid pieces of plastic put together.
The two pieces of plastic are generally contrasting colors, and don’t let RGB backlighting shine through.
Why are doubleshot keycaps better?
Doubleshot keycaps aren’t necessarily “better” than other keycaps, but they do offer a few advantages. Since the legends aren’t printed on, they won’t wear down or scratch. Doubleshot keycaps are usually thicker and more durable, and generally feature a transparent legend that lets backlighting shine through.
That said, keycaps all come down to personal preference.
What are keycap profiles?
Keycap profiles refer to the different shapes & sizes of the plastic piece that you press on when typing. Keycaps come in a variety of heights and shapes including flat, curved, sculpted, or uniform. Common keycap profiles include OEM, Cherry, SA, and DSA (though there are several more).
What is a doubleshot PBT keycap?
Doubleshot refers to the manufacturing process. Two pieces of plastic are molded together (one for the legend (the graphic on the keycap) and one for the body of the keycap). These plastics are “shot” together in a mold to form the keycap. The legend is not printed on the keycap and is, therefore, less prone to scratching or fading.
The Bottom Line: Are doubleshot keycaps any good?
Yes! The 2-piece plastic approach of doubleshot keycaps ensures that the legends will never wear down or fade. They’re also usually thicker and more durable than other keycaps.
And if you’re a fan of RGB backlighting, the transparent legend lets the backlighting shine through for a unique effect!
Want to up your keyboard game even more? Check out this post: Keyboard Mods: 9 Easy Ways to Improve Sound & Feel