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Double-Shot vs. Dye-Sublimation Keycaps: What’s the Difference?

Double-Shot vs. Dye-Sublimation Keycaps: What’s the Difference?

Key Points

  • Double-shot keycaps use two layers of plastic in a mold, while dye-sublimation keycaps have the legends printed on a single layer of plastic.
  • Double-shot legends are more durable than dye-sublimation legends and won’t rub off over time.
  • Dye-sublimation keycaps are not compatible with backlighting, while double-shot keycaps can have shine-through legends.
  • Dye-sublimation allows for complex designs and images on keycaps, while double-shot is limited to plain legends.
  • Double-shot keycaps offer more color choices, including lighter legends, while dye-sublimation is limited to darker legends.
  • Double-shot keycaps have sharper legends, while dye-sublimation legends can have printing errors or fuzzy edges.

There are many ways to make keycaps. However, one thing that people often overlook is the legends — the letters printed on the keycaps. There are two primary methods of inlaying the legends on the plastic. Let’s examine double-shot vs. dye-sublimation keycaps to determine which one you should invest in for your next keycap set.

Double-Shot vs. Dye-Sublimation Keycaps: Side-by-Side Comparison

Dye-SublimationDouble-Shot
Legend Creation MethodPrintedInjected
Keycap Molding MethodLaser, dye, and extreme heatTwo layers of plastic in a mold
Legend SharpnessVariesVery sharp
Legend ColorMust be darker than the keycapAny color
Keycap ColorLimited colorsAny color
Legend FeelCan’t feel while typingCan’t feel while typing
DurabilityMay experience slight wear and tearVery durable
Plastic TypesPBTPBT, ABS, POM
Backlight CompatibilityNot CompatibleCompatible
PriceExpensiveModerateExpensive
Durable Double Shot PBT Material
HyperX Double Shot PBT Keycaps
$29.99
  • 104 keys
  • English (US) layout
  • Pink with signature HyperX shine-through font
  • Includes keycap removal tool
  • Compatible with most HyperX mechanical gaming keyboards
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/20/2024 11:48 pm GMT

Double-Shot vs. Dye-Sublimation Keycaps: What’s the Difference?

We manufacture dye-sublimation and double-shot keycaps differently. So, they have many distinguishing features, even if they offer similar durability in both the keycap and the legend. Let’s examine the differences between these legend-creation methods.

Creation Method

Double-shot plastic has two different colored plastic layers pressed together to make one keycap.

Dye-sublimation is a type of legend printing. It uses extreme heat to evaporate the dye and cause the color to soak into the plastic material beneath it. Double-shot injects two separate layers of plastic into different molds and then presses them together to create one single keycap.

While double-shot is still a type of legend printing by definition, no actual printing occurs. The legend is an entirely separate plastic layer pressed into the outer layer to create a single, two-layer keycap. The legend is on the inner plastic layer, packed into the outer one so that the legend shows through.

You can see the difference on the underside when looking at a double-shot vs. dye-sublimation keycap. Double-shot keycaps will have two different colored plastics on the underside, either all the way around or just in the upper part of the keycap, as shown below.

Dye-sublimation keycaps only have one layer of plastic, and since we print the legend with dye on top of the plastic, the color will be as uniform as the keycap. Obviously, if the keycap has multiple colors, you may see several colors in the plastic. However, most dye-sublimation caps won’t have multicolored plastic.

Durability

A laptop with a keyboard cover with damaged legends, making the Shift, A, and N keys unreadable.
Keyboard legends made with less durable methods can become damaged or wear away.

The difference between double-shot vs. dye-sublimation keycap durability is not in the cap itself but in the legend. It’s not uncommon for keycap or keyboard covers to see damage to the legends. Human fingers produce oils that rub away the ink or dye used to make the legends.

Double-shot and dye-sublimation both produce highly durable legends. However, double-shot legends are more durable than dye-sublimation ones overall. After an extended usage period, dye-sub legends might start to rub off, as all dye legends eventually do. It may take longer than a typically printed keyboard, but they aren’t immune to wear and tear. Double-shot legends could probably survive the apocalypse. 

You can’t scratch off or wear away double-shot legends because they’re a physical part of the keycap’s plastic layer rather than a secondary layer of color on top of the cap. Thus, damage to the legend requires you to damage the keycap’s plastic physically; the oils from your fingers won’t rub these away!

RGB LED Compatibility

Razer’s PBT keycaps have shine-through legends.

Simply put, dye-sublimation keycaps aren’t compatible with any sort of backlight, including RGB ones. You must print dye-sub legends onto the plastic with a layer of dye. Thus, they can’t be translucent or transparent; they must have a solid color to be visible after the heat treatment.

Due to dye-sub legends requiring a solid color to be heat transferred to the plastic, they can’t be made in a way that allows light to shine through them. Shine-through legends require a translucent or transparent layer of plastic to be added to the keycap, enabling the backlight to light the keys or shine through the sides (pudding keycaps).

If you use dye-sublimation keycaps with a backlit keyboard, you won’t be able to see the keys in the dark like you would with shine-through legends. In fact, trying to use solid keycaps with a backlight usually makes them harder to see than just trying to hack it with your screen light.

Since double-shot keycaps can use translucent plastic in the inner layer of the cap, you can easily make shine-through legends on them. 

Complex Keycap Designs

What you lose with dye-sublimation keycaps in shine-through legends, you get back in complex keycap designs. Since double-shot legends must be molded in plastic, fine-line designs aren’t possible. Thus, more complex images and pictures that might give your keyboard more character aren’t feasible because the plastic mold wouldn’t work.

Dye-sublimation allows complex designs, like images, to be printed on the keys. These can be printed on any keycap but are most common on macro keys, the space bar, and modification keys like Shift.

As you can see, my dye-sublimation keycaps have these cute milk and cow-related designs on some of the keycaps. These pictures wouldn’t be easy to make with double-shot molding. Thus, my double-shot sets just have plain legends with no more detail than is strictly necessary for the keycaps to be legible.

Color Choices

This double-shot PBT keycap has a lighter-colored legend, which wouldn’t be possible with dye sublimation.

Dye-sublimation also reduces the choices for keycap color schemes. The heat transfer process won’t be successful if the legend is a lighter color than the keycap. Thus, not only is dye-sublimation not possible on every plastic color, but your choices are also further reduced since each keycap is only compatible with a specific range of colors darker than the cap.

Double-shot keycaps can be made in any color with any color legend. In this production method, it’s even possible to have legends of a lighter color than the keycap itself, as with this red keycap with a pink legend that came with my Ducky One 2 Rosa keyboard.

Legend Sharpness

Sometimes legend sharpness can be affected by the printing method.

There is no huge gap in legend sharpness in double-shot vs. dye-sublimation keycaps. However, there is a difference sometimes. With dye-sub legends, there is room for error with the sharpness since the dye can run or move during production. 

Unlike double-shot legends, which are rigid plastic, dye-sublimation requires a liquid dye. As a result, the latter can sometimes have printing errors or fuzzy edges that wouldn’t be present with the double-shot equivalent.

Plastic Types

Dye sublimation is only possible on polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) plastic. Double-shot molding can be done with PBT, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and polyoxymethylene (POM) plastics. While most keyboard nerds highly recommend PBT over other options, some people like the feel of ABS or POM keycaps. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

PBT is regarded as the most durable keycap material. However, it can be more expensive than ABS or POM. Additionally, PBT has a somewhat rougher, almost “sandy” texture out of the box. It’s not perfectly smooth, which can be sensory hell for some people.

ABS is the second most popular type of plastic used on keycaps. It’s less durable than PBT. After using your keyboard for a long time, the keycaps will start to wear down, and the plastic will thin; the keycaps may even crack after a long time. ABS has a smooth texture. However, it can feel oily after use, which turns many people off.

POM jelly keycaps stand out from ABS and PBT in their softer, waxy feel. Many people liken the feel of POM jelly to a candle. This sensory input can be ideal for people who don’t need the quick, responsive experience provided by a harder, more rigid keycap. 

Choosing a plastic type for your keycaps will depend on many factors. However, if your only deciding factor is the legend printing, dye-sublimation is only available on PBT keycaps.

Price

Dye-sublimation is cheaper than double-shot plastic. With double-shot keycaps, there are more materials, and the manufacturing process is more complex. The price of the keycaps reflects these factors. Double-shot PBT keycaps are around 25% more expensive than dye-sub keycaps. However, double-shot keycaps come in many varieties due to the varying materials you can use to make them.

Oil-Resistant Dye-Subbed PBT Material
JSJT Ink Lotus OEM Profile PBT Dye Sublimation Custom Keycaps
$35.99
  • 140 keys total
  • OEM height keycaps have a trapezoidal design with an R1-R4 layout
  • Compatible with most MX switches
  • Designed for both backlit and non-backlit mechanical keyboards
  • Includes keycap puller
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/20/2024 11:58 pm GMT

Double-Shot vs. Dye-Sublimation Keycaps: 6 Must-Know Facts

  • Double-shot keycaps come in many varieties, and you can make them with several materials. Dye-sublimation keycaps are always PBT.
  • Dye-sublimation has room for error in printing. The legends can be fuzzier than double-shot ones.
  • You have more limited options for color schemes with dye-sublimation because the legend must be darker than the keycap to be visible.
  • You can only print complex key designs and pictures with dye sublimation.
  • While they offer similar durability, you can’t damage double-shot legends the way you can dye-sublimation ones.
  • Dye-sublimation cannot produce translucent legends. So, shine-through legends are impossible with dye-sub keycaps.

Double-Shot vs. Dye-Sublimation Keycaps: Which Is Better?

Consider all the factors when you choose your next keycaps. Selecting the right keycaps will improve your typing experience. You’ll also want keycaps that last a long time! There’s nothing worse than buying something new that you like only to have it become useless after a short time. Let’s examine the factors you must consider when choosing your legend printing method.

Cost is often the most critical factor that people look at when choosing new gear. Dye-sublimation keycaps are cheaper than double-shot ones. That is a fact. So, if cost is your only concern, you should select dye-sub.

Double-shot keycaps are more durable than dye-sub ones, even if only by a small margin. If you’re looking for keycaps that will be with you for the long haul, definitely go with double-shot ones.

Customizing your keyboard would be pointless if you couldn’t choose pretty colors for your keys. If having unique color schemes is something you want, double-shot is better. You’ll have more options for keycap and legend colors since there are no restrictions on which colors you can choose. If you want complex designs and fine-line art on your keycaps, dye-sub is the only way to get those.

If you want to use a backlit keyboard, you need double-shot keycaps with shine-through legends, or the backlight will make the legends hard to see. So,if you have a preferred plastic type that is not PBT, you need double-shot keycaps since dye-sublimation is only possible with PBT.

  1. HyperX Double Shot PBT Keycaps
    $29.99
    • 104 keys
    • English (US) layout
    • Pink with signature HyperX shine-through font
    • Includes keycap removal tool
    • Compatible with most HyperX mechanical gaming keyboards
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/20/2024 11:48 pm GMT
  2. JSJT Ink Lotus OEM Profile PBT Dye Sublimation Custom Keycaps
    $35.99
    • 140 keys total
    • OEM height keycaps have a trapezoidal design with an R1-R4 layout
    • Compatible with most MX switches
    • Designed for both backlit and non-backlit mechanical keyboards
    • Includes keycap puller
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/20/2024 11:58 pm GMT

Frequently Asked Questions

What is double-shot plastic?

Double-shot plastic is when two separate layers of plastic are pressed into independent molds before being packed into a single, two-layer plastic item.

What is dye sublimation?

Dye sublimation is printing keycap legends by exposing a dye layer to extreme heat to transfer the color to the plastic.

Which is better: double-shot or dye-sublimation keycaps?

Double-shot keycaps are more durable, have consistent legend sharpness, don’t experience legend wear, and are compatible with backlighting. However, dye-sublimation keycaps are cheaper.

What materials can be double-shot?

PBT, ABS, POM jelly, and TPR rubber can be used with double-shot molds.

What materials can be used with dye sublimation?

Only PBT keycaps can be printed with dye sublimation.

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