Family refers to the basic style of keycap on a keyboard. Some examples are shown in the picture on the left. Keycap families are defined by their ride height, typically low, medium or high; their side profile, defined as sculptured or non-sculptured; and the contour of the top surface, which can be spherical, cylindrical, or flat.
Row refers to the location of the keys on the keyboard and is most important when ordering a sculptured keycap family. On a standard QWERTY board, the “number” row is row 1; the “Q” row is row 2; the “A” row is row 3; the “Z” row and the space bar row are row 4; the upper “function key” row can be either row 5 style or row 1 style.
Sculptured or non-sculptured refers to the keyboard profile when viewed from the side. In a non-sculptured keyboard, the keys in each row are the same height, giving the keyboard a flat look. In a sculptured keyboard, the keys are angled giving the keyboard a curved profile.
Keycaps come in various sizes, depending on the family. Most keys, like the alpha-numeric keys, are referred to as single unit or one space keys. Larger keys are measured in 1/4 increments of a one space key. So an “Alt” key, for example, may be a 1.25 size and a “Tab” key a 1.5 size. Space bars can measure up to 10.5 units long.
The keycap mount is the molded detail on the underside of the keycap that allows the key to be attached to the keyboard switch. Keycaps larger than a single space size may have more than one mount. The exact location and spacing of these mounts is critical when ordering keycaps. Click here for an illustrated version of some of our mounts and a reference to the keyswitches they fit.
The color representation below is meant to act as a guideline and in no way illustrates the exact color of the plastic. To be sure you’re ordering the correct color, we recommend purchasing a color ring or color chip available at our PMK website.
The color representation below is meant to act as a guideline and in no way illustrates the exact color of the plastic. To be sure you are ordering the correct color, we recommend purchasing a color ring or color chip from our PMK website.
Frequently Asked Questions
For years Signature Plastics has worked with customers worldwide to help design and manufacture custom keycaps and push buttons for a variety of electronic input devices. Some of these devices include commercial telephones, backlit keys used in low light audio/video control booths, as well as numerous keypads used in gas stations, lottery machines, security systems and air traffic control towers. Because these molds are customer owned, products from them are proprietary. If you are interested in a custom keycap design, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to working with you.
Signature Plastics offers several different standard Keycap Families. Some of the differences between families include the keycap ride height (high, medium or low); the profile (sculptured or non-sculptured); and the touch surface that can be either spherical or cylindrical, or have a glossy, semi-matte, or matte finish. Our most popular keycaps are the DCS, DSA and SA families. Various sizes of keycaps are available within each family, as seen on the datasheets here.
No. Most consumer keyboards today are manufactured offshore using inexpensive membrane switch technologies. Our keycaps, designed for rugged commercial and industrial applications, are used on mechanical style switches like the Cherry MX. We offer a variety of mounting options for different switch styles within our standard keycap families.
Signature Plastics keycaps were also modeled after original Cherry style keycaps from the 1970's. As a result they are shorter in profile than most OEM and common keycaps manufactured today. The attached image illustrates the height difference between an OEM keycap and Signature Plastics Row 1 DCS keycap. Contact sales if you would like to see a picture of all the keycap rows in comparison.
There is no minimum order value for Retail Sales of stock keycaps or other inventoried products.
We do have a minimum Purchase Order value of $100 for any items which need to be manufactured. However, this is flexible depending on your requirements so contact us if you are not sure. Keep in mind that since we do not typically inventory double shot keycaps, it is very expensive to set up and manufacture one single set of keycaps. Typically this cost would be around $750.
We currently have 148 ABS colors and 107 PBT colors to choose from and the resources to color match nearly any custom color for a fee. Color rings containing all of our standard colors can be purchased on our eCommerce site, www.pimpmykeyboard.com.
The attached chart shows the row identification for each of our standard keycap families. Row identification is most important when ordering sculptured keycap families.
Signature Plastics’ manufacturing processes include: Insert Molding, Sublimation Printing, Pad Printing, and Painting and Engraving.
Insert molding (often called double shot or two-shot molding) is the process of shaping plastic around preformed metal or plastic inserts. Insert molding keycaps is a two-stage process. In the first stage, the legend (word, number, graphic, etc.) is molded onto a plastic carrier. This plastic carrier insert, referred to as the first shot, is then placed in a second mold. Plastic is then injected around the first shot forming the keycap shape but leaving the top of the legend exposed. The second shot process also forms the keycap’s mounting detail. If legend wear is a concern, double shot keycaps offer the greatest durability.
Double shot keycaps are highly durable and ideal for high usage industrial, commercial and gaming environments. Legend and shell color combinations are unlimited. Sublimated keycaps also offer good durability as the sublimation dye penetrates the crystalline structure of the keycap approximately .001”. The sublimation process allows for multi-colored legends and graphics to be printed onto keycaps in a single machine cycle. However, the sublimation process is restricted to printing darker colored graphics onto lighter colored substrates. The attached graphic illustrates each process.
Signature Plastics uses a two-part epoxy based ink to pad print keycaps. Typically, pad printing is used for front printing where legend wear is not a concern. However, historical testing suggests that legends printed on the touch surface of a keycap will withstand approximately 100,000 keystrokes before noticeable wear is observed. To extend legend life, a UV curable hard coat can be applied to pad printed keys for an additional fee.
Molding double shot PBT keycaps presents challenges that are not typically found in molding double shot ABS keys. We are continuing to work on these issues. However, we do not currently offer any double shot PBT keys.
Signature Plastics manufacturers a variety of custom keycaps for customers with backlit requirements. This process typically involves molding keycaps in a translucent material, then painting them with a highly durable automotive paint and engraving legends through the paint using a CNC engraver. Producing our standard keycaps as double shot backlit keys has quality limitations related to flow channels required to fill islands in legends ( a, b, d, e, g, o etc.) as well as light interference from the mounting stems. Fill islands are referred to as 'counters' by typographers.
Relegendable keycaps are a two-piece keycap consisting of a clear removable overcap and a base. This is a low cost option for user defined legends or graphics. Relegendable keycaps are available in SA, DSA, DCS and LP families.
Signature Plastics will not produce keycaps with images that are copyright protected without permission from the creator. We are currently working with several gaming manufactures to obtain the rights to reproduce their images on our keycaps.
Signature Plastics’ font is somewhat unique but is very similar to Arial or Helvetica. It’s origin dates back to the 1970’s when IBM set the standard for double shot keycaps and legend plates were produced using a Gorton engraving machine. To offer a unique look, Signature’s original company, Comptec, modified the font slightly. Thus the font became known as Gorton Modified and was used to produce millions of keycaps for years for keyboard companies like Wyse, Wang, Oak Industries, Maxi Switch, Beehive and Honeywell, among others.
Additional fonts are possible, however the artwork files for the fonts need to be supplied by the customer and there is a fee per legend. Fonts need to be in a 'line' format and not a vector conversion of a true type font.
Adobe Illustrator, AutoCAD, DXF, PDF and SLD.
Signature Plastics offers two styles of keycap pullers. The round plastic keycap puller is very easy and effective to use, and especially efficient when repopulating an entire keyboard or multiple keyboards. The wire keycap puller also easily removes keys and is most effective in removing special shape keycaps. Keycap pullers are available for purchase on our eCommerce site, here: http://pimpmykeyboard.com/keycap-puller-wire/.
As offshore competition for keycaps began to grow in the 1980s, it became necessary to reduce costs as much as possible to remain competitive. As a result, subsequent families of keycaps, like the DCS and DSA families, were designed to use less material.
Specific keys can be mechanically disabled on a keyboard by using a key lockout device. Disabling keys is popular during gaming to prevent inadvertently pressing the wrong key when choosing weapons, making movements etc.
The side of a keycap opposite the gate is usually the last area for plastic to fill. The material flowing to this point comes from two directions as it travels around both sides of the key. When the flow masses meet, they create a vertical ‘weld’ line that is often cosmetically objectionable, especially on darker colors. Gating at the front of a key helps keep this imperfection off the viewing surface. The secondary problem is that not all the legends fill properly.
Click here for pictures that illustrate both non-fill and the weld line.
The DSA family was mainly created for industrial applications where customers required the keyboard to sustain a drop test of 4-6 feet, so the tighter the mount fit the better. These customers, unlike keyboard enthusiast, were not pulling keys on and off the keyboard.
Signature Plastics tooling components over the years have been fabricated using two different basic processes - One through an EDM process and the other through a machining process. Although the two processes produce different looking mounts (often one described as being 'bad'), the cirtical dimensions affecting retention are the same for both processes.