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The Dye-Sublimation Process Explained

The Dye-Sublimation Process Explained

The Dye-Sublimation Process Explained


Say goodbye to your dull, shabby keycaps and welcome to the world of keycaps customization. The high-quality and long lasting keycaps don’t come easy. They go through a rigorous process called Dye-Sublimation. This process involves special equipment, unique ink and heat. Put it all together and you have a set of marvelously-printed keycaps.


What is the dye-sublimation process?


To put it in simple terms, dye-sublimation is a process of printing legends onto keycaps using dye-sub ink and high heat. The heat is used to evaporate the dye and allow it to soak into the plastic material. Firstly, the design is printed on a film paper using dye-sub ink. Then, the printing is aligned on the keycaps and placed in a heat press. High temperature is used to infuse the designs onto the keycaps; making them long-lasting legends. The term ‘sublimation’ refers to the process of the solid ink transforming into gas particles. The high temperature and pressure allows the gas particles to penetrate and bonds with the keycap's surface.


Step-by-step explanation of the dye-sublimation process


Step 1: Design your unique keycaps

  • Self-design

Have a knack for designing? Use an illustrator application to create your designs. Showcase your creativity and express yourself by designing your favorite hobbies, interest, characters or even celebrities! Here’s a quick guide on how to design your very own keycaps. Upon perfecting your one-of-a-kind design, you can send your masterpiece to custom keycap printing companies such as Goblintechkeys and Diykeycap. Let the professionals be responsible of delivering you quality printing and materials.


Ta-dah! You now possess a very special set of keycaps that only you, and only you, have. The design that you poured your heart and soul into is also extremely dear to you, and you’d definitely treasure and enjoy using them to the fullest. If you have the capabilities to use this method; then, by all means, do it!


  • Custom Keycap Brands

Imagine wanting a cute puppy but your drawing resembles a deformed rabbit. Like the majority of us, we unfortunately do not possess the gift of arts. That’s when we seek help from people who do. Simply give your criteria or picture of what you want the design to look like and let the artistic people work their magic. Many prominent custom keycap brands such as TheKapCo (dm or email us!), Goblintechkeys and Keygeak offer these services.


After confirming the design, the keycap manufacturers will begin the dye-sublimation process.


Step 2: Print on film paper using dye-sublimation ink


Your work of art will be printed onto a film paper using a special ink; the dye-sublimation ink. The film paper is a heat-resistant paper that will transfer your design into legends on keycaps. During this process, the printed ink will remain in solid form before entering the heat press.


At the same time, the brand-new set of keycaps are prepared and cleaned before it is printed. The keycaps are solely made from PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) material. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is unable to withstand the heat, thus eliminating the possibility of being a material option. Furthermore, PBT is known for its durability and resistance to shine over time. It is a heavy-duty plastic compatible with the dye-sub process and heat.


Step 3: Put the film paper and PBT keycaps into a heat press


The next step is the most crucial part of the whole process. The film paper is aligned perfectly with the keycaps in the heat press, allowing the vacuum process to occur. The vacuum process removes all the air between the paper and and the keycaps. The heat press is closed shut, and the sublimation process begins. The heat and pressure of 350 - 400°F (175-205°C)  remains constant for 30 seconds or more throughout the sublimation process. During this time, the solid ink molecules turns into gas which efficiently penetrate into the surface of the keycap. The dye molecules chemically bond with the keycap ensuring high durability. This is because the legends becomes an integral part of the keycap rather than merely on the surface layer.


Step 4: Leave the keycaps to cool

After the heat transfer process is complete, the keycaps are left to cool. This allows the dye to solidify. The colors will embed well and a permanent bond is formed between the legend and keycap. The final product features a wear-and-tear-resistant legend, high quality and anti-smudge keycaps. Not only are they now visually appealing but also carries your unique design. Now you can flaunt your new keycaps set to the world!


Features of Dye-sublimation Keycaps





  • Legends wont wear off over time
  • PBT plastic is resistant to shine


  • Ink: Dye-sublimation Ink
  • Printing material: Film Paper
  • Machine: Heat press
  • Keycaps: PBT


  • Your personalized designs, favorite characters and own aesthetics printed onto the keycap profile of your choice.

Typing Feel

  • Smooth
  • Legend will not pop out


  • Will never smudge or wear off after long use.
  • Etched and embedded into deeper layers of the keycaps, not just the surface


Pros and cons of Dye-Sublimation  



Affordable & Cheaper than Double-shot process

Lower sharpness compared to Double-shot process

High durability and quality

Can only be used with PBT keycaps

Does not affect the feel of the keycap

Cannot make them transparent

Suitable for vibrant colors and designs

Legends must be darker than keycap color

Allows multiple color and designs on a keycap

Small details vary from set to set due to heat

Solid and muted typing sound


Using strong chemicals might cause corrosion and wipe away legends


The best thing about dye-sub keycaps is that even though it is a budget alternative, it still delivers a high-quality finishing. It’s affordable and is superior in vibrant and mixtures of colors in the design. However, if you do not purchase keycaps from certified manufacturers, the quality and sharpness of the legends may be affected. If you have no qualms with PBT and non-transparent keycaps, then dye-sub caps are an excellent choice! Ultimately, it is identical with the double-shot process in terms of durability, quality and feel of the keycaps. If you put dye-sub and double-shot keycaps side-by-side to compare, there are no major differences apart from the process on how its made. To learn more, do have a read on Dye-Sublimation vs. Double-shot Keycaps: How They're Printed


Dye-sublimation Keycaps FAQ

 Here are the top 10 common questions on dye-sublimation keycaps.

1. Is dye-sub better or double shot?

It boils down to your preferences in keycap design and material. Dye-sub and double shot keycaps have different potentials and advantages. Dye-sub is suitable for printing multiple colors on designs whereas double-shot caters 2-3 colors at most. Dye-sub is perfect for color mixture or complex designs on a PBT cap. If you love standard, basic colors on ABS or PBT keycaps, you should opt for double-shot keycaps.

2. Do dye-sub legends wear off or fade over time?

High-quality dye-sub keycaps will never fade, no matter how long it is used. The process of engraving the legends onto the keycaps require high heat and pressure, which this technique is based upon. However, it can wear off if a strong chemical such as acid is used to wipe the keycaps. Low quality keycaps provided from the manufacturer will also affect the lifespan of the keycaps.

3. Are there any disadvantages of dye sublimation?

When there are pros, there will definitely be cons. There are a few disadvantages of dye- sublimation. Firstly, it has slightly lower sharpness compared to double-shot keycaps. Since the process involves high heat, only PBT keycaps are compatible; the design cannot be transparent and there may be small variations from set to set. Other disadvantages can be seen from the pros and cons table in the previous section.


4. Is dye-sub keycaps high quality?

Yes, dye-sub keycaps are usually made with high quality materials. It is highly durable, visually appealing and is more premium compared to pad printing. However, product quality may differ if manufactured by the wrong hands. Thus, order your set from reputable brands with refund policies.


5. How long will dye-sub keycaps last?

Dye-sub keycaps can last a very, very long time depending on how you maintain them. Your keycap legends will never fade if you clean them well- using a damp cloth and NOT harsh chemicals or cleaning substances. Furthermore, dye-sub keycaps from a renowned keycap studio will guarantee a long-lasting lifespan of the keycaps.


6. Can you make dye-sub keycaps yourself?

Definitely. You just need the necessary equipment and materials to do so. Our step-by-step process explained in this article is perfect for you to grasp the idea of making your own keycaps. From designing your keycaps to printing and heat transfer, you need specialized machines and the skills to do it. If you somehow rather have these paraphernalia lying at home, try making your own personalized dye-sub!


7. Do dye-sub have backlighting?

If there’s one big con of dye-sub, it’s that its NOT compatible with backlighting. Dye-sub legends penetrates the keycaps’ layers and doesn’t allow any light to shine through. It can only be printed on PBT plastic. If you prefer transparent legends, you need to opt for double-shot or shine-through keycaps.


8. Which keycaps don’t wear out?

Dye-sub and Double shot keycaps guarantee that the legends stays on for a lifetime, provided that it is well taken care of and made with high quality materials.


9. Do PBT keycaps shine over time?

PBT material is the key to prevent keycaps from shining after long use. As they hardly get oily, these keycaps are low-maintenance but deliver high-durability.


10. How to maintain dye-sub keycaps?

The best thing about PBT material is that it is extremely low-maintenance. It does not turn greasy like ABS after long use. Using a damp cloth to wipe away the dirt would do the trick. To learn how to remove stubborn grease and grime, read here.


Key Takeaway

  • Dye-sub is a process of printing legends onto keycaps using dye-sub ink and high heat.

  • Dye-sub involves 4 processes: Designing, Printing, Sublimation and Cooling.

  • Dye-sub technique is only printed on PBT keycaps and do not support backlighting.

  • Dye-sub keycaps are durable, smooth, low-maintenance and affordable.


Dye-sublimation is a reliable process to engrave your favorite designs onto the keycaps that will decorate your mechanical keyboard. We hope that you have gained valuable insights on the process of dye-sub, the features and the pros and cons of this process. The FAQ is meant to address the many questions that you might have in regards to dye-sublimation and we hope it has been helpful for your understanding.


Hop on the dye-sub bandwagon and get a pre-designed set of keycaps by The KapCo. We offer high quality, durable and resistant-to-shine PBT keycaps. Check out our collections here.


Thank you for reading!

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