When building a mechanical keyboard, there are countless design choices to consider: layout, mounting method, switch type, case and plate materials, USB cables, and the final decision, keycaps. Usually, the keycap debate is between two materials: ABS and PBT.
However, other keycap materials have appeared and disappeared periodically: Wood, rubber, POM, and PPS are among the more notable options. Recently, r/mechanicalkeyboards — one of the largest mechanical keyboard forums on the internet — has seen multiple posts showing off ceramic keycaps gaining some popularity.
But are ceramic keycaps any good? How do they compare to other materials? Are they even real, or is the entire thing a scam? To find out, I ordered some of these keycaps and stuck them on a mechanical keyboard. Let me tell you about them.
Ordering these keycaps, I was a bit suspicious. The website selling them, Cerakey, had a few red flags: mismatched descriptions, awkward writing, and a fairly recent registration date for the website (12/1/2021, according to a couple of registration lookup tools). However, the keycaps they offered were unique, they showed off videos of the keycaps online, and they seemed fairly reasonably priced considering the novelty of ceramic keycaps. Most fake sites offer the same products as everyone else at too-good-to-be-true prices.
After placing an order and waiting a couple of weeks, I had the ceramic keycaps — all eight of them — in hand. Immediately upon picking them up, I knew they were unique: Glossy, smooth, and cold to the touch, these were a far cry from your average plastic keycaps. Shaking them in my hand, they had the signature sound of ceramics clicking against each other, and a hefty weight to match (at least, hefty compared to plastic keycaps).
Mounted on a keyboard, ceramic keycaps look incredibly classy. The smooth, glossy sheen is similar to a tuxedo, and a sharp contrast to the typical matte finish of a PBT or ABS keycap. The white edges of the keycaps allow for some backlighting to pass through, resulting in what looks like a premium version of your typical RGB lighting. And as a result of the glaze’s smoothness, the keycaps feel fantastic under the finger. GMK keycaps, when typed on enough, will turn glossy and smooth as a result of the ABS plastic wearing down. This is basically GMK smoothness multiplied by ten.
The only downside to these keycaps, visually, is how easily they pick up fingerprints. Even after typing on them only a few times, there are clear outlines of the oils on my fingers sticking to the keycaps. While these can’t be seen from a distance, they’re still noticeable when inspecting the keycaps up close.
When typing, these keycaps also create a unique sound profile. For anyone looking for a deep, “thock-y” sound to their keyboard, keycaps like these are perfect. They’re noticeably deeper than your average ABS and PBT keycaps, even thick ABS like GMK. When mounted on a board with ZealPC’s Zealio tactile switches, the sound profile is like a more pronounced version of Topre’s traditional sound signature.
Pricey and risky
While these keycaps may seem great at first, there are some clear downsides. The primary issue is the price: The ceramic keycaps I got cost around $3.75 each. This means that a full set could potentially cost over $300 — twice the price of a GMK set, and three times as much as a PBT set from ePBT.
These keycaps are fragile, too. While they're easily mountable on switches at first, moving them across keyboards for pictures caused one of the switches’ stems to break after only a few tests, making it completely unusable. I imagine that this is due to the non-malleable and brittle nature of ceramic as a material, something that’s fairly hard to rectify without complex, multi-material engineering. The same issue appeared in Geek’s PPS keycaps, which contributed to PPS being a fairly obscure keycap material despite generally positive opinions on typing feel and sound.
I also have no clue how these keycaps will hold up in the long term. While glazed ceramics are meant to be durable, it’s hard to predict how the stems will hold up to wear and how the glaze will withstand frequent touch. However, mine still seem fine after a month of regular use on a macro pad. Ceramic keycaps have really only been around since December 2021; I'll have to update you guys later on durability.
Currently, ceramic keycaps are only readily available from Cerakey and a few other Etsy/eBay sellers. Because of this, the pricing of these keycaps is somewhat arbitrary, with individual keycaps costing anywhere from $3 to $25.
Ceramic keycaps are also only available in certain rows. Currently, most posts online only show keycaps available for Cherry’s R3 row, which makes them ideal for arrow keys but mismatched for anything else. While Cerakey has mentioned plans to release a full key set in the future via Reddit and their Discord server, there haven’t been any concrete announcements on when that will be or how much it will cost.
Cool, but not perfect
So, are ceramic keycaps the keyboard material of tomorrow? Not yet. The high price point, fairly limited options, and relative fragility of the keycaps make them an unlikely candidate for widespread popularity. However, the smooth and refined typing experience — and the amazing sound — indicate that they could be a more niche offering in the future for dedicated enthusiasts.
While you might see a board or two rocking full ceramic keycaps in a build similar to the HHKB Professional HG Japan Edition, don’t expect it to be anything more than a luxurious novelty for a few dedicated enthusiasts.
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