Kannanic “Bossi” PBT Keycaps:

Posted: June 25, 2017 in keyboarding
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61-RgkiopEL._SY355_There are a lot of great mechanical keyboards available in the market today. Many of them come with backlighting as a feature. This means that, in order to take advantage of said feature, the letters on the keys need to allow light to pass through.

There are a few ways to do this. The first is to paint the surface of an otherwise translucent key cap material, then ablate the paint with a laser. This is the easiest method, but the paint can, over the course of time, begin to wear away or become damaged.

The second is the “double shot” techinque. This takes the “solid” or opaque key cap, then injects additional material of a translucent quality to fill the voids that the legends require. This is the best and sturdiest way to build a key cap. The legend cannot wear off, because it is a structural element of the key.

Even inexpensive keyboards often use this technology now, which is great. Their keys are made of ABS plastic, which is perfectly useful, but not the absolute best material available. More than the material, the character of the legends, the font/style of it, tends to be a little underwhelming. For some reason or another, the companies feel that a “gamer” font is the best to use for all backlit keyboards.

Many of us who like mechanical keyboards beg to differ. Like me.

No worries. There are a lot of aftermarket key caps available for any Cherry MX key stem-equipped ‘board.

However…there is a value issue. If you get a very inexpensive keyboard for, say, $40 or so, do you want to spend more than the whole ‘board cost on getting a nice set of PBT key caps? Hmm. That seems like a possibly bad way to do things. If you had an expensive ‘board that just needed a sprucing up, spending $50 or more on a new set of caps might seem okay, but on a cheap ‘board? Maybe not.

Luckily, the same market that brings us the inexpensive keyboards also yields some inexpensive keycaps of good quality.

That’s what we’re here to talk about. (I know. You’re saying, “Finally, dude. Crap.”)

I found a bunch of double-shot, backlight-capable PBT key caps on Amazon. They were markted as “Bossi” key caps, but they appear to have been made by Kannanic. Not that either company is familiar to me. Bossi does sound cooler, I guess. Like an Italian who takes charge of the situation and makes you type harder. Shrug.

The great thing is that, if you were willing to wait for possibly a long, long time, you could have them for well less than $20 for a set. Yes. Double-shot PBT caps for less than a twenty. Awesome. Sign me up. I ordered a crap ton of them, because reasons.

The first “project” ‘board was a Quisan Magicforce 68, nearly new. It certainly didn’t “need” new caps. The ABS caps that come with the ‘board are perfectly serviceable and legible, though they are a bit flashy and weird. Still, not too bad.

The Magicforce features a white backlght, so any key cap color would work fine with it. This, of course, is not always the case. If you want to use key caps with multi-color or RGB keyboards, I’d recommend using white, gray, or black keys, as these will not create unaccountable and negative issues with some of your color choices.

I chose to mix two key sets, a gray and purple, with the alpha block being purple. In order to replicate such a feat, you’d need to purchase two sets, of course. Since I can re-mix the two sets using an opposite color saturation or otherwise sub in those remaining keys, I don’t see that as an issue.

Let’s go through my experience, as well as some thoughts about the product and the way it was delivered.

Shipping and Packaging:

It did take some time to get the key cap sets. I had free shipping from China, which was nice. I ordered them at the outset of the month, and by the last week of said month, they were at my door, unharmed and in good shape. They arrived ahead of schedule, so I have no room to complain.

These key sets come in a two-piece plastic grid that holds them in the 104 key format, so that, if you’re careful, you can pick them out one by one and put them on without any hunting around in a pile.

Of the various ways to package key sets, this is far better than just throwing them into a bag. Yes, it makes the package a little more bulky, but I think it’s worthwhile. It took me a fairly short amount of time to do the full change as a result of this packaging methodology.

The two halves of the exterior shell are stapled together, so you’ll need to gently pry the staples out to get to the keys. This is easily done, I think, at least for me. I just stapled the halves back together with the remaining keys when I was finished. Presto, all ready to sit around awaiting my next adventure.

Initial Impressions:

I compared these keys to the ABS keys coming off the ‘board, finding that they were significantly thicker than the stock keys. They aren’t as thick as the massive keys from the days of yore, or even, perhaps, as thick as something from the modern day, like the premium Vortex brand. I didn’t have one of those to compare. They are sturdier in mass than a standard key cap, however. I can say that with certainty.

I didn’t notice anything sloppy about the key caps, though some of them had the faintest impression of a sprue line at their base. This would not be visible in a ‘board with a top bezel, and I find it to be essentially invisible to me, even in a floating key setting. I may not be the final definition of OCD, however. Your level of detail-orientation may vary.

The legend on the keys is fairly business-like, though some small elements of the gamer aesthetic bleed through on a few keys and choices. Still, worlds less intrusive than most. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a key cap of this type that cleaves any closer than this to the older aesthetic.

Compared to the standard key caps, the difference in material and thickness result in a different sound upon typing. This ‘board features Gateron red switches, so the switches don’t have any sound of their own. This makes it clear that, yes, the sound of the ‘board is fairly significantly impacted by the caps. The sound of the PBT replacement caps is deeper and more robust. Just better in all the metrics.

Being PBT, the key caps feature greater tactile feel. PBT is a more robust plastic, and it resists abrasion or ablation in use. Thus, the makers can design in a bit of a rough texture. On ABS, this texture would wear smooth, but PBT allows the texture to last for a great long time.

If you’re concerned that these inexpensive caps will not have that “PBT goodness”, you needn’t be. It’s there. You’re golden.

In Use:

I found that, during my initial test of this version of the Magicforce, I had some issues really connecting with the keyboard. I would make a lot of mistakes. I felt like the red switches were just a bit too light for me. Insert excuses and rationalizations here. Not bad, but not my favorite.

After re-capping, this is a totally different machine. To begin with, it looks cool now. Not just cool, bue classy. The purple and gray go together like peanut butter and jam, and they look right at home on the brushed aluminum top plate of the Magicforce. Instantly, it looks like one of those boards you’d pay upwards of $130 to get. Not only that, it is how I want it to be, rather than however I can get it. Total cost, even with both key sets? $100. And remember, I still have enough keys in both the sets I culled to cap another ‘board and a half. Thus, I could “dress up” one keyboard with some alternate keys, and I could still cap a whole ‘board. Not cheap, yes, but not nearly as expensive as a custom job could be.

The typing feel. Oh, it is different my fine friends. I didn’t know if it would be, but it really is. Almost all the reservations I had about this keyboard are now gone. I don’t know how this could be, but the texture on the key caps, and the feel of the increased reciprocating mass on the caps makes a huge difference. Yeah. I don’t know. It’s not my imagination. I’m typing way, way better with this thing. I don’t get it, but that’s what is happening. I’m really trying to make sure it’s not confirmation bias, but I can’t see how such a bias could allow me to type more accurately and faster. I don’t know, maybe that is possible, but damn, I’ll take it.

Final Thoughts:

For most, a single color would suffice in this case. I just find that I like the contrast between the modifier keys and the alpha block. The look, to me, is worth another $20. Functionally, I can say that you should expect a somewhat significant upgrade in key feel and the quality of the sound on your inexpensive keyboard if you employ keys made by this manufacturer. As to their availibilty, I can’t tell you. They were all unavailable when I went back to them after my order. I would suppose that they only make production runs at intervals, and you sometimes find yourself out of luck or waiting a long time. That was one of the reasons why I bought up a stock of them when I could.

I now have a keyboard that isn’t quite as cheap as it was, but it’s pretty darned rad. All for less than $40 more than list price. If you got the least expensive of the decent mechanicals that use the Cherry MX key caps, you’d be out around $35 or $40. With one set of these, you’re up to around $55 to $60, and have a great typing tool that looks sounds, and feels a lot more expensive than it is. This, then, is the reason we got into keyboard hot-rodding in the first place.

Cheers, and happy typing!

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