Author Topic: I am trying to start my own key caps vendor. Anyone interested?  (Read 445 times)

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Offline Kokodoko

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I am trying to start my own key caps vendor. Anyone interested?
« on: Wed, 10 February 2021, 21:42:08 »
Hi guys.

Long time lurker. I got tired of spending $100+ for key caps every purchase.
I do some online business for myself, and most of my products are produced in China.
I am thinking I can use my knowledge and connection to start my own keycaps vendor that can bring down the cost by a lot.
I was wondering if anyone have done it before that encountered any issues, and what kind of challenges I should expect.
It will be nice if someone have tried and failed or succeeded can give me some insight on those hurdles.
Thanks.

Offline Leslieann

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Re: I am trying to start my own key caps vendor. Anyone interested?
« Reply #1 on: Thu, 11 February 2021, 03:46:42 »
They don't cost what they do in spite of manufacturing costs, they cost what they do because of manufacturing costs.

This is by no means complete or probably even 100% accurate (not sure of GMK's process, only another I'm familiar with), but should give an idea of what you face.

Single color dye-subs can be done in a tree as an entire set by a relatively cheap injection molding system, dye-sub them (which is cheap and easy to do) then break off the tree/sprue. You can make the whole set at once in about 3 steps and it's easily automated. Your lettering is controlled by the printer and application, want a new style or color, easy and cheap. Font not sharp enough, you just need to tune it with the printer, ink and application method, once you have it dialed it's pretty easy and while color can shift slightly over time since they're done as a set you won't notice unless you compare one set to another from a later date. You can also pre-mold tons in each color to be dyed later. The bad side is that you can't really dye-sub lighter colors, so it's always a dark color on a lighter cap. These can also be molded in singles, but the bulk would only need sorting by row, not every single key.

Most of the cheap double-shots you see are made one of two ways, either a blank set is made with a thin outer or they're single color molds dipped or sprayed a top coat (sometimes it's just paint), then that outer layer gets lasered back. Note that in both dye-sub and this method the entire set can be shot at one time or in batches of a single key style. This eliminates a lot of the sorting and color matching issues.

Good double shot tends to be one key (or a few) at a time with a multi color injector and then you have to sort them manually unless you invest in some sort of picking system. How many sets do you need to move to pay off a million dollar picking and sorting system? You need expensive molds for each key and there better not be any bleed (start over!), want a new design, you need a new mold, for each and every key and these mods are like art, there's a serious science to making them. Want to change color, each set needs two colors of plastic and you can't pre-mold blanks and add colors later, your color control also needs to be on point as well because it's per key, you do a batch of "T" then a batch of "D" they need to match for an entire set for the entire run, you can't do 500 then have the color shift part way through and just keep going.  All of this means tight quality control or it doesn't look good. Basically everything about them is expensive.


Challenges you face? Money and technology. Plain and simple.
If it was that easy to undercut GMK pricing don't you think more Chinese companies would have done it by now? I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm saying it can't be done and still turn much of a profit. That goes double if you don't own the factory doing it and have to contract it out. The one surefire way it could be done is if you come up with some new innovative way to do an entire set of good doubleshots in single pass without expensive molds or injectors and honestly, if you figure out a way to do that there's so much money in that patent that you would never need to worry about paying $100 for a set of caps ever again.


There is one other thing you need consider here.
Ever think maybe not everyone wants them to be cheaper or mass produced? A lot of the GMK hype exists because of the exclusivity. Not everyone can or will spend $100 on a set of caps, giving them something rare. Same with people spending hundreds and even thousands on a keyboard, a big part of it is ego and them wanting something few others have, this is why Cherry red double shot ESC caps were valued at $500 at one point, look at the artisan caps. Some of those people will refuse to buy your cheaper caps simply because they're cheaper and easier to get. How many turn their nose up to good dye-sub thick PBT? They "gotta" have those expensive double shots because, well just because!  Ever see people drinking $10k champagne, honestly, is it REALLY that much better tasting than a $500 bottle or even $100 bottle, of course not, they do it because they can and want to show people they have money. You can't really show off a Toyota like you can a Ferrari even if the Toyota will get you to work and back a lot more reliably.
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Offline Darthbaggins

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Re: I am trying to start my own key caps vendor. Anyone interested?
« Reply #2 on: Thu, 11 February 2021, 10:38:17 »
Also you have to think of who has the rights to the cap sets that they commisioned/contracted GMK or any of the other vendors to make for them.  Some own exclusivity rights to them, this is why I see the knock off vendors appear and disappear very often as to avoid a lawsuit.

Offline tp4tissue

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Re: I am trying to start my own key caps vendor. Anyone interested?
« Reply #3 on: Thu, 11 February 2021, 17:13:11 »
The volume's not there. It's also not COOL if the volume IS THERE.   This is a vanity business, so it has a vanity business model.

I think in this space, you'll never get anywhere selling plastic, anyone can sell plastic, differentiation is mainly just color,  it's not special, and easily copied. There's a large opening for Gemstones and metallic body switchs that no one is serving.

I don't see why we can't have diamond studded emblems. or jewel set keycaps.


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Offline Leslieann

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Re: I am trying to start my own key caps vendor. Anyone interested?
« Reply #4 on: Thu, 11 February 2021, 22:25:43 »
Also you have to think of who has the rights to the cap sets that they commisioned/contracted GMK or any of the other vendors to make for them.  Some own exclusivity rights to them, this is why I see the knock off vendors appear and disappear very often as to avoid a lawsuit.
No.
Even when it does it's easy to avoid, just use generic icons, change the shade and most importantly, don't use the name.

You aren't going to get exclusivity for "red and white", it's going to have to be very specific shades, used in a particular way, and even then you really need something unique about it like an icon or name to go with it, otherwise your Pantone **** and **** combo is just "red and white* and that holds absolutely zero value. This is why Coca Cola is so critical when dealing with the red and white color when they have anything commissioned, it MUST be right or it's not "theirs". Combined with their font and logo they absolutely own it, but they do not own the rights to just red and white.


Yes those vendors come and go, but that has more to do with accountability with the marketplace than lawsuits. It's fast, cheap and easy to setup a company in China, cheaper than dealing with tech support issues and risk losing your good standing with your main company on a site like Ali Express. So they pile all of their risky items or one-offs onto disposable companies. Do you honestly think some guy in China cares you own the rights to Pantone **** and *****, do you honestly think you will have absolutely ANY luck at all as an individual trying to recover losses from them? Not a chance. They just don't want to deal with customers 6 months later complaining about how the space bar is warped and won't be replaced. That's if they ever shipped the product to begin with, many will just take the money and disappear.
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Online yui

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Re: I am trying to start my own key caps vendor. Anyone interested?
« Reply #5 on: Fri, 12 February 2021, 03:21:00 »
jewel set keycaps.
that would be rather uncomfortable to type on though, wouldn't it?
The volume's not there. It's also not COOL if the volume IS THERE.   This is a vanity business, so it has a vanity business model.
to be honest, i really do not care that my keyboard would be 1 of 1, my current main keyboards are a PC122 (very mass produced for the last 4 decades) and a doddle60 (opensource, so pretty much there can be an infinite number of them). i think there is a place for a premium offering but that is not quite bespoke (look at the Iki68 Aurora as an example, of the new GMMK)

but leslieann is right manufacturing key-caps is expensive especially with custom colors and legend on a small scale. although even on dye-sub it would be nice to have a few ready to buy option that are not only ANSI or at best ISO-UK, so that the rest of the MK community can also have cheap-ish caps that do not wear out in under a week...
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Offline Darthbaggins

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Re: I am trying to start my own key caps vendor. Anyone interested?
« Reply #6 on: Fri, 12 February 2021, 07:53:32 »
Also you have to think of who has the rights to the cap sets that they commisioned/contracted GMK or any of the other vendors to make for them.  Some own exclusivity rights to them, this is why I see the knock off vendors appear and disappear very often as to avoid a lawsuit.
No.
Even when it does it's easy to avoid, just use generic icons, change the shade and most importantly, don't use the name.

You aren't going to get exclusivity for "red and white", it's going to have to be very specific shades, used in a particular way, and even then you really need something unique about it like an icon or name to go with it, otherwise your Pantone **** and **** combo is just "red and white* and that holds absolutely zero value. This is why Coca Cola is so critical when dealing with the red and white color when they have anything commissioned, it MUST be right or it's not "theirs". Combined with their font and logo they absolutely own it, but they do not own the rights to just red and white.


Yes those vendors come and go, but that has more to do with accountability with the marketplace than lawsuits. It's fast, cheap and easy to setup a company in China, cheaper than dealing with tech support issues and risk losing your good standing with your main company on a site like Ali Express. So they pile all of their risky items or one-offs onto disposable companies. Do you honestly think some guy in China cares you own the rights to Pantone **** and *****, do you honestly think you will have absolutely ANY luck at all as an individual trying to recover losses from them? Not a chance. They just don't want to deal with customers 6 months later complaining about how the space bar is warped and won't be replaced. That's if they ever shipped the product to begin with, many will just take the money and disappear.

Ah, wasn't sure on how that would work for the cloning of someone else's work - and yeah I know most Chinese manufacturers could care less about who owns the rights to anything as that can be seen by even a large company like Thermaltake's cloning of many items.

Offline Leslieann

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Re: I am trying to start my own key caps vendor. Anyone interested?
« Reply #7 on: Sat, 13 February 2021, 00:23:47 »
Ah, wasn't sure on how that would work for the cloning of someone else's work - and yeah I know most Chinese manufacturers could care less about who owns the rights to anything as that can be seen by even a large company like Thermaltake's cloning of many items.
But is it a clone to copy two colors?

Art stuff is a bit trickier than just a trademark or patent, but a lot still applies and a 2 color combination not attached to a brand or logo would be a tough one to claim as being art in and of itself, for example red and white can be Coca-Cola as much as it can be peppermint or Christmas. It's too simplistic on it's own even if you specify exact Pantone colors since we as humans don't see color codes but instead colors (and not always the same). It being on a keycap does offer some definition but without any specific logos or icons it's just a two color combination on a key cap, at what point does it cross into art if the caps and fonts are generic in nature?
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62g Zilents/lubed/Novelkeys 39g springs, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps, Netdot Gen10 magnetic cable, pic
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More
Vortex case squared up/blasted finish removed/custom feet/paint/winkey blockoff plate, HID Liberator, stainless steel universal plate, 3d printed adapters, Type C, Netdot Gen10 magnetic cable, foam sound dampened, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps (o-ringed), Cherry Jailhouse Blues w/lubed/clipped Cherry light springs, 40g actuation
| GMMK TKL
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w/ Kailh Purple Pros/lubed/Novelkeys 39g springs, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps, Netdot Gen10 Magnetic cable
| 3d printed 65% w/LCD and hot swap
More
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| Magicforce 68
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| YMDK75 Jail Housed Gateron Blues
More
J-spacers, YMDK Thick PBT, O-rings, SIP sockets
| KBT Race S L.E.
More
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| Das Pro
More
Costar model with browns
| GH60
More
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| Logitech Illumininated | IBM Model M (x2)

Offline suicidal_orange

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Re: I am trying to start my own key caps vendor. Anyone interested?
« Reply #8 on: Sat, 13 February 2021, 04:18:33 »
I know most Chinese manufacturers could care less about who owns the rights to anything
If they could care less they must care at least a bit, if they couldn't care less they really don't care.  We both know which applies here... (not trying to be a grammar nazi, just sad to see an intelligent person fall into this trap)
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