When researching the different techniques and technologies used in the production of silicone-rubber keypads, you may come across something called “laser etching.” So, what are laser-etched keypads and are they the right choice for your application?
Laser etching refers to a process in which a high-powered laser is used to remove the top layer of paint on a keypad. Assuming you are reading this from a desktop computer and not a smartphone or touchscreen tablet, take a look at your keyboard. Normally, most computer keyboards are produced through printing, in which the letters are printed directly on the surface. It’s a cheap and easy way to create letters, numbers, and special characters on keys, making it the preferred choice among many companies. But laser etching is a newer, more advanced method for producing keys, as it relies on the use of a high-powered laser to burn away a portion of the paint.
While the exact process varies depending on the company performing it, laser etching is typically used to remove black paint on the top layer of the keypad. The laser is carefully guided across the surface of the key, burning away paint in select areas. After the black paint has been removed, it reveals a lighter color below. The subsequent result is a contrasting black-on-white color, making the keys pop with a higher level of visibility.
So, what benefits (if any) does laser etching provide? For starters, it’s often used to produce a stronger backlight effect by lighting only the legends. This effect can be intensified by combining laser etching with light-emitting diode (LED) backlighting, resulting in a wide range of brilliant color schemes.
Laser etched keypads are also strong, durable and resilient to damage. With printed keypads, prolonged use may result in some of the ink/paint wearing off. This isn’t something that happens overnight, but constantly using a traditional printed keypad for months or years on end may cause the paint to wear off. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem with laser etched keypads, as the letters/characters/numbers are produced using a high-powered laser.