Keypads are components used in the construction and design of human-machine interfaces.
They are found on calculators, television remotes, push-button telephones, vending machines, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), point of sale devices, combination locks, and digital door locks. These keypads are made from various materials, including tactile rubber and plastic.
Before you decide which of these two materials is most suitable for your product, there are a few factors to consider—including cost, reliability, performance, size, shape, and many others. In this article, you’ll learn about the critical differences between tactile rubber and plastic as keypad materials and how to determine which one best suits your product.
Tactile Rubber Vs. Plastic Keypads
Tactile rubber and plastic are two of the most common keypad types in the market today. Both materials have their pros and cons. If you’re figuring out which one is right for your product, here are the top nine factors to consider:
1. Water Resistance
Exposure to water and moisture is a major issue for most electronic products. Tactile silicone rubber keypads are naturally resistant to moisture. The silicone membrane prevents water from seeping through the sensitive components of your product and damaging its functionality. If you’re creating products meant to be used in industrial or commercial applications, tactile rubber keypads are a great choice because they can withstand humid environments and outdoor settings.
Plastic, as a material, is inherently water-resistant. However, because of the design of most plastic keypads, moisture can still seep in between the keys and into the underlying switches. Thus, if water resistance is your top priority for your product, you’re better off going for tactile rubber keypads.
2. Dust Resistance
Like water, dust is bad for electronics. Dust can insulate the product and cause products to overheat. It can attract water, creating a conductive sludge that may cause leakage problems. It can also interfere with the proper functioning of components such as relays, connectors, and switches—over time, this may eventually lead to product failure.
Tactile rubber keypads are dustproof. The design makes it harder for moisture, dust, and micro-particles to penetrate between the keys. In contrast, plastic keypads are structured in such a way that makes it easy for dirt and dust to penetrate into the interior components. If you’re expecting your product to be constantly exposed to dirt and dust, tactile rubber keypads are the better choice.
3. Corrosion Resistance
Corrosion refers to the gradual breakdown of certain materials due to a chemical reaction with the environment. The most commonly known type of corrosion happens when metal combines with oxygen and water and creates iron oxide or rust. If you don’t have preventative measures in place to protect your product from corrosion, catastrophic consequences are likely to take place. The keypad material you choose offers an additional layer of protection against the elements that can trigger corrosion.
Rubber is a highly durable material—which is why it’s used in different industrial applications and consumer goods. This also means that tactile rubber keypads, which are primarily made of silicone, can also withstand harsh environments. They can withstand both corrosion and oxidation, which can damage your product’s electronic components. The same is also true for plastic keypads. Plastic is well-known for its resistance to most bases, acids, saline solutions, and organic compounds that can precipitate the breakdown of your product’s metallic parts.
An essential factor that any business owner worth their salt should consider when investing in a resource or material is its cost. How much will it cost you to manufacture or purchase the keypads for your product? Which material is more cost-effective?
In most cases, tactical rubber keypads cost a fraction of the price you’d pay for plastic keypads. They’re simpler, so they’re much easier to construct. Mechanical plastic keypads tend to cost more because you’d first need to design and create a mold—and this process can quickly turn into the most expensive part of your production. The difference may seem negligible when your output is on the low end, but the expenses can definitely add up when you produce or purchase in bulk.
Ergonomics and user comfort are vital factors when to keep in mind when choosing the suitable material for your product. Comfort matters when it comes to using a keypad, especially when it’ll be used consistently for work, gaming, and other commercial or industrial applications.
Tactical rubber keypads are smooth, giving the user a soft touch. Its ergonomic design is this material’s top selling point, as its soft, sponge-like property allows for easy, comfortable key pressing. However, plastic keypads have the edge over their rubber counterparts when it comes to tactile feedback. Many users still prefer mechanical plastic keypads because they provide a familiar feel whenever the keys are pressed down.
Silicone rubber keypads easily resist adverse conditions such as contact with chemicals or ultraviolet rays. They also withstand abrasion and extraordinarily high or low temperatures quite well.
Plastic keypads are also durable and last longer than you can imagine. They can withstand pressure and damage for a long time while showing minimal signs of wear and tear. If your products are meant for daily or consistent use, either material is an excellent choice. However, it’s important to note that the average lifespan of traditional plastic keypads is only 15 million impressions, while tactile rubber keypads can reach up to 50 million impressions.
Silicone rubber keypads produce less noise. Pressing down on a rubber key produces little or no noise at all. Plastic keypads, on the other hand, produce a lot of noise. Nonetheless, some users may prefer the latter option for audio-feedback reasons—the clicking noise lets them know that their input was properly registered without checking the screen. Depending on the needs of your target user, either material can actually work for your product.
Before choosing a keypad material for your product, check out the factors listed above. Both options have their pros and cons—one may be more suitable for a particular setting or circumstance. Your top consideration should always be whether your choice can sufficiently satisfy the product’s and target consumer’s needs.