A report on keyboard plate materials and manufacturing.
All RGBKB metal plates have been made in China. RGBKB is a US-based company, and I'd like to reduce my reliance to China. Today, we're going to evaluate the difference in quality for the standard, 1.6mm plates with different materials and finishes. Prices described below are kit prices (with screws and standoffs). Pictures are of Sol and Mun (prototype) plates.
First up, the standard 1.6mm aluminum, powder coated plate from China. Price: $15 a pair. Quality on these is pretty good. They're powder coated, burrs are minimal, and cheap. These come from the guys I've been using since Sol 1, and they're reliable.
Recently, I've been getting some plate samples from other US manufacturers:
Next up: Laser-cut aluminum, no finish. $20 a pair, from Oshcut, US. Not too satisfied with these. Oshcut doesn't offer any finishing options, so there are burrs and even some burn marks. The topside isn't too bad, so I could order left and right pieces separately, but that would increase cost.
Carbon fiber: ~$42 a pair. From Plastic-Spider, US. These have a good finish, minimal burrs (easy to remove), and good tolerances. A bit pricey, but also reliable.
From SendCutSend, we have laser-cut Brass, brushed finish, ~$65 a pair. These parts are okay, the edges are all properly deburred. There are a few tooling marks on the surface, most could be removed with the right polishing tools. (Disregard the cat hair on the top left, oops.)
Here's Titanium with brushed finish from SendCutSend, ~$95 a pair. Titanium has a higher hardness rating than Brass (6 to 3 on the Mohs scale), so it's much more resistant to scratches. Overall, the finish is good, I really like the weight and feel of this plate.
Finally, since all my plate files are available, you can order your own plates from somewhere like Laserboost. Stainless Steel 304 brushed would be $67 a pair. Below is an image of a plate from Laserboost. Other materials available from them include aluminum, brass, and copper.
The Carbon Fiber, Brass, and Titanium plates are good. I think the finish is good enough for a keyboard plate, and they allow me to source more parts from the US. As for the cheapest aluminum option in the US, the raw finish just wasn't good enough, and getting them brushed/painted would bring the price past $30, twice that of the plates from China. I'll probably stick with the chinese vendor for my cheapest plates. You can expect CF, Brass, and Titanium plates available for my keyboards in the near future, all made in the US. As for material choice, you can see from the table above where you can make your choice on looks, strength, weight, and cost.