Tai-Hao Hawaii Keycap Set Review: Tropical PBT

Tai-Hao, a company known for its keycaps, rolled its thin ABS doubleshots off the line for decades. Few changes were evident throughout the years. The addition of doubleshot PBT to Tai-Hao’s injection molding repertoire added an interesting and markedly enthusiast twist to its existing products. Massdrop provided a PBT Hawaii set for review. Unfortunately, their drop ended before I could publish this article. Sets are easily available, but you can find Hawaii elsewhere as well.

Specifications & box

The Hawaii set isn’t quite bare bones, but it’s close. A few extra keys, including a random textured key and some Tai-Hao themed caps, are the only additions to its standard 104 key compatible layout. A generic keycap puller is in the box. The keycaps are doubleshot PBT in OEM profile. That’s pretty cool. It’s difficult to create two part injection molds with PBT, as the plastic behaves differently from less durable ABS.

The concept

The island of Hawaii showcases unique colors and sights. This aptly named keycap set captures many of its color features and, in my opinion, a few of its quirks.

Each row evokes a different part of the island’s visual palette, be it pastel sky or an errant purple sweet potato (a unique variant cultivated on the island for thousands of years).

It’s clear that Tai-Hao spent some time looking at photographs of their target landscape. I showed the keycaps to random friends, and they immediately thought of the tropics as well. Some even guessed the location. “Hawaii, perhaps?”

The good

I’m always concerned when I see keycap sets that feature multiple colors. It’s difficult to blend a number of shades in a visually appealing manner, especially when the caps are heavily textured. I think that Tai-Hao pulled it off here, though that is quite subjective.

None of the colors are over the top when placed together. Even the neon-ish orange fits between the shades that surround it. In addition, the caps’ texture is excellent. They aren’t deeply pitted like IBM PBT dyesubs, but they do offer a sandpaper-like surface finish. Hawaii is PBT, so it should hold up for a while.

I was on the fence about Hawaii’s behavior with LEDs, as it’s a bit quirky. Most of the keycaps are thin and light enough in color to allow LED penetration. I would usually be displeased by that, but with this set it’s a pleasant effect. As the colors get darker, the light bleed lessens. It’s like a shoreline sunset. When the sun moves past the horizon, similar lighting effects are present.

The bad

The Hawaii keycap set isn’t perfect. It doesn’t provide an Fn key or support alternate key sizes, which may or may not be a deal breaker. Ensure that your keyboard uses standard key sizes before picking this set up. The packaging is also subpar. It crams the keys into a small plastic box without separation. Several scuffs resulted from rubbing during shipment. They aren’t extremely obvious, but they will bug serious enthusiasts.

This set has a slightly warped space bar, but it isn’t the worst I’ve seen. PBT is notorious for its bad behavior when cast into long, thin shapes. The entire set is fairly thin, in fact. The key walls, at their thickest, are 1.4 mm. You can expect an increase in typing noise if your former caps were thick.

Hawaii’s injection molding points are a bit rough. They’re on the back of the caps where divots won’t be visible, but some sprues were present on the review set I received. If they bother you, careful trimming with a hobby knife is necessary. Model building tutorials often show sprue removal techniques if you need additional instruction.

In terms of color, seeing a slightly lighter blue on the bottom row would have been nice for the sake of contrast. Contrast in general is a bit iffy, which is intentional, as dark purple is used instead of black for light key legends. In addition, the Hawaii colorway may not work for all keyboards. I knew that Hawaii would shine on my XMIT Beta, which has a tropical-looking bamboo case. In my opinion, the set would also look great on semi-gloss and matte black cases. Some of the set’s shades and textures are reminiscent of chalk (which is why the next photo uses a blackboard as a backdrop).

Editor’s thoughts

When I opened the package, I was skeptical about Hawaii. In some ways, I still am. Do I think it’s a reasonable value? Yes. Do I think you should scramble madly to buy it? No. Take a long look at your keyboard, then visualize this keycap set on it.

You might decide the mental picture is great. I knew, for example, that the set belonged on my bamboo XMIT Beta. If you’re not sure, stick with something a bit more traditional. You won’t regret a classic look. If you decide to buy Hawaii later, check it out here.

Image credits: Frieda’s