How to Choose Keycaps

A part that is often forgotten when buying a new mechanical keyboard is getting the right keycaps. It might seem like it won’t make much of a difference, but having the best possible keycaps will make significantly affect the overall feel of the keyboard, and it will have a longer lifespan.

To help you choose the right keycaps in 2022, we’ll look at:

  • The material
  • The keycap profile
  • The printing technique
  • Custom keycaps

Let’s start with the first thing to consider, the type of plastic of the keycap:

Choosing the Right Keycap Material

When looking at keycap sets, almost all are made of either ABS or PBT. This is what it means and the differences between the two:

ABS Keycaps

ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, one of the most common materials in stock keyboards. ABS is a durable material that excels at representing bright, vivid colors. 

It’s easy to mold the plastic, so ABS keycaps tend to be consistent with crisp legends. Many affordable ABS keycaps are available, although not as common in upgrade kits as PBT plastic. Typing and gaming on an ABS keycap is a comfortable experience, thanks to the smooth finish.

The downside to ABS is that it tends to wear down and leave a shiny gloss on the top of the keycaps. Some gamers like the glossy look, but it’s not for everyone. 

PBT Keycaps

PBT, or Polybutylene Terephthalate, is a more dense plastic commonly found in both upgrade kits and premium mechanical keyboards.

PBT keycaps tend to be thicker and more durable than ABSkeycaps. However, they have lower fractal resistance, which means they’re more prone to shatter.

The downside of PBT keycaps is that they are not as vivid as ABS keycaps and the colors look a bit more muted. 

When it comes to the feel of PBT keycaps, expect a slightly rougher textured surface. It still feels smooth but is not as soft as an ABS keycap.

Choosing The Right Keycap Profile

The shape of the key is known as the keycap profile, and there are many different profiles.

Choosing the right keycap profile is important since it will affect how comfortable the keys feel and how they sound. Keycap profiles have different heights, surfaces, surface areas, and designs. The first step in choosing the right keycap profile is to decide if you want to go for a uniform or a sculpted keycap profile:

Uniform vs. Sculpted

The keys have different shapes on different keyboard rows on sculpted keycap profiles. Sculpted keys reduce travel distance when moving your fingers between different rows. This makes sculpted profiles the most recommended profile for typing. 

Keys with uniform profiles have the same shape all over the keyboard. Generally, it’s not recommended to start out with a uniform profile since they take some time to get used to. However, many enthusiasts prefer keys with uniform profiles and are always on the lookout for a new custom keycap set with uniform profiles.

The most common keycap profiles are Cherry, OEM, SA, and DSA. Let’s have a look at these different keycap profiles:

Cherry

The cherry profile is the most popular sculpted profile on the market. The keys have a cylindrical shape and have a slightly lower overall profile. This makes keys with the cherry profile excellent for both typing and gaming. Brands that sell custom keycap sets with the cherry profile include HK Gaming, GMK, Infinikey, and JTK.

OEM

OEM is another sculpted profile you usually find in high-end mechanical gaming keyboards. The profile features a cylindrical shape and is slightly higher than the cherry profile. It’s not as common in custom keycap sets, but Tai-Hao produces some great OEM keycaps.

SA

The SA profile has a distinct curve and a tall, highly contoured shape. Since the keys are taller than most other profiles, it’s not like by everyone and has a slight learning curve to get into. Another downside of the SA profile is that SA keycaps are quite expensive.

DSA

DSA is one of the most popular uniform keycap profiles. They are unsculpted and lack any curvature. The lack of curvature can make touch typing difficult. They have a medium height, and it’s easy to find good custom DSA keycaps.

Printing Techniques

The symbols on the keys are also known as legends. How the legends are printed will impact how they look and whether the symbols will fade or rub off over time. There are many different techniques for printing the legends, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

Pad-printed

Cheaper and older keyboards tend to have pad-printed keycaps. They are cheap to make and work by applying the ink directly onto the top of the keycap. The downside of pad-printed keycaps is that they will fade over time.

Laser-engraved

Laser-engraved keycaps are commonly found in RBG keyboards. The legends are printed by using a laser to engrave the symbols into the key. Laser-engraved keys will last longer than pad-printed keys, but they won’t last as long as dye-sub and double shot keycaps.

Dye sub

The legends of dye sub keycaps are engraved to the key cap material using a heat treatment process known as dye subl