Choosing the right keycap set is important. It changes the entire feeling and sound of your keyboard. You may have been aware that there are many different types of keycap profiles, materials and printing legends to choose from. We hope this can be a guide to assist in your hunt for the perfect choice for you.
When we talk about a “keycap profile” we are talking about what the shape of the keycaps is. This will drastically change both the feeling and ergonomics of a keyboard. It can be quite daunting deciding what profile to get with, specially if you are new to the hobby. To help you make an informed decision for your build, here is list of what is out there.
These both refer to the most common keycap profile for mechanical keyboards. Offer the more modern design and typing experience. The biggest difference between OEM and Cherry is that whether the keycaps are manufactured, or certified by the Cherry brand or not. Sometimes, the Cherry profile may be a little bit lower than the OEM profile, and the shape for the first row is a little bit flatter as well.
A blast from the past, back in the IBM Selectric (1961 and Apple II days are when SA caps were first introduced. The "S" means "Spherical", and the"A" refers to "all rows". This means the keycaps are all rounded in shape. It’s quite common that some variants are generated based on this concept, such as the DSA, which also refers to spherical keycaps but is a bit lower than the SA keycaps.
DSA is the go-to uniform profile in the hobby. First introduced by Signature Plastics - the original creator and manufacturer of DSA profile keycaps. You can expect pleasantly textured surfaces, slightly shorter profile for a flatter look, combined with spherical top is a great blend to give you a perfectly balanced feel regarding typing on this set. You will enjoy the typing sessions very much.
Somewhat similar in height to DSA profile. ADA offers a more circular and in-dented 'done' shape which guides your fingers more to center of each key for a more accurate typing experience, while the space is completely flat surface for precision when striking your space bar.
The ASA profile mixes the height of the OEM profile and maintains the spherical shape of keycaps.
It's a customized profile provided by the AKKO. Offers a familiar sculpted feel to cherry or cherry profile.
Like DSA, XDA keycaps are low profile and uniform, which results in this profile being widely used within the hobby.
This profile is pretty easy to get used and will be easier than DSA if you are coming from a high profile like SA. The most difficulty you will probably have is if you aren’t used to the profile’s uniformity. XDA sounds pretty similar to the Cherry profile just a bit lower pitch. This profile is a solid option for both gaming and quick or regular typing.
Thick, Tall and curvy profile. similar to SA, but not quite as tall. Each row is similar in height to the OEM profile. KAT also features a taller top row and is designated row 0 compared to SA with two Row 1.
GK1 is Epomaker's proprietary keycap profile. It finds the balance between the height and the shape for an ergonomic and comfortable long-time use.
GK2 is specifically made for Epomaker's silicone keycaps. Its design comes from the GK1 profile, but slightly adjusts the height to match the silicone soft surface.
ABS - (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a thermoplastic that is most common material on the market. By far the least costly solution compared to it's counterparts, due to it's flexibility in manufacturing. Known to offer a more shiny finish. While having a more thinner housing, this can make for a more quieter typing experience.
PBT - (Polybutylene Terephthalate) is a semi-crystalline thermoplastic material. A higher quality material compared to ABS. However, considerably more pricey for higher tier sets. Offers a matte finish and thicker design will give you a more louder typing experience. PBT is a lot more brittle and durable, which will give your keycaps a longer life span.
This technique offers a fast and simple solution for printing legends on keycaps. Occasionally dye-sub legends, usually in cheaper sets, might not look as clear due to the nature of how it is printed on.
dye-sub is cheaper, but it isn’t necessarily worse and in many instances it is a good option for manufacturers of pre-built boards if they have non-backlit keyboards.
Dye-sub is printed onto the keycaps, which may make you think that the durability is not very good, but it is the most durable method besides double-shot.
Doubleshot keycaps are made from a more complicated manufacturing process where two separate plastics are injection moulded to make the keycap. Offering the most durable and vibrant legends.
Doubleshot keycaps can be produced this way so that lighting can shine through the legends. If your keyboard has lighting for each individual key, these styles of keycaps are used so the backlighting can illuminate the legends and make them easier to read.
Worthy mention, for the bravest of hearts. For the users have ascended as typing gods. Blank legends keycap sets will give your board a very clean, custom, modern and understated look to your board. However sometimes can be quite irritating when trying to find a layer 2 key or number row which you are not so used to on a specific board. Once mastered, can be a satisfying feeling.
ANSI vs ISO Layout
Another thing to look out for is whether or not your keycap set is compatible with ANSI and ISO layouts. The main difference being the size and shape of the enter key. Most keycap sets will have the right keycap sizes for both layout types, but stay on the size of caution and confirm before you buy. It can be incredibly frustrating to order a keycap set and not have the right hand enter key fit properly.
As you can see there is A LOT of choice when it comes to finding the right custom keycap set for you. We recommend doing as much research as you can before hand. At the end of the day, it will come down to is, preference - what feels and fits right for you. We hope this quick guide will help you in your journey!