Ultimate Guide to the Best Keycap Profiles and Materials


Keychron K4 with Razer PBT Keycaps

What better way to spiff up your mechanical keyboard than to get a brand-new set of keycaps? By replacing your old keycaps you’re able to get rid of your thin and poorly made ABS keycaps and replace them with a new keycap set with an awesome unique design and color.

When picking out a new keycap set, you’ll want to look at the keycap material, thickness, profile, and overall design to figure out what will work best with your setup and application. If your keyboard has RGB lighting, you’ll want to get a keycap set that is double-shot or pudding style to allow the light to shine through the keycaps.

We’ll go over the details of what material, profile, and design you should look for based on what you are going to use your keyboard for. Some keycaps may be better for gaming, typing, or other applications. So, let’s dive right in.

Why Get a New Keycap Set?

With the exceptions of very expensive mechanical keyboards, most keyboards come with very cheap and mass-produced keycaps that make the keyboard dull and bland. The keycaps are what your going to be looking and typing on during the entire lifespan of your keyboard, so shouldn’t they be one of the nicest parts of the keyboard?  There are many benefits to getting new keycaps, and they can make a $50 keyboard feel like a $150 one for a relatively cheap price.

The main benefits are the aesthetics as you are able to choose the color and design of the keycaps which will allow the RGB lighting to flourish. The keycaps also are more durable, which means the legends won’t slowly disappear after some heavy use. In addition, by customizing the profile design you will have a keycap set that feels comfortable and efficient to type on. There are a lot of different styles of keycaps sets out there so let’s go over some of the different options and features.

What is the Best Keycap Material?

In the world of keycaps, there is really two main material types you can get; ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate). You may be wondering, what the heck is ABS & PBT? Well, they are two different types of plastic with different property qualities.  Both types of plastic have a different feel, sound, and look to them. We’ll go over what the differences are, and which one is better.

ABS vs PBT Keycaps

ABS keycaps are the cheapest and most common plastic used for keycaps. ABS keycaps are mass produced because of how easily they are injection molded. PBT plastic is less common but is usually higher quality than ABS. ABS keycaps feel smooth and develop a greasy shine over time, while PBT keycaps feel textured and are more durable. PBT are considered superior to ABS since they are more durable and wear down less over time. That being said, there are some really nice ABS keycap sets available, and at the end of the day it comes down to user preference. Some people prefer the smooth feel of ABS while others like the textured feel of PBT.

If you’re looking more detail on the difference between ABS & PBT keycaps, we have a full write-up here. In the table below, we show the main differences based on the main differences between the two types of plastic.

ABS KeycapsPBT Keycaps
Usually CheaperMore Expensive
Shiny/GreasyMatte
SmoothTextured
Thinner (Not always)Thicker
Quieter when typingLouder when typing
FlexibleBrittle
Wears Over TimeMore Durable
ABS vs PBT Keycaps

Other Keycap Materials

It’s worth noting there are other keycaps styles, but they are much less common and sometimes more expensive. Keycap styles such as rubber and brass can be difficult to find and purchase. Usually, you’ll need to order them through a group buy to get ahold of them.

I’ve personally never used them, so I can’t comment on the quality or feel. If you’re interested in learning more about brass keycaps, I included a YouTube video below. Rubber keycaps are a bit more common, so you can check them out on Amazon here for a pretty cheap price. They feel and sound way different than plastic.

Getting Keycaps for RGB Backlit Keyboards

If your keyboard doesn’t have RGB lighting, you don’t need to worry about purchasing double-shot or pudding keycaps, since these styles of keycaps let the backlighting shine through. But if you do have RGB, it’s definitely worth considering one of these keycap designs. Without RGB, a simple single-shot keycap will work perfectly well for you. In fact, some keycaps with the coolest designs are single-shot, because they are made for hobbyist keyboards which tend to not have RGB backlighting.

Doubleshot Keycaps

Double shot keycaps are made from a more complicated manufacturing process where two separate plastics are injection molded to make the keycap. Doubleshot keycaps are 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. Double shot keycaps are available in both PBT and ABS plastics. You can get these keycaps in many different colors such as the Pink Razer double-shot PBT keycaps.

Pudding Keycaps

Pudding keycaps are a way to really show off your keyboards lighting. These are also doubleshot, but instead of just illuminating the legends, the light can also shine through the sides of the keycaps as well. This makes for some awesome looking keyboard set-ups. Some of our favorite pudding keycaps are by HyperX, they are quite affordable and are a nice upgrade for any mechanical keyboard. There are many other pudding keycaps available in different and from different brands, so you can pick out the kind your really want.

Choosing the Right Keycap Profile

The keycap profile is where things start to get a little complicated. The keycap profile refers to the overall shape of the keycap, some keycaps are flat, some are rounded, with many different shapes as well. There are certain styles in which each row of keys has a different height to allow for a concave or sloped shape over the entire keycap set. By changing the shape of your keycaps, it lets you take the style and feel of your keyboard to a whole new level.

Side View of Different Profile Types

As you can see in the image above, there are several different profiles and shapes of keycaps to select from. There are many more profiles as well, they are just more uncommon are harder to get ahold of. You can see more variations in the picture below. We’ll go over all of the differences and help you pick out the best profile based on what you are using your keyboard for.

Keycap ProfileDescriptionWhere to Buy
OEMThe keycap profile you’ll find on most keyboards. Mass produced, considered standard. Angled top.YMDK OEM PBT Keycaps
CherryVery similar to OEM profile, but shorter. Very popular layout.Qisan Cherry PBT Keycaps
DSASlightly shorter profile with spherical top.YMDK DSA PBT Keycaps
XDAMedium height profile with spherical topDrop XDA Keycaps
SATall height profile with slightly spherical and angled top.Doomhammer SA PBT Keycaps
Photo by u/jacobolus

Uniform vs Sculpted Keycap Profile

Keychron K6 with DSA Profile Keycaps

One of the biggest differences between keycap profiles is whether the keycaps are sculpted or uniform. A uniform keycap has a flat surface and is not angled at all. Sculpted keycaps on the other hand, have a slight angle to help with typing to make is so you don’t need to stretch your fingers quite as far.

Sculpted is usually preferred by most people, as it makes typing feel more fluid but others may find the uniform profile feels or looks better for them. The uniform profile it typically found on enthusiast keycap sets with unique designs.

The Best Keycap Profile for Gaming

Drop CTRL with Cherry Keycap Profile

If you’re looking for a keycap set to improve your gaming experience, you’re going to want to look for the keycap profile that feels the most comfortable for you so you don’t need to spend precious milliseconds looking for the next key. Generally, the best keycap style for gaming is the Cherry profile as they are sculpted to be efficient and comfortably pressed.

Overall, the keycap profile does not affect the gaming experience that much. If you really want to improve your competitive edge, we recommend that you look into a different switch instead. Low-profile or optical switches can decrease the travel distance and improve the response time when entering a keystroke. Keep in mind these switch types do make typing more uncomfortable in our experience, but they may be worth exploring.

The keycap profile that is best for gaming is whichever one feels the most familiar and comfortable. We definitely recommend checking out a set Cherry profile PBT keycaps, as we found they feel the best for gaming.

The Best Keycap Profile for Typing

Finding the best keycap profile for typing usually comes down to getting a keycap set that is efficient to type on and reduces the distance the fingers need to stretch to reach each key. Because of this, the Cherry profile is highly recommended for the purpose of typing. You also want to look at how familiar the keycap set feels. For example, a flat or uniform profile may feel strange if you’ve never used one before, so it may have an adverse effect on your typing speed. Use what feels familiar and what you have the muscle memory to type on.

If you’re looking to improve typing speed, try exploring other typing techniques or do regular speed tests to try and improve. There are many other ways to improve at typing regardless of the keycap profile. Another option would be to look at other keyboard maps such as COLEMAK or DVORAK.

At the end of the day, for the purpose of typing you cannot go wrong with Cherry keycap profile or the standard OEM profile. They are both sculpted, efficient, and comfortable to type on.

Are Custom Keycaps Worth It?

In case you didn’t know, it’s possible to find custom or even handmade keycaps for you keyboard. The easiest way to get a custom keycap is to have it printed onto a keycap, usually you can find a website online to make them for you. You simply upload an image and a few weeks later you’ll receive a keycap with that custom image on it.

If you’re looking to get a little extra fancy, you can purchase artisan keycaps through a group buy or have them individually made for your keyboard. This is the most expensive style of keycap, but it allows for the ultimate customization. There are some very cool and unique keycap designs out there. Most people will usually pick out and ultra custom keycap for their escape key and have the rest of their set be from a premade keycap set. This way you don’t need to spend a ridiculous amount customizing the entire set. Keep in mind these custom keycaps are not cheap and will set you back quite a bit.

What are the Best Keycap Sets?

As mentioned before, the best keycap set is entirely subjective as it comes down to what you’re looking for in your keyboard. A really nice higher end keycap set would be the GMK Red Samurai set. Another option if you’re looking for something more affordable would be the Razer PBT keycaps.

Before purchasing, you definitely want to take into account all of the different aspects of a good keycap set, such as the material, thickness, profile, color, etc. If you’re anything like me, eventually you’ll want to get more than one set, just because of how much fun it can be to swap them out or mix the different sets up in a unique way.

Is your Keyboard Compatible with new Keycaps?

Some important things to consider to make sure your new keycap set will fit properly on your keyboard.

Check the Keyboard Size

Before purchasing your keycap set, it’s important to make sure it’s compatible with your keyboard’s layout and design. If you have a full-sized keyboard, you want to make sure you have a keycap set that enough keys for your entire layout, including the number pad. Some keycap sets are only for 65% or tenkeyless layouts, because the larger layouts will usually require more keys so they will cost more. If you’re confused about the different keyboard sizes, we have a guide here. Make sure your keycaps are for your keyboard size.

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.

Is your Keyboard a Standard Layout?

Some older keyboards, especially from companies such as Razer and Corsair, will have non-standard layouts so the keycap sizes will be different than what comes with a new keycap set, unless it’s made specifically for that keyboard model. Check that your keyboard has a standard layout to make sure the keycaps will be fully compatible.

There is one more thing you should look out for that is common sense, but you want to make sure the new keycaps you order are for your desired language and country layout. With many countries speaking different languages it’s important that the legends are correct (duh). Certain keycap sets come with two languages on them for easy translation which is pretty cool.

Conclusion

Getting a new keycap set for your keyboard is a very exciting first step and for many people is the push they need to fall into the rabbit hole of the mechanical keyboard hobby. Before you know it, you’ll have a box of keycaps stashed away for a rainy day. We hope we were able to help you figure out the differences between different keycap types and guide you in picking out your first keycap set.

If you’re interested in other mechanical keyboard content, make sure to check out the rest of the blog and our awesome YouTube channel that does weekly reviews of different mechanical keyboards.

Jake Harrington

Jake has been an avid mechanical keyboard user for the past six years. He has a background in Mechanical Engineering and wants to apply his expertise to break down how mechanical keyboards work and show the world all of the cool aspects of the mechanical keyboard hobby.

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