If you’re new to mechanical keyboards, you’ve probably seen all of these very aesthetic pictures of different keycap sets. When you go look online to purchase some, you start to see these different descriptions such as “Cherry profile” or “OEM profile.” So, what are the differences between these two profiles?
Cherry and OEM profile keycaps are very similar in design and sculpt. However, Cherry profile keycaps are slightly shorter and are harder to come by when searching for custom keycaps. OEM profile keycaps are usually on many prebuilt mechanical keyboards and is probably what most people have typed on before.
Why is it that Cherry profile keycaps are so hard to find? And when you do find them, why do they cost so much more than OEM profile keycaps?
What are Cherry Profile Keycaps?
Cherry profile keycaps are a sculpted keycap set that many people find comfortable to type with, they are similar to OEM profile keycaps but are shorter. These Cherry profile keycaps originated in Cherry’s original mechanical keyboards, the G80 and G81 series mechanical keyboards, but have long become popular within the mechanical keyboard community. Being sculpted means that each row varies from the other to allow the user to feel for each individual row. It also has cylindrical tops for the keycap to hug your finger, increasing comfort.
Cherry profile keycaps can be found primarily by companies such as GMK and ePBT. These are difficult to find in stock because they run in exclusive group buys or can be bought in the aftermarket at inflated prices. There are also budget Cherry profile keycap sets that vary in quality because they do not use the original Cherry tooling.
Cherry profile keycaps can have interference with certain switches if the mechanical keyboard has LEDs on the bottom of the switch (south-facing). The keycap may rub or hit the LED, but fixing this is a simple task. You can sand or shape the LED down until the keycap no longer has interference. The best solution is to use a keyboard that doesn’t have LEDs at all or to make sure that the LEDs are at the top of the switch (north-facing).
What are OEM Profile Keycaps?
OEM profile keycaps are a sculpted keycap set that is what most people find in prebuilt mechanical keyboards. It is mass produced and considered standard among commonly branded mechanical keyboards such as Logitech, Corsair, and Razer. These keycaps are not a uniform keycap set, meaning the different rows of a mechanical keyboard would have a different overall design and height. They also have cylindrical tops that conform to your fingertips to increase comfort during typing or gaming.
OEM profile is also called the standard profile because it has been used in many modern and older mechanical keyboards. Because OEM keycaps are the standard in the tech industry, it is affordable and available to purchase in various colors and designs. Many of you will probably see the company, YMDK, when searching around for custom keycap sets. Many of their keycap sets are in OEM profile. However, they are branching out to other ones as well, so make sure you do read the descriptions carefully.
Which is Better: Cherry or OEM Profile?
To determine which profile is better, we’ll have to look at some of the different aspects of the profiles including price, availability, material, sound, and comfort/feel. Keep in mind, when choosing which profile is better, there is no definitive answer, it usually comes down to personal preference and which style you can afford.
When comparing the price between OEM and Cherry profile keycaps, OEM keycaps will be the cheaper option because they come standard on most mechanical keyboards. OEM keycap sets made by big manufacturers vary between $20-$50 depending on where they are bought, whether they are double-shot or not, and how thick they are.
Cherry profile keycaps made by GMK or ePBT are generally more expensive. When they are bought during group buy, the prices can range from $80-$120, depending on the keycap set. On top of that, they also sell exclusive keycaps for the spacebars, modifier keys, escape keys, and more to increase the compatibility with different mechanical keyboard layouts. However, it is possible to find non-genuine Cherry profile keycap sets online for about $30-$50, but the quality won’t be nearly as high as keycaps from GMK or ePBT.
The most glaring difference between the two keycap profiles is the overall height. Cherry keycaps are typically about a millimeter shorter, so if you prefer the lower profile feel when typing and gaming, Cherry profile could be an excellent option for you. The lower height combined with the sculpted design makes the keyboard easier to type on as your fingers need to stretch less.
The availability of OEM profile keycaps is very common. They come standard with most mechanical keyboard purchases. Many companies sell them separately such as Razer, HyperX, Tai-Hao, and more. OEM can be a great option for those looking to upgrade their keyboards with a new cheap set of keycaps in a different design and style.
Cherry profile keycaps are more difficult to find because they usually have to be bought to replace the OEM keycaps that the keyboard originally comes with. There are budget options that can be found on Amazon. However, the higher quality and more sought after Cherry profile keycaps are GMK keycaps. These can be bought in group buy or in the aftermarket for a higher price from other people. They can also be bought at mechanical keyboard-specific vendors such as KBDFans, Novelkeys, and Drop.
Cherry or OEM profile keycaps can come in ABS or PBT. Generally, OEM profile keycaps found on stock mechanical keyboards are made of a thin ABS plastic. However, big companies such as Razer and HyperX also sell PBT keycaps that are OEM profile. On Amazon, it is common to find custom keycap sets in PBT as well with different designs.
Cherry profile keycaps are generally found in ABS plastic because GMK uses high-quality and thick ABS plastic to make their keycaps. ePBT sells Cherry profile keycaps made with PBT plastic. It is also possible to find Cherry profile keycap sets on Amazon as well. However, they are more rare.
The sound of Cherry profile keycaps is generally more bassy. Due to the decreased height, there is less room within the keycap for sound to bounce around. Other factors affect sound too, such as the switches being used, the case material, plate material, thickness of the keycaps themselves, whether the switches are lubed or not, whether the stabilizers are modded or not, and what material of the surface the keyboard is on.
Sound is very subjective and different for each mechanical keyboard. It is too difficult to do an accurate comparison between Cherry profile vs OEM profile keycaps when it comes to sound. Many times, these two profiles are compared between ABS OEM profile keycaps that come stock with a keyboard and a custom keycap set that is higher quality, thicker, and made of PBT, which all change the sound significantly.
Comfort & Feel
While the feel and comfort of a keycap set are entirely subjective, we can make a few assumptions to determine which is better. From personal experience, I have found that OEM keycaps feel the most familiar, since that is what is usually installed on stock keyboards.
However, after using Cherry profile keycaps for a while, you grow accustomed to the lower keycap height and tend to enjoy the Cherry profile design more. The shorter keycaps mean you don’t have to raise your hands as much to type and the sculpted design means you don’t need to stretch your fingers as far when typing or gaming. I definitely recommend trying out both keycap profiles, but at the end of the day, the Cherry profile is typically preferred by the keyboard community and myself.
In the end, like almost all other things related to mechanical keyboards, it dials down to preference. I wish I could tell you, definitively, if one keycap profile is better than the other but there are many things to consider such as comfort, feel, price, and sound when thinking about buying either Cherry or OEM profile keycaps. OEM is convenient in the way that many mechanical keyboards come stock with those already. It would take more effort and money to purchase a Cherry profile keycap set, such as GMK or ePBT.
There are a few different budget Cherry and OEM profile keycap sets available in our 20 best keycaps list, but they vary in quality compared to GMK or ePBT keycap sets. If you are interested in reading about whether the high-end Cherry profile GMK keycaps are worth it or not, see this article.