Available in all shapes, sizes, and colors, it’s easy to get lost in the keycaps world. But, no worry! We’re here to help. Read on to get your answer to fundamental keycap questions like “Are keycaps universal?” or “How to choose mechanical keyboard switches?”.
Are keycaps universal?
Keycaps are the most important part of any keyboard. They are what you look at and type on every day, making them the first thing that comes to mind when speaking to keyboards. That’s why manufacturers have been trying to improve this feature in terms of look and feel since the day it was invented.
Besides that, not all keycaps are the same and can fit interchangeably between keyboards. Also, the body of your keyboard decides what keycaps of specific sizes and shapes you can use. Therefore, keycaps are not universal since you can find keycaps in all sizes, shapes, and designs nowadays.
Factors that Affect Your Choice of Keycaps
Keycap Size Compatibility
Keycaps have different heights and slope profiles depending on what row and the position they are in. For example, an “Right Shift” key can be around 1.75u to 2.75u. There are just tons of layouts which your keycaps can vary from. However, you will most likely find your keycaps in these sizes:
- Backspace: 2u
- Left Shift or Enter: 2.25u
- Right Shift: 2.75u
- Spacebar: 6.25u
Most keyboards on the market share the same height (“OEM” profile). This is the standard keycap profile for keyboards. Also, the OEM profile is known for its iconic flat top, a slant to support the user’s fingertips, and a slight cylindrical bow.
The most popular spacebar length of all is around 6.25 units, which is roughly 158mm long measured from the bottom of the spacebar.
Here are some of the most common modifier layouts for keyboards:
- Green = Compatible.
- Yellow = Not standard, but available upon request.
- Red = Not compatible. Size not available.
Caps Lock Compatibility
A caps lock is the lock key found on most keyboards. It is located in R3 and usually around 1.75u.
Enter Key Compatibility
Enter Key or the keyboard’s Return key can come in all shapes and sizes, from the backwards-L shape, J-Shaped Enter key to a simple rectangular.
Right Shift Compatibility
Keyboards that have a compact design usually come with a smaller right shift. This makes the right shift keycap sizes differ on each layout. Additionally, some can also be on different rows too. The right shift is available from 1.75u to a full 2.75u.
Well, this is basically the plastic part that connects your switch to the keycap. And, the type of stem defines what keycaps you can use on your keyboard. The most common one is the Cherry MX which has a cross-shaped stem.
Different Keycap Profiles: Which is Right for You?
Looking at the diversity of keycap profiles is probably the best way to answer the question “Are Keycaps Universal?”. From curved, round, to flat shape keycaps, you will be amazed how much this can vary. Below are some common keycap profiles on the market.
This profile mimics a sculptured shape by making each row on your keyboard have a different angle. It is commonly used on keyboards using membranes like IBM Model M or rubber dome keyboards.
The stepped profile offers a horizontal surface on an angled keyboard just like a typewriter. Also, sometimes it has upright key stems, depending on the switches. Nowadays, this profile is only available for keyboards such as the IBM Selectric Touch Keyboard.
These keycaps earn their name thanks to the flat tops that create a unique flat surface keyboard. Flat keycaps are more common for modern laptops due to the space limitations within the shell.
Unlike the above keycaps, Chiclet keyboards only come with “island” keys. This type of keycap has straight sides within holes in the upper shell. You can find the chiclet profiles on Sony Vaio laptops and other low-profile keyboards.
Stabilizers are created to keep the keys from shaking, rattling, and tilting when typing or gaming. You easily see them under the larger keys such as space bar, backspace, and shift when switching keycaps. This is one of the key features that decides if your keycaps will fit your keyboard. We’ve listed a few common stabilizer types out there below:
- Cherry Style Stabilizers. These versatile stabilizers come with the famous Cherry MX switch stem. Generally, they are easy to make and have tons of styles, colors, and material options.
- Costar Stabilizers. Less common than the Cherry style, you will have more chances to find these costar stabilizers on older keyboards than the modern ones. They are not easy to use because you have to hook them into the keycap to fit.
- Optical Stabilizers. Typically found on keyboards with optical switches, the optical stabilizers have a very funky design. For these stabilizers to work, you will need to insert the clip into the keycap and then snap them into the stabilizer bar.
When looking for a new keycap set, you will want to make sure the set thickness, material, and profile are suitable for the backlight. For example, if you are using RGB lighting, then you will need keycaps that are double-shot, clear, or pudding style to allow the light to shine through. So, don’t forget to check if your new keycaps are backlit support or not.
Keyboard Form Factors and Layouts
Is your Keyboard Standard Layout?
In order to know if your new keycaps can fit your keyboard, you will need to know if it is the standard layout or not. The standard layout means the keycaps are full-size, tenkeyless, and 60% mechanical keyboards. Below are the standard layout key sizes:
- Right Shift: 2.75u
- Enter Key: 2.25u
- Backspace: 2u
- NumberPad (zero, plus, enter): 2u
When checking your keyboard layout, you simply need to look at the bottom row key sizes. For example, if the bottom row keys are around 1.25u and the spacebar is 6.25u, then your keyboard is a standard layout. We highly recommend using printable keycap rulers to match them with your keycaps on top to see what size they really are. Some common mechanical keyboards with a standard layout include Razer Huntsman TE, HyperX Alloy Origins Core, Drop CTRL, and more.
Non-Standard Layouts (Where Things Get Tricky)
When it comes to custom keyboards, there are just tons of layouts out there. That also means tons of non-standard layouts as well.
Full-Sized Non-Standard Layouts
In order to compete with other brands and release new keyboards every year, many companies decide to add non-standard rows to their keyboard designs. This makes finding the right keycap sets and customizing non-standard keycaps more and more difficult for users over time. Imagine finding tons of gorgeous custom keycaps that you love but only a few or maybe none of them are actually compatible with your keyboard.
While you can just leave the modifiers alone and only replace the other keycaps, it is just not an option for some people. So, when buying pre-built mechanical keyboards, just make sure that you check the keycap sizes if you plan on replacing them in the future.
Keyboard Compact Layouts: 65%, 75%, or 96%
As mentioned above, keyboards with more compact designs (65%, 75%, or 96% layouts) often have a smaller right shift. This modifier usually requires different keycap sizes. Plus, some of the keys may be on different rows. For instance, keyboards like the Womier K66 have a 2u right shift when it is the full 2.75u for standard layout. Other keys to look out for are the bottom right modifier keys (Win, Fn1, and Fn2).
When it comes to custom mechanical keyboards, you will see many unconventional options like a Split, Ortho, or Macropod. Each one is designed to serve a different purpose. For example, Slip keyboards allow users to keep them at a shoulder’s width apart for extra comfort when typing. So, each type of unconventional keyboard is unique on its own and shouldn’t be compared with the standard one.
- Split: Having a split spacebar, backspace or left shift enables you to add more space for other keys. These keycaps are often available in only custom keycap sets from GMK, JTK, or PBT.
- Ortho: This keyboard is unique with the non-staggered keys. It may give you the most interesting typing experience you have ever seen.
- Macropod: Macro Keyboards or macropods are usually helpful in the performance of repetitive computational tasks.
Before dividing each type of switch, here are the most common mechanical switches that you need to know:
The linear switch is the simplest of all. It focuses on generating a smooth, continuous actuation without making any feedback or noise. The linear switches are a great option for those who like quiet and smooth typing. However, for those who are still new to mechanical keyboards, the first experience with this type of switch may not be very pleasant. But, once you get used to it, we are sure that you will fall in love with the linear switches!
Just like its name, these switches come with a small tactile bump that produces resistance and an audible click. You find how satisfying it is with the feedback and clicking sound every time you type. Also, the clicking noise is relatively quiet so using these switches in public will not attract too much attention. Overall, tactile switches are just fun to type on. For beginners, this one is a good start and will be a nice upgrade from the membrane keyboard.
The clicky switch has a tactile bump and makes a louder clicking sound every time key travel is registered when compared to the tactile switch. Best of all, you don’t even have to bottom out the keys with the clicky switch. It provides one of the best feedback and is just fun to use. The only problem is the clicking sound since it may be too loud and distracting in a public or office environment.
How to Choose Keycaps that will Fit Your Keyboard
Since keycaps are not universal! So, before thinking about buying a new keycap set, you make sure that it is compatible with your keyboard’s stems, profile, and layout. Below are a few things you should know in order to choose keycaps that fit your keyboard.
- Start by checking the keycaps and stems you are currently using by flipping them. Compare this information to the keycaps you will buy to see if they match.
- Make sure you know the key profiles (spacing values, profile, layout, and stabilizer) of your old keycaps and the keycaps you are going to buy.
- Don’t forget about the keycap’s thicknesses. While this may not be a problem in most cases, choosing new keycaps that have a similar thickness to the old ones means a more familiar typing experience.
- If your keyboard has a backlight, just make sure that the keycaps you are going to buy also support backlit.
Where to Buy Best Quality Keycaps?
Between tons of keycaps on the market, finding a new set of keycaps can be quite tricky sometimes. To save you the trouble, we’ve put together this list of the best places to buy quality keycaps.
Well, it’s not surprising that Amazon is one of the places to go if you’re looking for keycaps or pretty much everything else! You can find lots of options in terms of custom printed keycaps here. Plus, since there are also numerous sellers on Amazon, it is easy to get a new set of keycaps at a reasonable price.
Even though Etsy doesn’t have a massive community of sellers like Amazon, you will have a whole new keycap shopping experience here.
On Etsy, you will easily come across gorgeous artisan keycaps, many of which are handmade and customized to add a unique touch to your keyboard. However, the price can be a bit higher for individual caps, but it’s totally worth spending a little bit extra to have your special keycap, right?
Hirosart is well-known for being the best store for custom and artisan keycaps. Best of all, we create high-quality keycaps that not only look amazing but are also very durable at a super affordable price. So, if you want to find cool artisan custom keycaps like Captain America’s Shield, Galaxy, or Pokemon keycaps, then checking out their site is a must!
Drop is yet another great marketplace for finding keycaps. Whether you are searching for a full set or just a custom spacebar to add that extra pop to your keyboard, you will find pretty much everything you need here.
Trusted by the keyboard community, KPrepublic is an online store in China that takes care of all of your keyboard needs, from cases to PCBs. Not to mention their huge collection of custom keycaps for you to choose from!
If you’re looking for custom keyboards or affordable keycaps, then Mechanicalkeyboard is the place. They offer plenty of keyboard and keycap sets. However, the keycap designs and colors here are quite simple and common. Still, it is one of the best places to browse if you’re looking for more keycap options.
Whether you’re looking for a standard Cherry MX keyboard set or some cool-themed custom double-shot keycaps, Keycapsets.com will help you find the right keycaps with just a few clicks! Also, this is a perfect place for group buys and high-end keycap sets. You’ll be able to find the latest GMK, novel designs, and the most trendy keycaps on the market.
What Do You Need to Change Your Keycaps?
Whether you just received your new set of keycaps or simply want to check the current keycap profile, this guide will help walk you through each step of how to change your keycaps. Overall, the process is not difficult at all. However, it will take you some time (around 30-45 min) to change a full-sized keyboard. Now, let’s get started!
- Step 1: Get a keycap puller or DIY one.
- Step 2: Use the keycap puller to remove keycaps from your keyboard gently.
- Step 3: Spray an air duster on your switches to clean the keyboard. Then, use a cloth to clean each keycap.
- Step 4: Connect the large keys with stabilizers.
- Step 5: Add the rest of the keys to your keyboard.
The Bottom Line
Knowing keycaps are not universal and how different they can be are the key factors to find keycaps that fit your mechanical keyboard. Overall, there is no absolute answer to which keycaps are the best, it all depends on the keyboard you are using and your own preferences. So, our advice is that you should consider every element, from keyboard layout, and stabilizers, to colors thoroughly before purchasing the new keycaps you like.