ANSI vs ISO Keyboard Layout: Breakdown and Comparative Analysis

  • Keycaps 101
  • Posted by: amy-golden
  • Apr 25, 2022

Those who use keyboards daily, such as gamers, typists, and coders.

If you’ve been looking for a keyboard, you’ve probably come across ANSI and ISO terms. These are the two most common keyboard layouts, particularly in Western countries; they cause a lot of confusion when people are looking for a new keyboard!

ANSI vs ISO Keyboard Layout, which one fits you the best? Today, let’s answer this question.

We will explain the differences, similarities, pros, and cons, and answer any questions you may have about the ISO and ANSI keyboard layout.

ANSI vs ISO Keyboard Layout: What Are They?


ANSI stands for American National Standards Institute and is a standardized keyboard layout certified by this organization. The central cluster of ANSI keys is organized as follows:

ANSI standard key mapping
ANSI standard key mapping
Both ISO and ANSI keyboard layout is used in countries like the United States and the Netherlands. PC keyboards with the ANSI layout, such as the IBM Model M, are commonly referred to 3 main categories based on the number of keys that the keyboard holds:
  • 101-key (pre-1995)
  • 104-key (with the Windows and context menu keys added)
  • 87-key (standard tenkeyless layout)


ISO is abbreviated for International Organization for Standardization – it does not define specific layouts, but it serves as the foundation for national and industry standards.

ISO basic key layout
ISO basic key layout
The keys that differ from ANSI are depicted in pink and purple. Aside from having one extra key, the ISO layout has another essential feature: the right Alt key is replaced with the Alt Gr key, a typographic meta key that accesses the third symbol on a keyboard.
The use of accents in European languages necessitates the entry of many more characters than in the United States, resulting in increased symbol overloading on keys. In the United Kingdom, for example, the “4” key will produce “$” if the Shift key is held down and “€” if the Alt Gr key is held down.

(Read more about Keyboard sizes and layouts here)

ANSI vs ISO Keyboard Layout: Key Differences

Here is a quick comparison chart that highlights the distinctive elements that separate ANSI vs ISO key mapping standards:

Enter key shape Rectangle. Pinky-friendly Turn-down L shape. Not pinky-friendly
The backspace key Located above the Enter key. A longer keystroke is required Located on the left of the Enter key. Shorter keystroke
The left Shift key Same size and dimension as the Right shift key 50% of the size of the right shift key. Have the same dimension as the Ctrl key
Correct Alt key Uniform with the left alternative Replaced with an Alt Gr key
Number of Keys for Full-Size 104 keys  105 keys 
Number of Keys for Tenkeyless 87 keys 88 keys
Number of Keys for 60% layout 68 keys 69 keys
Custom keycap availability Wide Less common

Let’s go into detail and explain this table in ISO and ANSI layout.

Enter key

The most noticeable difference in the ANSI vs ISO keyboard debate is that the ANSI layout has a more minor Enter or Return key, whereas the ISO layout has a larger one. 

The Enter key on an ANSI keyboard is a long, horizontal rectangle key. The Enter key on an ISO keyboard is more of a backward, upside-down L shape.

Backslash key

The backspace key is located above the “Enter key” in an ANSI vs ISO keyboard layout, with one key between them. To reach it, you will usually need to stretch your right little finger.

In an ISO layout, on the other hand, the “backspace key” is closer to the “Enter key,” and you don’t have to stretch your finger as far to reach it.

Left Shift key

Another distinction between ANSI vs ISO keyboard layouts is the size of the Left Shift Key. The Left and Right Shift keys are both the same size in the ANSI layout.

However, in the ISO layout, the Left Shift key is 50% smaller than the Right Shift key. The size is now similar to the Ctrl key on the keyboard. When you switch from ANSI to ISO, you will inadvertently press the tilde key, which is located next to the shift key.

Right Alt key

In the ANSI keyboard layout, there are Alt keys on both the left and right sides of the same-sized Spacebar. However, in the case of ISO layout keyboards, the right Alt key is replaced by a different key known as the Alt Gr Key (Alt Graph Key).

Number of Keys

The number of keys available on ANSI and ISO layout keyboards varies. When compared to the total number of keys in ANSI layout keyboards, ISO layout keyboards have an extra key.

Which is better: ANSI or ISO layout?

Advantages of the ISO Layout

ISO keysets
ISO keysets
The ISO keyboard layout is ideal for international users who do not speak English. Let us now look at the benefits of ISO keyboard layout. The ISO layout has more symbol support than the ANSI layout.
For example, you can type the Dollar symbol “$” using the (Shift + 4) keys and the Pound symbol “€” using the (4+ Alt Gr) keys. (Alt Gr denotes the right Alt button)

The backslash key is located near the Enter key in the ISO layout. If you frequently use the backslash key while typing, this ISO layout will come in handy.

Disadvantages of the ISO Layout

The ISO keyboard layout has both pros and cons. The following are the drawbacks of using the ISO keyboard layout.

ANSI vs. ISO Layout: ISO mechanical keyboard
ISO mechanical keyboard

Key placement

The plus one key that ISO holds might be a devil in disguise. When comparing ANSI vs ISO keyboard layout, it’s important to remember this distinctive element.

Left Shift Key

This key is one of the defining characteristics of ANSI vs ISO layout.

Because of the extra key, the left shift key is split into two keys, causing the shift key to move about one inch from its ideal position.

As a result, people who are used to typing with the left shift key closer to them may mistakenly press the extra key for the left shift key, slowing their typing speed when using the ISO keyboard layout.

Enter Key

When using the ISO keyboard layout, your pinky finger must cross two other keys before reaching the enter key.

Typing becomes more difficult due to stretching over to catch one of the primary keys you use when typing. Every time you try to start a new paragraph while typing, you have to jump over two keys.


Because ISO layout keyboards are less standard than ANSI layout keyboards, they can be challenging to find. As a result, ISO keyboards are generally more expensive and have fewer options. It can also be challenging to locate ISO keycap sets.

Advantages of the ANSI Keyboard Layout

Speaking of usage of ISO and ANSI layout, the most common and widely used keyboard is ANSI. Let’s find out why:

Hirosart custom spacebar ansi layout
Hirosart custom spacebar ANSI layout

Enter Key Positioning

The enter key is closer to your right pinky finger on the ANSI keyboard layout, making it easier to reach.

The ANSI keyboard layout eliminates the need to stretch over two keys to reach the get key, making typing easier and faster.

Positioning of the Left Shift Key

The left shift key is closer to your left pinky finger on the ANSI keyboard layout, making it easier to reach.

In contrast to the ISO keyboard layout, where you must make a conscious effort to jump over the extra key, you can reach the contact shift key with minimal effort.


Keyboards with the ANSI layout are more common than ISO keyboard layout keypads, making them more easily accessible to users.

Disadvantages of the ANSI Keyboard Layout

ANSI vs. ISO Layout: ANSI backlit keyset
ANSI backlit keyset

Backslash Key Positioning

If you frequently use the backslash key, using the ANSI keyboard layout may be difficult.

This is because the backslash key is located above the enter key, requiring you to stretch further to reach it, as opposed to the ISO keyboard layout.

Functionality Restrictions

Unlike the ISO keyboard layout, which has an extra key, the ANSI keyboard layout does not have a spare key that allows you to fit another key, which could be another language or an additional symbol.

You can, however, buy an ANSI keyboard layout and reprogram it to accommodate the keys required to type in your language.

Can I Use an ANSI Keyboard Even If My Language Uses an ISO layout?

Pink ANSI layout keyboard
Pink ANSI layout keyboard

If you want to replace the ISO/DE keycaps on your ANSI keyboard, you can’t use ISO Enter + Left Shift (wrong size), but the rest of the ISO keycaps will fit.

Hence, it is possible to use the ANSI keyboard layout with other languages that require different types of symbols.

On Windows 10, you can change layouts by pressing Alt+shift, which will take you to the key with the desired symbol.

On Mac OS X, shortcuts are available, but you must enable them. You can also change the language for your keyboard input and switch in the top navigation bar.

What Layout Is My Keyboard?

Different enter key shapes and placements
Different enter key shapes and placements

The enter key is the simplest way to tell which layout your keyboard is.

  • You have an ANSI keyboard if the enter key is a wide rectangle that takes up only one row.
  • If the enter key is shaped like an upside-down L and takes up two rows, you have an ISO keyboard.
  • If you have Japanese characters next to the space bar on your keyboard, you most likely have the JIS layout.

Where can I find ANSI and ISO Keycap Sets?

Custom Pokemon artisan keycaps
Custom Pokemon artisan Keycap

ANSI keycaps can be found almost anywhere. When looking for these keycaps, there is no need to type ANSI; simply searching for keycaps will yield these results as the default. Kono, Candykeys, KBD Fans, and are all good places to look for keycaps. 

Fancy a more custom taste? Hirosart provides an extensive artisan keycap collection that allows your keyboard shines with money pieces custom to your liking!

Final Thoughts

The decision between the ISO vs ANSI keyboard layout is based on your personal preferences as a user. However, in order to determine which is best for you, you must first understand their features, differences, advantages, and disadvantages.

The differences between ANSI and ISO keyboard layouts are the location and size of the enter, shift, alt, and backslash keys, as well as the total number of keys.

Although ANSI is the most common layout, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to using an ANSI vs ISO keyboard – it is entirely up to your personal preference!


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I work as a freelance blogger in Seattle, Washington. I've been freelancing full-time for 5 years. I'm interested in anime, resin art, and mechanical keyboards.

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