Categorizing different types of keycaps by materials is the most popular because it directly influences their durability, tactile feel, and customization options, allowing users to select keycaps that align with their preferences and needs for their mechanical keyboards. This division provides readers a clear understanding of how different materials impact the overall typing experience and […]
The Complete Guide to different types of keycaps: Materials, Profiles, Printing methods, and more
Categorizing different types of keycaps by materials is the most popular because it directly influences their durability, tactile feel, and customization options, allowing users to select keycaps that align with their preferences and needs for their mechanical keyboards. This division provides readers a clear understanding of how different materials impact the overall typing experience and long-term performance.
Types of keycap materials
ABS and PBT Keycaps
There are different types of keycap materials, but the most common ones are ABS and PBT. These keycaps are frequently mass-produced due to their cost-effectiveness, versatility, and durability. These materials are readily available and can be customized to accommodate different keyboard layouts and designs, making them ideal for catering to a wide range of consumer preferences while still offering an acceptable typing experience for the majority of users.
- ABS Keycaps: ABS keycaps are generally more cost-effective to produce compared to PBT, allow for vibrant and colorful printing, making them suitable for keyboards with eye-catching designs. Moreover, ABS is easier to mold and manufacture, which can lead to faster production times, helping meet high-demand requirements.
- PBT Keycaps: PBT keycaps are highly durable and resistant to wear, providing a longer lifespan compared to ABS keycaps. This can reduce the need for replacements and returns. Besides, PBT keycaps often have a textured surface that provides a comfortable and grippy typing experience, enhancing user satisfaction.
|Criteria||ABS keycaps||PBT keycaps|
|Texture and Feel||
For more details about these two kinds of keycaps materials: ABS vs PBT, check out more specifications and decide which one is better.
Resin keycaps are artisan-crafted custom keycaps for mechanical keyboards, primarily made from epoxy resin. They are known for their artistic diversity, allowing artisans to create intricate designs with various colors, textures, and even translucent effects.
Each keycap is handmade and often showcases unique elements like embedded objects or glitter. Resin keycaps offer a visually striking and personalized touch to mechanical keyboards, making them popular among enthusiasts and collectors.
However, they are typically produced in limited quantities and are compatible with specific keyboard layouts and switches.
Rubber keycaps are made from silicone rubber or rubberized compounds, offering a soft, tactile feel that reduces typing noise and fatigue. They feature enhanced grip, resistance to dirt and moisture, and durability.
While they may lack the aesthetic diversity of other keycap materials, rubber keycaps are ideal for those seeking a comfortable, quiet typing experience and are easy to maintain. They are compatible with specific mechanical keyboard switches and are often chosen for office or shared workspaces due to their subdued sound profile. A closer look into rubber keycaps can facilitate you with more specific details.
Other keycap materials
Apart from these aforementioned keycap materials, there are many other materials for custom keycaps which bring about great user experience.
- POM (polyoxymethylene): POM is a tough and durable engineering thermoplastic. It is often used for keycaps due to its resilience and resistance to wear, offering a satisfying tactile feel.
- PC (polycarbonate): Polycarbonate keycaps are known for their transparency and flexibility. They can be used for creating backlit keycap designs, but they are typically less durable than PBT or ABS keycaps.
- Clay: Clay keycaps are artisanal creations made by sculpting clay into various shapes and designs. They are typically decorative and not suitable for extensive typing.
- Metal: Metal keycaps, often made from aluminum or zinc alloy, are known for their premium look and feel. They are heavy, durable, and offer a unique typing experience but can be quite loud.
- Wood: Wooden keycaps provide a natural and aesthetically pleasing appearance. They are less common and may not be ideal for extensive typing due to potential wear and discomfort compared to other materials.
So let’s take a look through these best keycap materials to find out which one is the most suitable for yourself.
Types of keycap profiles
There are 2 common keycap profiles, each with its own unique design and typing characteristics.
A sculpted keycap profile, also known as a contoured profile, is a type of keycap design that features keycaps with varying heights and shapes to match the natural curvature of the fingers and hands when typing. This profile is intended to provide a more ergonomic and comfortable typing experience compared to uniform or flat profiles.
Some common sculpted keycaps are:
- Cherry Profile: Cherry profile is one of the most well-known sculpted profiles. It features a gentle sculpting with a lower overall height compared to some other profiles. Many mechanical keyboard enthusiasts find it comfortable and easy to type on.
- SA Profile : SA profile is known for its distinctive spherical shape. It has a high profile with a pronounced curve, offering a retro aesthetic. SA keycaps provide a comfortable and tactile typing experience but may take some time to adapt to due to their height.
- OEM Profile: OEM profile keycaps typically have a slight scooped shape in the middle, which some users find comfortable for everyday typing tasks.
- MT3 Profile: MT3 is a relatively new sculpted profile that features a unique, highly sculpted shape. It aims to reduce finger movement and provide an ergonomic typing experience. MT3 keycaps have a retro-inspired look and are designed for comfort.
- KAT Profile: KAT profile is uniform in height but features a scooped top surface that provides a comfortable and ergonomic typing feel. It combines a flat profile with a slight concave shape for improved keycap recognition.
- MDA Profile: MDA is a uniform keycap profile that combines the features of DSA and SA profiles. It has a cylindrical top surface but with a slightly taller profile than DSA.
A uniform keycap profile, often referred to as a flat or non-sculpted profile, is a type of keycap design where all the keycaps on a keyboard have the same shape and height. In contrast to sculpted profiles like Cherry, SA, or DSA, which have varying keycap heights and contours to match the natural positions of fingers, uniform profiles maintain a consistent keycap height and shape across all rows and keys on the keyboard.
Some common uniform keycaps are:
- DSA Profile : DSA keycaps are uniform in height and have a flat, cylindrical top surface. They offer a consistent typing experience across all rows, making them suitable for those who prefer a flat profile.
- XDA Profile: XDA is another uniform keycap profile with a flat, flat top surface that provides a modern and minimalistic look while maintaining a comfortable typing feel.
This table will summarize some most significant features of some most common keycap profiles.
|Cherry Profile||9.4mm, Medium||Cylindrical, sculpted|
|OEM Profile||11.9mm, Medium||Slightly curved, cylindrical, sculpted|
|SA Profile||16.5mm, Tall||Distinctive spherical, sculpted|
|XDA Profile||9.1mm, Medium||Flat, uniform|
|DSA Profile||7.6mm, Short||Flat, cylindrical, uniform|
|KAT Profile||13.5mm, Medium||Scooped, sculpted|
Best type of keycap profile for gaming
Two popular profiles, Cherry and OEM profiles, have gained recognition among gamers for their distinct advantages. They are slightly lower in height compared to some other profiles, which can reduce the distance your fingers need to travel when pressing keys.
This enables faster keypresses and reduced finger fatigue during extended gaming sessions. Both profiles have their merits, so the best choice ultimately depends on your personal preferences and gaming style.
Best type of keycap profile for typing
Two keycap profiles that are frequently favored for typing are the Cherry Profile and the SA Profile.
While cherry profile keycaps have a moderate height and a slightly curved, cylindrical shape, SA ones are known for higher height. Many typists find these profiles comfortable for typing as it strikes a balance between key height and ergonomic design, with the added benefit of the sculpted keys conforming to the natural contours of the fingers.
It offers a familiar and versatile typing experience suitable for a wide range of typing tasks. However, SA keycaps are notably taller, which can result in a different tactile sensation and potentially require more effort to press the keys.
Types of keycap printing techniques
|Double-Shot Injection Molding||
Now that you have more insight into keycap materials, keycap profiles, etc. It’s time to talk about different types of keycap printing techniques that are used commonly in the making process of keycaps. Below are some of those most common techniques you will see around the keycaps community.
A method of injection molding where the legend and the exterior base of the cap are two separate parts that are molded together. The legend will never fade away, as it goes all the way through the cap. This method of printing is usually done with ABS plastic material.
Dye-Sublimation (Dye Sub)
A method where the legend is a dye that is deepened down into the surface of a solid cap composed of one part. A simple way to give a vivid description of this method is to think of the legend as being tattooed into the keycap. The legend will eventually fade over time as the keycap is worn but it will hold up pretty well as the legend is engraved into the surface of the cap. This type of printing technique is usually done with PBT plastic. (Check out this article to understand how different are Double-Shot and Dye-Sub keycaps)
A technique of digital printing takes advantage of ultraviolet (UV) light to dry or cure the ink. This is most commonly used for legends that are a third color applied into a double shot cap. The legend created by this method will fade faster than the dye-sub method does as the legend is on the surface of the cap. However, some companies have used a high-quality UV printing method that has proven to be false over the last few years.
Reverse Dye-sublimation (reverse dye-sub)
Reverse dye-sub is pretty the same as dye-sub, but the colors around the legend are also colored instead. This enables us to bypass the faded-legend problem while maintaining the wide range of colors available with the dye-sub printing technique. However, you have a lot more surface area to cover as well as the sides of the keycap with reverse dye-sub. This makes it significantly more exorbitant than dye-sub printing keycaps. Reverse dye-sub is mostly used when there are either many novelties, bizarre colors or uncommon fonts.
Pad printing has been the most popular method of keycap printing since the 1990s. The idea is very simple - pads are deepened down into ink, and then pressed onto the keycap to create a layer of ink on the surface of the keycap. The advantage of this method is the flexibility. This means the process can be easily acclimatized to print any character in any color requested. However, the ink is prone to wear off.
The downside of the pad printing technique is the low efficiency which thus results in high cost. Pad print is usually utilized in some high-end mechanical keyboards. Those factories who can afford the laser print machine may also use this printing method because the machine needed is not that suitably pricy to buy.
In this type of keycap printing, a laser is used to burn the requested letters into the keycaps. For this kind of keycap, letters are impossible to fade over time. The track of burning leaves on the keyboard culminates in the appearance of black letters because of the laser. So, this printing is mainly used for white keycaps or gray keycaps. Black keycaps rarely use this method or else letters will be invisible.
Types of keycaps buying guide
When buying keycaps for your mechanical keyboard, it's essential to consider various factors to ensure you get the right keycap set that suits your preferences and is compatible with your keyboard.
Massed produced vs custom keycaps
Mass-produced keycaps are designed for standard mechanical keyboards, manufactured in large quantities, and come in standard profiles and layouts.
On the other hand, custom keycaps are artisanal, designed for enthusiasts seeking a unique, personalized aesthetic. Crafted in smaller quantities, they feature intricate designs and materials.
While mass-produced keycaps are suitable for most keyboard users, especially those who want cost-effective and straightforward upgrades, custom keycaps are best suited for mechanical keyboard enthusiasts who are passionate about creating a unique and personalized keyboard setup.
Keycaps for keyboards with RGB lighting
If your keyboard has RGB or other backlighting features, choose keycaps that are compatible with backlighting, such as translucent or shine-through keycaps.
Customization: For maximum RGB lighting customization, consider keycaps that allow you to mix and match colors or use translucent keycap sets that create a rainbow-like effect when combined with RGB backlighting.
Compatibility: Ensure that the keycaps you choose are compatible with your specific keyboard layout and switch type to ensure a proper fit.
Keycaps are indeed universal and come in various sizes, and the size of a keycap is determined by its position on the keyboard and its role.
Use a ruler or calipers to measure the keycap sizes. Note the measurement in millimeters (mm). Keycap sizes are often expressed in "U" units, where 1U equals approximately 19mm, so you can also convert your measurement to U units if needed.
Keyboard sizes refer to the different form factors and layouts of computer keyboards, each with its own configuration of keys and dimensions. Common keyboard sizes include:
Full-Sized Keyboard: The standard keyboard size with all the keys, including the alphanumeric keys, function keys (F1-F12), navigation keys, number pad, and various control keys.
Tenkeyless (TKL) Keyboard: A compact keyboard that omits the number pad, offering a more compact layout while retaining the essential keys.
60% Keyboard: An even more compact keyboard with only the alphanumeric keys, some modifiers, and function keys accessible through layers or key combinations.
40% Keyboard: Extremely compact and minimalist, featuring only the alphanumeric keys and a limited set of modifiers, often used by keyboard enthusiasts for their portability and simplicity.
|Keyboard Size||Number of keys||Best for|
|Full-Sized Keyboard (100%)||104-108||General typing, office work, data entry|
|Tenkeyless (TKL) Keyboard||87-88||General typing, office work, and gaming|
|60% Keyboard||61||Portable use, minimalistic setups|
|40% Keyboard||40-49||Minimalistic setups, specialized tasks|
Discovering more about the size of a mechanical keyboard can provide you knowledge to make the best decision.
Keyboard Layouts (Viết mới)
A keyboard layout refers to the specific arrangement of keys on a computer or typewriter keyboard, including the mapping of characters and symbols to individual keys.
Different keyboard layouts are designed to accommodate various languages, scripts, and regional preferences, and they determine how keystrokes are interpreted by a computer. ANSI and ISO are two most common types.
- ANSI Layout (American National Standards Institute): The ANSI layout, used mainly in the U.S. and English-speaking countries, features a rectangular Enter key above the right Shift key and a longer Left Shift key on the left side. It's designed for English and common in North America.
- ISO Layout (International Organization for Standardization): The ISO layout, used in many European regions, has an "L"-shaped Enter key, with the Backslash key often above it. The Left Shift key is shorter, and the Right Shift key is longer compared to ANSI layouts. It's chosen for multilingual support in Europe.
We explored various types of keycaps, including ABS and PBT for durability, resin and rubber for unique aesthetics and textures, and metal and wood for premium customization. The choice of keycap material, profile, and printing technique can significantly impact the typing experience and aesthetics of a keyboard.
Understanding the differences between these keycap types empowers enthusiasts and users to make informed decisions when customizing their keyboards.
Which keycap options provide a quieter typing experience?
Rubber keycaps and keycaps with dampeners or o-rings are good options for a quieter typing experience.
Can I mix and match different keycap materials on my mechanical keyboard?
Yes, you can mix and match different keycap materials on your mechanical keyboard, but it's essential to ensure compatibility with your keyboard switches and layout.
What are the best type of keycap for typing?
PBT and POM keycaps are often considered the best types for typing due to their durability and pleasant tactile feel.
What are the best type of keycap for gaming?
PBT and ABS keycaps are commonly used for gaming due to their durability, but the keycap material may matter less for gaming compared to the switch type and overall keyboard design.
Which keycap types are known for their durability?
PBT and POM keycaps are known for their durability, as they are less prone to wear and shine over time compared to ABS keycaps.
Which keycap types are known for their aesthetics?
Resin and artisan keycaps are known for their aesthetics, as they often feature unique and visually striking designs, making them popular among keyboard enthusiasts for customization.