What are keycaps? An Inside Look At Keycaps

  • Keycaps 101
  • Posted by: carson-rutz
  • May 26, 2022

Many people transform their keyboards to make their workplace more exciting and aesthetically pleasing. Keycaps, replaceable plastic key covers, are being widely used by gamers and keyboard enthusiasts to upgrade their typing experience. 

But what are keycaps? What do keycaps do? How to choose the right keycap for you? In this article, you will be provided with an inside look at keycaps and how to use them for customizing your keyboard. 

What exactly are keycaps?

Keycaps are the small covers that you see on computer keyboards. They are made of plastic, metal, or other materials and fit over the keyswitches. Keycaps help indicate the function or character of each key. They not only protect the keys but also allow for customization and personalization of your keyboard.

What is a keycap? | Source: Dot Esports
What is a keycap? | Source: Dot Esports

Keys on a computer keyboard are arranged in a specific layout. Each key consists of two parts: the visible top portion known as a keycap or keytop, and the underlying mechanism that registers keystrokes.

What are keycaps?
A key consists of two parts

How do keycaps work?

Keycaps are designed to fit securely onto the stems of the switches. They align with the switch housing and sit directly on top of the switch mechanism. When you press a keycap, it applies pressure to the switch's stem, triggering the switch mechanism and registering the keystroke. Keycaps provide stability, alignment, and tactile feedback, while also allowing for customization and personalization of the keyboard's appearance.

Keycaps are designed to fit securely onto the stems of the switches
Keycaps working mechanism | Source: 3D printing industry

How many keycaps on a keyboard?

Here's a table to illustrate the number of keys typically found on different keyboard sizes:

Keyboard Size

Number of Keys
Full Size 104 or 105
Tenkeyless (TKL) 87 or 88
75% 82 or 83
65% 68 or 69
60% 61 or 62


Varies (usually less than 40)

Note: The number of keys can vary slightly depending on the keyboard layout and specific model. The table provides a general reference for standard key counts based on common keyboard sizes.

What are keycaps made of?

When it comes to the components that make up a keyboard, keycaps play a crucial role in both functionality and aesthetics. Keycaps are the visible covers that sit atop the switches, giving each key its distinctive look and feel. These small but mighty accessories come in a variety of materials, each with its unique characteristics.

ABS and PBT are 2 types of plastics widely used in making keycaps. Other materials such as POM and PC are less popular. Clay and resin are mainly used to create artisan keyboards. Here is a summary of the characteristics of keycaps’ materials.

What are keycaps | Source: Das Keyboard
Keycaps are often made of PBT or ABS | Source: Das Keyboard


  • Lightweight and durable plastic
  • Easy customization with vibrant colors
  • Affordable
Prone to shine and wear over time
  • Denser and more durable thermoplastic
  • Textured surface for a grippy feel
  • Resistant to oils and shine
Limited color options compared to ABS
Double-Shot ABS Dual-injection molding for vibrant legends Limited availability and customization options
  • High-strength thermoplastic
  • Smooth and slightly textured surface
  • Resilient and resistant to wear and tear
Less common and harder to find
PC More color to choose and impact-resistant Unpopular
  • Unique and artistic appearance
  • Handcrafted designs with intricate details
  • Can be fragile and prone to breakage
  • Limited availability
  • Versatile material for custom keycap designs
  • Allows for intricate patterns and color effects
  • May not be as durable as other materials
  • Requires careful casting and finishing processes
  • Premium feel and durability
  • Adds elegance and sophistication to your keyboard
  • Different finishes and etchings available
Higher cost compared to plastic options

For a detailed exploration of keycap materials, their pros and cons, and to make an informed decision for your keyboard, read our comprehensive blog post: "What is the Best Keycap Material?" to dive into the fascinating world of keycap materials and find the perfect match for your keyboard!

Purpose of keycaps

Simply, identification of letters and symbols is originally what keycaps do. Moreover, they act as a protection of the key switches against frequent or extreme pressing. Nevertheless, today, keycaps have one more function, which is to decorate the keyboard and make it unique and more comfortable to suit users’ needs.

Key Identification

Keycaps often feature legends or labels that indicate the function or character associated with each key. This makes it easier to identify specific keys, especially for those who use specialized keyboard layouts or need visual assistance while typing.

Keycaps are used to signify letters and symbols
Keycaps are used to signify letters and symbols

Aesthetics and Personalization

Keycaps offer a chance to customize the look and feel of your mechanical keyboard. From vibrant colors to unique designs, keycaps allow you to express your personal style and make your keyboard stand out.

Artisan keycaps are highly sought-after collectible keycaps crafted by independent artisans. These keycaps are often handcrafted and feature intricate designs, unique themes, or special materials. Artisan keycaps allow keyboard enthusiasts to add a touch of artistry and individuality to their keyboards, making them truly one-of-a-kind.

Related post: What are artisan keycaps?

Custom Pokemon artisan keycaps
Custom Pokemon artisan Keycap | Hirosart

Typing Experience

Keycaps can significantly affect the typing feel of a mechanical keyboard. Different keycap materials, profiles, and textures can alter the tactile feedback and overall typing experience. For example, keycaps made of PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) tend to have a more textured and durable feel compared to ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) keycaps, which can feel smoother but may wear down over time.

Keycaps can change the typing sound | Source: The Indian Express
Keycaps can change the typing sound | Source: The Indian Express

Keycaps with different profiles, such as sculpted or contoured shapes, can improve typing ergonomics and comfort. They provide a more natural and comfortable typing experience, reducing strain and fatigue during long typing sessions.

Keycap Customization and Replacement

Keycaps can be easily replaced, allowing users to switch to different materials, colors, or designs based on their preferences. This enables users to adapt their keyboards to specific tasks, gaming styles, or simply refresh the overall appearance of their setup.

Noise Dampening

Keycaps can influence the sound produced when typing on a mechanical keyboard. Thicker keycaps, such as those made of PBT, tend to produce a deeper and more muted sound compared to thinner ABS keycaps, which can result in a higher-pitched and more resonant sound. Keycap design, such as the shape and material, can also affect the sound profile and the amount of keycap wobble.

Some keycaps are specifically designed to reduce noise during typing. These keycaps often feature sound-absorbing materials or unique construction techniques that help dampen the sound of key bottoming out or keycap wobble. They can be a great option for those who prefer a quieter typing experience, such as in office or shared environments.


Keycaps can also impact the effectiveness and visibility of keyboard backlighting. Keycaps with translucent or semi-transparent legends allow the backlighting to shine through, enhancing the visibility of the key labels in low-light environments. Some keycaps are specifically designed to maximize backlighting effects, with unique legends or materials that enhance the illumination.

A backlit keyboard requires specific keycaps | Source: Bugabugasound
A backlit keyboard requires specific keycaps | Source: Bugabugasound

Different types of keycaps

There are different types of keycaps for specific keyboard layouts or sizes. Factors to differentiate keycaps include profile (shape), height, material, design and legends, surface texture, compatibility and layout, customization options, and availability and price. Consider these factors, especially profiles to find keycaps that suit your typing style and aesthetic preferences.

  • OEM Profile: The OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) profile is the most common and widely used keycap profile. It features a slightly curved top surface and a cylindrical shape, providing a comfortable and familiar typing experience. OEM keycaps can be found on many pre-built keyboards.
  • SA Profile: The SA (Spherical All) profile offers a distinctive spherical shape and a taller height compared to other profiles. It delivers a comfortable typing experience and a vintage aesthetic reminiscent of classic typewriters. SA keycaps are popular among keyboard enthusiasts for their unique look and feel.
  • DSA Profile: The DSA (Diamond Shape Angled) profile features a flat, uniform profile with a diamond-shaped top surface. It offers a sleek and minimalist appearance, making it popular among those seeking a modern and clean look for their keyboards. DSA keycaps are known for their compatibility with a wide range of layouts.
  • Cherry Profile: The Cherry profile is another widely recognized and popular keycap profile. It features a lower profile compared to OEM, providing a shorter key travel distance and a more compact look. Cherry keycaps are known for their compatibility and are often used in custom keyboard builds.

Here's a visual representation of what we're talking about:

Some of the most common keycap profiles
Some of the most common keycap profiles

How are keycaps manufactured?

Keycaps, those essential elements of keyboards, undergo an intricate manufacturing process:

  • Material Selection: Choose durable ABS or PBT plastics, or explore unique materials like resin or clay.
  • Injection Molding: Melted material is injected into precise molds to form keycaps' shape.
  • Cooling and Demolding: Keycaps cool and solidify before being demolded.
  • Post-Processing: Refining and polishing create smooth surfaces for customization.
  • Legends and Customization: Add legends through printing, laser etching, or double-shot molding.

Best places to find new keycaps for your keyboard

Keycaps including mass-produced and artisan ones are widely sold on e-commerce platforms and physical stores. Let's explore the best places to discover the keycaps of your dreams:

  • Amazon: This online retail giant offers a vast selection of keycaps from various manufacturers, providing a convenient and reliable platform for finding the perfect fit for your keyboard.
  • eBay: Dive into the world of keycap hunting on eBay, where you can explore both new and vintage keycaps, often at competitive prices. Keep an eye out for rare finds and unique designs!
  • MechanicalKeyboards.com: This dedicated keyboard enthusiast store is a treasure trove for keycap aficionados. Discover an extensive range of keycap sets, including popular brands and collaborations, to elevate your typing experience.
  • Etsy: For those seeking artisan keycaps crafted with passion and artistry, Etsy is a go-to platform. Talented artisans offer unique, handmade keycaps, often in limited editions, allowing you to showcase your personal style.
  • Hirosart: Indulge in the world of custom keycaps with Hirosart, an online store specializing in unique and eye-catching designs. Their collection features artistic and artisanal keycaps that add a touch of creativity to your keyboard.

If you want to learn more about these fantastic keycap sources and explore additional options, check out this list of keycap selling websites to discover a world of options.

Buying keycaps from Amazon
Buying keycaps from Amazon


In conclusion, keycaps are essential components that greatly impact the functionality and aesthetics of our keyboards. Understanding what keycaps are and the various options available allows you to personalize your keyboard to suit your unique style and preferences. From different profiles and materials to customization options, exploring the world of keycaps unlocks a world of possibilities to elevate your typing experience.


What do keycaps do?

Keycaps are used for easy recognition and navigation, making your keyboard usage a breeze. But keycaps aren't just about utility; they're also an avenue for personal expression. With a wide variety of materials, colors, and designs available, you have the freedom to customize your keyboard and make it uniquely yours. From sleek and minimalist to vibrant and eye-catching, the options are endless.

Can I replace keycaps on my keyboard?

Yes, you can replace keycaps on your keyboard to personalize its look and feel.

Do keycaps make a difference?

Absolutely! Keycaps make a difference in terms of typing experience, functionality, and visibility. Different keycap materials, profiles, and textures impact how keys feel when typing. 

Do keycaps affect typing?

Certainly! Keycaps can affect typing by providing different textures and profiles for a unique feel.

Do keycaps affect the sound of typing on a keyboard?

Yes, keycaps can affect the sound of typing on a keyboard, with materials and profiles influencing the acoustics.

What is the purpose of keycaps on a keyboard?

The purpose of keycaps on a keyboard is to indicate key functions and provide a comfortable typing surface.

Are keycaps interchangeable?

Yes, keycaps are often interchangeable, allowing you to swap them out for different styles or layouts.

Can I customize the design of my keycaps?

Absolutely! You can customize the design of your keycaps through various methods like printing or artisan creations.

Are there keycaps for different switch types?

Yes, there are keycaps designed specifically for different switch types, ensuring compatibility and optimal performance.