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 they 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?

So, what is a keycap? A keycap is a piece of plastic covering the key switches of a standard mechanical keyboard. It comes in different shapes, and colors, and is mainly used to decorate one’s keyboards. When the normal keycaps wear out after a long time of usage, you can totally swap them for a new set of keycaps allowing for more creativity and aestheticism. 

Find out more about every type of keycap in The Complete Guide to Different types of Keycap: Materials, Profiles, Printing methods, and more.

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

What are keycaps made of?

Keycaps are made of a diversity of materials, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) or PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) are 2 types of plastics widely used in making keycaps.

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

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. 

MaterialsAdvantagesDisadvantages
ABSInexpensive, shiny texture, and creates a softer sound when typingEasily wears out over time and turns yellow when frequently exposed to ultraviolet light
PBTThe most durable material on the list, with a matte texture and creates tactile sound when typing The most expensive, hard but liable to break
POMHard and durableUnpopular and slippery to touch
PCMore color to choose and impact-resistantUnpopular
Clay, resinBeautifully crafted and unique modelOversized keycaps can make typing difficult and handmade keycaps are expensive 

What do keycaps do?

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. 

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

Do keycaps make a difference?

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

Now, you must be wondering why do I need to replace my normal set of keycaps with a different one? Does it really make a difference or it is just a replacement for my already dull and old keyboard? Well, keycaps do change your typing experiences by improving the typing feels, sound, and visual effect which can be obtained at an affordable price. 

Typing feels

Because the keycap is made from various materials and each of them will surely bring a distinct typing feels to the typers such as stiff, slippery, and so on. Definitely, a new texture of the keyboard will renew your experience and also improve your performance thanks to better comfort. 

Sound

Many typists are obsessed with the typing sound while some may want to have a quiet keyboard. If you are wondering whether the keycap can change sound then the answer is “Yes!”. By changing your keycap, you can alter the sound that your keyboard makes any time you want!

Price

The price of a low-end keycap set can range from $20-30. A high-end keycap set costs around $100-400. You can always go for a budget keycap set because it works just as well as a high-end one with only minor flaws. However, this price range is still reasonable compared to the price of a new keyboard. So why not renew your keyboard without having to spend a large amount of money on a brand new one?

Backlighting

If your keyboard has backlighting, then choose your keycap wisely. There are opaque, double-shot, and triple-shot keycaps on the market. If you want your backlighting system works effectively, then remember to avoid opaque keycaps. 

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

How are keycaps manufactured?

The process of making keycaps are not complicated. Initially, plastic is melted by heat and then injected under pressure into a steel mold. Next, it is left there to dry for about 24 hours. Depending on the materials, the key may shrink during its cooling after being demoulded.

Legends and patterns can be printed on the keycaps later by different techniques including pad printing, laser etching, dye sublimation, and double-shot molding. 

How to choose the best type of keycaps for your keyboard?

Although there is a variety of keycaps with different appearances to choose from, it is still advisable that you know which kind of keycaps are the most suitable for your keyboard. There are numerous factors affecting your buying decision such as the keycaps appearance, profile, material, keyboard characteristics (whether it has backlighting, its size, and layout), and your purpose (typers or gamers). 

Keycap profile refers to the keycap’s shape, whether it is round, flat, or concave, … Keycap profile matters especially if you are a gamer because your performance somehow depends on how comfortable you are when using the keyboard. Thus, gamers are recommended to go to a physical store and try different profiles until they find their favorites instead of shopping online. 

Material is also another factor worth considering. Based on the above table about the pros and cons of each material, hopefully, you have figured out which kind of material matches your personal preferences

Keycap profile is important to the user’s feelings | Source: Keyboard University
Keycap profile is important to the user’s feelings | Source: Keyboard University

Finally, you need to take your keyboard characteristics into account when deciding on a new keycap set. Unless your keyboard is a full-size one, it is essential that you double-check the size of the keyboard to make sure that every key you need is included because a smaller keyboard will not have a separate number pad. Besides, some keyboards may have a unique layout that is not easily produced, so pay attention to this small detail so that you will not waste your time and money. 

Best places to find new keycaps for your keyboard

Keycaps are widely sold on e-commerce platforms and physical computer stores. Here are a few stores where you can find the best keycap for you. 

How to change the keycaps on a keyboard?

Tools required to replace the older keycaps with new ones

A keycap puller is often used to pull out keycaps | Source: Amazon.com
A keycap puller is often used to pull out keycaps | Source: Amazon.com

In order to remove the old keycaps, you need to have a key puller, which is a tool to take out the keycaps without causing damage to the keyboard. In addition to this, we recommend that you also obtain a slender or a small screwdriver to help you remove keycaps more quickly. 

How to remove older keycaps from your keyboard?

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Now that you have with you a key puller and some assisting pieces of equipment, it is time to get down to work. You should start with easy keys, that is take out single-term keys first. Simply open the two sides of the puller and put it around the keys. Use the other hands to firmly hold down your keyboard while pulling the keys out strongly but steadily. You may find that the keys are highly attached to the stems; however, they are removable so you need to strengthen your grip on the keyboard and slowly pull your keys upward. 

A keycap puller
Removing the keycaps by a keycap puller | Voltcave

Regarding larger keys such as the space bar or the shift keys, you must be careful and more gentle. As there is often a spring bar under such keys, sudden and powerful movements may, although not cause any damage to the spring bar, snap the connection points on the board base or make small pieces on the keyboard fly. At this stage, a screwdriver or slender can be used to gently nudge the edge of the key free and assist the key puller in taking them out. During the process, you should also look carefully beneath the bar to make sure that the spring is still in the right position. 

How to install new keycaps on the keyboard?

Do not jump right into putting in new keycaps without cleaning the keyboard. You do not want your brand-new keycaps to become dirty quickly. 

YouTube video
Having fully cleaned your keyboard, you can now install the new keycaps on the keyboard. Unlike the removing process, we recommend you put on larger and trickier keys first so it is easier to control the spring bar beneath them and control them while inserting, then comes the single-term keys. Before starting the installation, you can arrange the keycaps in the right positions; therefore, you will not mess up the keyboards and save time.

Conclusion

Working can sometimes become dull and demotivated but changing your environment is a way to inspire and improve your performance. A self-customized keycap set is not only about the touching feels, the appearance, and the performance, it is also about your personality and your identity. Hopefully, this article has helped you gain an insightful look at keycaps and their functions, types, and installation. So why don’t you give your old keyboard a new appearance that can improve your experience and has your distinctive personality in it?