Keycap Education

One of the easiest ways to completely change the look or performance of your keyboard is to replace all or most of its keycaps with a new keycap set. Depending on what keyboard you have this can be easy or a little complicated. For starters you need to know what kind of key switches you are running. The most popular keyswitch for customizing are Cherry MX keyswitches, thankfully most with mechanical keyboards will be running this switch. You can also customize your Topre keyboard as well but options are extremely limited, this is why Cooler Master designed their Novatouch keyboard with Topre capacitive keyswitches with Chery MX stems.


Beyond the keyswitch you also need to make sure you are running a standard key layout. Having a TKL or tenkeyless isn’t really any different than having a number pad for this situation, what you have to watch for is a longer or shorter spacebar, a taller enter key, or smaller or larger function keys. A tall enter key means you have an ISO layout where a standard layout is an ANSI. Having an ISO keyboard isn’t the end of the world they do make keysets for that design as well, although they are a little harder to find at times due to the layout being less prevalent.

Now that you know what layout you have, next should decide what key material that you would like your new keycaps to be made of. When I talked earlier I mentioned that swapping keycaps can change both the aesthetics and the performance of your keyboard, the material of your keycaps is what effects performance. There are three main options ABS, PBT, and POM. PWM (Polyoxymethyleneor) isn’t really used these days so our focus will be on ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PBT (Polybutylene Terephtalate). ABS is what you see on most keyboards, it is a little softer that PBT and that means the texture wears faster but it also is less likely to break. PBT is harder but more brittle; it also has a rougher texture that also holds up better over time. PBT is typically preferred but more costly. There are sometimes other materials used like metals that are used in custom keycaps as well, they few and far between though.

Do you have backlighting? Well if you do your options are going to be more limited. Most keycaps designed for backlighting are molded in a transparent ABS, painted, and then etched with your legends. There are a few doubleshot backlit keycap sets available but in a lot of cases they will have a striped effect due to the doubleshot process.

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So what is doubleshot? Well this is when they manufacture the keycap using two different plastic colors and mold in the letter on the keycap (the legend). Doubleshot keycaps will never have the legend wear off from use.  Other options for legends are dyesub, pad printing, laser etching with infilling and UV printing. Pad printing is a cheap and easy option that is very popular, it doesn’t hold up as well though. Dyesub holds up well and allows you to print in multiple colors but is expensive. Laser etching and laser etching with infill is used a lot as well, it holds up very well but shows dirt quickly. Lastly UV Printing is common with custom and novelty keycaps because it is a cheaper way to make low production quantities. In most cases, double shot keycaps are the best option. 

UV Printed

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Laser Etched

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It might seem crazy but there are still other things to consider with keycaps. Different keycaps have different side profiles and there are also two different shapes for the top of the key. The two top options are Cylindrical and Spherical. Cylindrical is what you would normally see, but right now there is a trend to use older looking keycaps with a Spherical top shape. Side profiles range even more but most fall into a sculptured profile and a flat profile. Different venders and manufactures have their own profiles. A lot follow the Filco/OEM profile, but today we will also take a look at a Cherry profile and Signature Plastics (Pimpmykeyboard) DCS and DSA.  Cherry is shorter than the Filco/OEM profile but with a similar profile. DCS is very close to the Cherry profile but with a different angle on the bottom two rows. DCS also specifies that the keycaps have a cylindrical top as well. DSA has a cylindrical top and a flat profile.


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garfi3ld's Avatar
garfi3ld replied the topic: #35848 12 Nov 2014 17:39
Those of you who have me on Facebook might have seen a few pictures of custom keyboards popping up. Well today is the day that we finally dig in and talk about a few different ways to customize your mechanical keyboard.

Happy Hump Day everyone!

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