Keycap Basics

Keycaps are an essential part of any mechanical keyboard, as they play a crucial role in determining the overall typing experience and aesthetic appeal. These small yet significant components are the removable covers that sit on top of the switches, providing a surface for users to press when typing or gaming. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into keycap sizes, profiles, materials, printing methods, customization possibilities, and more, enabling you to make informed choices when selecting or customizing keycaps for your mechanical keyboard.

Key Cap Sizes: Finding the Perfect Fit

Keycaps are measured using a standardized system called “U” measurements. These measurements represent the horizontal space between the keycap mounting points on a keyboard. By understanding these measurements, you can ensure proper compatibility and find the perfect fit for your mechanical keyboard.

The most common keycap sizes are expressed in terms of “U” measurements, with 1U referring to the width of a single alphanumeric key. Here are some keycap sizes commonly encountered:

  1. 1U Keycap: A 1U keycap is the standard size for alphanumeric keys, such as letters and numbers. These keycaps are typically square-shaped and occupy one unit of space on the keyboard.
  2. 1.25U Keycap: A 1.25U keycap is slightly wider than the standard 1U keycap. It is commonly used for modifier keys, such as Shift, Tab, and Caps Lock.
  3. 1.5U Keycap: A 1.5U keycap is wider than the 1U keycap and is often used for keys like Enter, Backspace, and the right-side Shift key.
  4. 1.75U Keycap: A 1.75U keycap is wider than the 1.5U keycap and is commonly found as the left-side Shift key on many keyboards.
  5. 2U Keycap: A 2U keycap is twice the width of a 1U keycap. It is frequently used for larger modifier keys, such as the Spacebar or the Ctrl key.
  6. 2.25U, 2.75U, 3U, and Beyond: Keycaps with measurements greater than 2U are typically used for specialized keys, such as the Spacebar in split keyboards or keys in non-standard layouts.

It’s important to note that the total number of keys and their respective sizes can vary depending on the keyboard layout, such as ANSI, ISO, or various custom layouts. Keycap sets are often sold in kits that include keycaps of different sizes to accommodate different layouts and keyboard sizes.

By understanding the “U” measurements and the layout of your keyboard, you can ensure that the keycaps you choose will fit properly and provide a seamless typing or gaming experience.

Keycap Profiles: Exploring Popular Shapes and Designs

Keycap profiles refer to the overall shape and design of the keycaps. Different profiles can significantly impact the typing experience and ergonomics. Let’s explore some popular keycap profiles:

  1. OEM: The Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) profile is one of the most common and widely used profiles. It features a slightly curved top surface and cylindrical sides, providing a comfortable typing experience for most users.
  2. Cherry: The Cherry profile, designed by Cherry Corporation, is similar to the OEM profile but with a slightly lower overall height. It offers a more sculpted shape, providing a unique feel and improved ergonomics.
  3. DSA: The DSA (Double-Shot ABS) profile is known for its uniform flat top and cylindrical sides. It offers a consistent typing experience across all keys, making it popular for enthusiasts and those seeking a minimalistic aesthetic.
  4. KAM: The KAM profile is characterized by its tall, scooped top surface, allowing for a more substantial keycap feel. It provides excellent stability and is often favored by gamers and enthusiasts.
  5. KAT: The KAT profile offers a similar shape to the Cherry profile but with a higher overall height. It provides a comfortable typing experience, and its sculpted design aids in accurate finger placement.
  6. MT3: The MT3 profile, designed by Matt3o, stands out with its high sculpted surface, providing an ergonomic typing experience. Its unique shape and deep curves appeal to enthusiasts seeking a retro aesthetic.
  7. SA: The SA (Spherical All) profile is renowned for its spherical shape, offering a distinctly retro appearance and a sculpted design. It provides excellent tactile feedback and a satisfying typing experience.

Keycap Materials: Choosing between ABS and PBT

Keycaps are primarily made of two materials: ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate). Understanding their characteristics can help you make an informed decision when selecting keycaps.

  1. ABS: ABS keycaps are known for their smooth texture and vibrant colors. They are prone to developing a shiny or “slick” appearance over time due to wear. While ABS keycaps offer excellent customization options, they are more susceptible to finger oils and can be less durable compared to PBT keycaps.
  2. PBT: PBT keycaps are lauded for their durability and resistance to wear and tear. They have a textured surface that provides a more solid grip and prevents finger oils from accumulating. PBT keycaps generally retain their original appearance for a longer period, making them a popular choice among enthusiasts and heavy typists.

Printing Methods: Doubleshot and Dye-Sublimation

Keycaps can be customized with different printing methods, each offering unique advantages. The two most popular printing methods are doubleshot and dye-sublimation.

  1. Doubleshot: Doubleshot keycaps are created by molding two layers of plastic together. This method ensures the legends (characters) on the keycaps are highly durable and resistant to fading or wearing off. Doubleshot keycaps provide sharp and long-lasting legends, making them a preferred choice for enthusiasts.
  2. Dye-Sublimation: Dye-sublimation involves printing the legends onto the keycaps by transferring dye into the plastic material. This method provides a more vibrant and evenly colored legend. However, it may be less durable compared to doubleshot keycaps, as the legends can fade over time with heavy use.

Keycap Customization Possibilities: Personalizing Your Keyboard

One of the most exciting aspects of keycaps is the ability to customize them to suit your preferences. With a wide range of colors, designs, and materials available, you can transform your keyboard into a unique reflection of your personality. Additionally, artisans create handcrafted keycaps in intricate designs, adding a touch of artistry to your mechanical keyboard.

GMK Keycaps: A World of Premium Customization

When it comes to premium keycaps, GMK is a well-known name in the mechanical keyboard community. GMK (short for “Key Manufacturing Group”) produces high-quality keycap sets through a process called group buys. Group buys are organized by enthusiasts and designers who collaborate with GMK to create unique and limited-edition keycap sets.

GMK keycaps are renowned for their exceptional craftsmanship, attention to detail, and vibrant color schemes. These keycaps are often made using the doubleshot method, resulting in legends that are sharp, durable, and long-lasting. Due to their popularity, GMK group buys often garner significant interest from the community, with enthusiasts eagerly participating to secure their desired sets.

Participating in a group buy allows enthusiasts to pre-order GMK keycap sets, typically with a limited production run. Once the group buy period ends, the keycaps are manufactured, and participants receive their orders. Group buys often provide an opportunity to acquire unique keycap designs that may not be readily available on the market.

Conclusion: Unleash the Full Potential of Your Mechanical Keyboard

Keycaps are not mere accessories but integral components that can significantly enhance your mechanical keyboard experience. From finding the right size and profile to selecting the ideal material and printing method, understanding the nuances of keycaps allows you to customize your keyboard to perfection. Whether you prioritize comfort, aesthetics, or durability, the world of keycaps offers endless possibilities to elevate your typing or gaming adventures. So go ahead, explore the diverse range of keycaps available and unlock the true potential of your mechanical keyboard.

Here are some of our favourite keycap sets for every price range: