Find the right set of keycaps to put the finishing touch on the board of your dreams.
Placing the best keycaps on the unadorned stems of a mechanical keyboard is akin to crowning the new ruler of a kingdom: line them up, lower them down, and a legend is made. Each part of a mechanical keyboard is essential, from the base to the circuit board to the switches, but keycaps are where mechanical keyboard enthusiasts can really start having fun.
This guide to the best keycaps on the market today was created for anyone with love for mechanical keyboards in their heart, whether they’re newcomers to the hobby or longtime enthusiasts with an established collection of new and retro keycaps. Before we get into our picks, let’s lay out some of the terminology we will use and how to make sure your caps of choice will be compatible with your board.
Find the perfect keycaps for every board in your collection with our Essential Guide to Keycaps.
When we refer to mechanical keycaps throughout the rest of this article, we’ll specifically be referring to keycaps that are compatible with Cherry MX-style switches — whether made by manufacturer Cherry itself, or by competing companies such as Kailh, Gateron, and beyond. These types of switches feature cross-shaped stems on their tops (sometimes along with other accents such as box-shaped supports) that make them compatible with keycaps featuring similar cross-shaped indentations on their underside. The majority of mechanical keyboards and mechanical keyboard components on the market today adhere to this standard.
Now that you know how to ensure your dream build is compatible, here are three aspects to keep in mind as you search for the best keycaps possible.
- Pick the right material: Most keycaps are made from plastic, but the type of plastic you choose can make a big impact on feel, sound, and the life of the product. For instance, ABS keycaps tend to be more affordable than PBT keycaps, but they also tend to be less durable and pick up “shine” from wear. A common way to upgrade the life and feel of ABS caps is with a “double-shot” manufacturing process; this means the external body of the cap was made with one layer of plastic then the legends and internal material were made with another.
- Choose your favorite profile: Some keycaps are tall, some are short, some are flat, some are convex, some have uniform tops across the entire board, and some are sculpted row-by-row to meet your fingertips. All of these considerations fall under the category of keycap profiles. If you know which profile you prefer, you can feel confident that a new set of keys made in that profile will feel right to type on.
- Go big on style: Two sets of keycaps in the same material and profile may look completely different thanks to the variety of keycap appearances available today. Pick out a set with different body colors or a unified look, go for fancy legends (those are the labels on top) or opt for a minimalist style instead. Keycaps are pretty easy to change out, so you could even swap them now and then just for a fresh look.
Did You Know?:Read PCMag’s review to find out why the HHKB Professional Hybrid makes “a strong case for minimalist ‘designer’ keyboards.”
We’ve got all of the fundamentals out of the way, so now it’s time for the fun part. Here are some of the best keycaps you can buy right now, across a range of styles and price points.
The Red Samurai keycaps are the result of a three-way power combo: beloved keycap manufacturer GMK, whose keys are considered the cream of the crop by many enthusiasts; specialist retailer Drop, which offers a range of elegantly designed keycaps; and designer RedSuns. This double-shot ABS, Cherry-profile kit comes to life with beautifully minimalist color, modeled after the red and black color schemes used in some of historical Japan’s most famed pieces of samurai armor (or you can opt for blue if you prefer).
Here’s another double-shot ABS, Cherry-profile kit inspired by a very different sort of warrior. The Mandalorian armor of Boba Fett is the clear source material for NovelKeys’ officially licensed set of Star Wars keycaps — many of the keys even feature the Mandalorian lettering system along with their more standard legends. Numerous accent keys featuring Boba Fett’s helmet, jet pack, and other infamous pieces of gear complete the look. It’s perfect for Star Wars fans who want to pay homage to the beloved franchise in a unique, not-overstated way.
Prefer something a little more subtle but with no less style? These double-shot ABS Maxkey Dolch keycaps come in the tall-and-sculpted SA profile with a monochromatic, grey-on-grey look. The legends rack up both style and accessibility points with their classically designed, large and easy-to-read lettering.
You can take it back to the classics with a set of retro keycaps, and the 9009s from HK Gaming fit the bill with a comforting range of beiges and greys — as well as a few pops of color in high-impact places such as the Enter and Escape key. These keycaps are made with durable PBT plastic, and they come with a low-riding Cherry profile that lends itself to a slightly more neat and compact appearance.
Why stop at the ‘80s and ‘90s for retro keycaps? This set of Tall Typewriter Retro keycaps from Datamancer features a unique round-topped design, and the legends fit the bill with a lovely art deco typeface. These are the perfect caps for amateur typing historians or anyone who wants to make an instant statement — and yes, like all the other keycaps on this list, they’re 100% compatible with Cherry MX-style switches.
Did You Know?: Make a great typing experience even better with useful HHKB accessories including a keyboard lid and adjustable stand.
The tinkering heart of the mechanical keyboard hobby is a never-ending source of inspiration, always offering new twists on the typical typing experience. If you’d like to go even further afield beyond the bounds of Cherry-MX style switches, the range of high-end keyboards offered by HHKB use high-precision Topre switches, and they also feature an intelligently revised layout that puts ergonomics and efficiency at the forefront. Add an HHKB to your collection and experience all the joy (and joyfully “thwocking” keypress sounds) that mechanical keyboards have to offer.