Find out what sets the different kinds of keycaps apart, and which may be right for you.
Mechanical keyboards are popular among computer users for their tactile feel and audible feedback. One of the things that make them unique is mechanical keyboard keycaps, which are the removable covers that are placed over the keyswitch of a keyboard.
Keycaps are specially designed to be comfortable and durable while improving typing efficiency. They come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and it’s common for people to customize their keyboards with different keycaps.
But what exactly are mechanical keyboard keycaps? In this post, we'll take a closer look at the different types of keycaps and how they can affect your typing experience.
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The four main kinds of keyboard keycaps are OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), Cherry, SA, and DSA.
OEM, or original equipment manufacturer, keycaps are the most common type of keycap and are often used in mass-produced keyboards.
They are typically made of ABS plastic and have a default shape and color. POM keycaps are common in OEM keyboards; POM is a type of plastic that is known for its durability and resistance to wear and tear.
Most OEM keycaps have a textured concave surface to help you feel where your fingers need to be without looking at the keyboard.
SA keycaps are taller than most others. They are also often thicker and have a more pronounced, sculpted profile and a spherical touch area. They are often preferred by gamers and people who type a lot, as their pronounced sculpting can provide a more comfortable typing experience.
In addition, SA keycaps have a unique look that can help to make your keyboard stand out. Many SA keycaps come in bright colors or with intricate designs that can add a touch of personality to your keyboard.
DSA keycaps are a low-profile type of keycap that is pre-formed to fit onto a key switch. DSA keycaps have a uniform profile and are not contoured, which makes them easier to remove and clean than other types of keycaps.
However, because they are uniform across rows, some typists find them to be less comfortable than other types of keycaps.
Cherry keycaps are high-quality keycaps that are designed to offer improved typing performance and durability. Cherry Corporation is a leading manufacturer of keyboard parts and accessories, and their keycaps are widely considered to be some of the best in the industry.
Cherry keycaps are made from a substance called PBT, a thermoplastic known for its resistance to wear and fading. In addition to their superior durability, Cherry keycaps are also available in a variety of colors and designs.
Did you know? Not sure where to get started for your first mechanical keyboard? Check out our guide to 9 of the best mechanical keyboards for every budget. The HHKB layout repositions the control key to make it easier to execute more time-saving commands without leaving the home row. Click here to learn more.
What are the most common keycap materials?
Most keycaps are made of one or two materials, though some manufacturers opt for other options.
ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a thermoplastic resin made by combining two monomers: acrylonitrile and butadiene. This combination results in a material that is strong and flexible.
ABS keycaps are common on lower-end keyboards because they are cheaper to manufacture. Light-colored ABS keycaps can yellow over time due to exposure to sunlight and hand oils. They are also prone to developing shiny spots.
PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) is also a synthetic polymer resin of the thermoplastic variety. PBT keycaps are usually found on customized and aftermarket keyboards because of their superior quality.
Mechanical keyboard enthusiasts tend to favor PBT because it is more durable than ABS and does not develop shine or yellowing with age. PBT keycaps also have a different feel than ABS keycaps, as they’re usually heavier and textured to provide a better grip.
Some keyboard aficionados prefer rubber keycaps because they believe they provide a more comfortable typing experience. Keycap rubber is made from silicone, a synthetic polymer that is both heat-resistant and flexible.
Rubber keycaps are usually softer and quieter than ABS or PBT keycaps. However, rubber is not as durable as ABS or PBT and can develop a sticky feel over time. Rubber is also much harder to clean than plastic.
The way a keyboard feels is important to many typists, and the keycaps are a big part of that. Different materials, thicknesses, and profiles can all affect how typing on a keyboard actually feels. For example, thicker or thinner keycaps can change the actuation feel of your switches, depending on what kind of switches you use. And while some materials, like ABS plastic, are smooth, others, like PBT plastic, have a textured surface that can make the keys feel "grippy" under your fingers.
Some keyboard fanatics even prefer to custom-make their own keycaps from different materials to get just the right typing experience. If you are always gaming, working on your computer, or typing a lot in general, custom keycaps are a great way to upgrade your keyboard and make it more comfortable — and an excellent vehicle for showing off your personality.
One great example of bringing your own flair to a keyboard is the work of YouTube creator tinymakesthings. Tiny makes one-of-a-kind artisan keycaps with clay as well as a range of durable (but no less delightful) resin keycaps. She has even published a video tutorial for making your own custom artisan keycaps if you’d like to try kitting out your board in the most DIY way possible.
Did You Know? A range of Handy HHKB accessories, including such as a keyboard lid and adjustable stand, will make it even easier to get the most from your board. Click here to learn more.
The best places to buy mechanical keyboard keycaps
When you’re ready to begin the search for the perfect set of keycaps to suit your style and need, here are a few places to check out:
Each of these websites hosts a wide variety of custom keycaps to choose from. You can filter your search by material, color, price, and more. When it comes down to where to buy key caps, you’ll likely want to consider factors like shipping time and cost, selection, as well as customer service. Take a moment to peruse user reviews and shop policies before hitting that “Add to Cart” button.
If you are looking for the best all-around typing experience on the market, check out the full range of high-end keyboards from HHKB. Each HHKB keyboard comes with high-quality, textured PBT keycaps with an ergonomic profile to promote healthy and effective typing. Underneath each keycap lies an industry-leading Topre switch; these electrostatic switches have remained a favorite among enthusiasts for decades thanks to their uniquely satisfying feel.