2.4 Keycap Guide

Keycaps. They’re what covers up the switch on a keyboard and tells you what key you are pressing on. So there’s two sections to what I want to share about keycaps which are profiles, engraving method and material.

Image by Xah Lee

As you can see, there a lot of different profiles/ heights that keycaps come in. The most common type out there is OEM which almost all gaming keyboards use, It’s a very standard profile and easy to find keycaps in. Different profiles affect the sound that your keyboard makes, so go watch Squashy Boy’s video to hear the difference.

key takeaway: SA profiles produce a thockier sound.

Other than affecting the sound, different profiles also affect the typing feel, as some profiles have more curves like SA while others like DSA are pretty flat and even across the rows.

I can’t do this article without mentioning Cherry profile, much like the name suggests these are shorter than OEM and made by Cherry waaaaay back but since then the machining and tools have been bought over by GMK and enthusiasts like to design sets that are way more interesting looking than your typical gaming keyboard. Because of the height of these key caps, they will interfere with switches if the board is north facing (meaning the hold for the led is on facing north), which is why expensive, custom boards are all south facing. Even back in the day Cherry keyboards were south facing but the mainstream switched to north facing to accommodate RGB shine through keycaps in gaming keyboards.

Engraving method

The keycap on the left is a made using the dye-sublimation (dye-sub) method and the keycap on the right is made using double shot injection molding method.

Dye-sub explained in the simplest way it just like those temporary tattoos where u slap it on your skin and its stays on there for a while except this time it’s stays on really, really well. Honestly, you don’t have to worry about fading with dye-sub keycaps you will probably outlast your interest in your keycap set before it fades LOL.

Double-shot injection is the premium option here, it’s basically molding plastics of two different colors together, so this method is a much more expensive one but guarantees premium results.

Material

In general, most keycaps are made from either PBT or ABD plastic. There are exceptions like wood, metal, and other more uncommon plastics like POM which I won’t be covering.

PBT is commonly used because of it’s durability, the top layer doesn’t fade and cause the keycap to shine over time with use like ABS so PBT is often marketed to “last forever”. However, because of some science atom mumbo jumbo color reproduction on PBT plastics are harder and they aren’t quite as vivid compared to ABS.

ABS is kinda the opposite to what I said about PBT really, the color reproduction and matching ability of this plastic is superior, which is why GMK sets use thick ABS to make their keycaps in fancy colors and legends. The trade off here is that with heavy use over time the top layer will produce shine.

ABD shine, image by Xah Lee

With that said, not all ABS and PBT is created equal so neither are better than the other. A good keycap set just has thick plastic and look good. That’s all there is to it. (man I hate those cheap colored shine through pbt keycaps that are super thin they sound so bad it should be illegal to make and sell imo)


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