Guide To Understanding Keycaps

Things to consider when replacing keycaps on a mechanical computer keyboard

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Image: www.redragonzone.com

Image: www.redragonzone.com

By: Florian Demuth, Journalist

Introduction

At some point we all want to change our image. It doesn’t matter if its getting new clothes or cutting your hair. The same thing applies to getting new keycaps no matter if it’s because you wore out your old ones or you saw some cool set online or you just really want to best your friend in the keyboard looks department. It always happens at some point. So eventually you wander over to the nearest website that sells keycaps and you’re just getting bombarded with all these acronyms like OEM, Alps, Laser, Cherry etc. And suddenly finding new keycaps doesn’t seem so urgent. So, today I will be helping you break down all the different acronyms into easy categories so your keyboard can look fresh and fabulous again.

Key Distributions

Not all keycap sets will fit your keyboard, or, in other words: size matters. Keycaps are measured in units of 18mmx18mm. Another thing to note is that different keyboards use different key distributions. For example ISO and ANSI use different key sizes in their layout causing keys to shift to different positions. So, ensure that the keycaps set you’re getting has the right size and layout.

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Profiles

The profile of a keycap refers to the its shape. Is it flat, is it rounded, is it curved etc.¬† I’ll break it down into two steps:

First you should choose between uniform or sculpted keycaps. Having sculpted keycaps just means that different rows on your keyboard have different profiles. While uniform keycaps use the same profile throughout the entire keyboard.

The second step is simply how high or low do you want them. Low keycaps will be lower to the switches and high keycaps that will be, well, further away from the switches. That is the simplest way to categorize them.

Material

Oh, you thought we were done. Well, you’d be wrong. We covered the the categories that mostly impact the feeling of your keyboard. Now we will cover material. This impacts the feeling too but it also contributes to the sound of your keyboard. Keycaps are made out of special types of plastic and depending on the materials used the keycaps are given different names. These names are not like the acronyms from earlier that refer to the profile or layout.

ABS, PBT, and POM are the most popular if not the only kinds of material. ABS keycaps are made of copolymer plastic. PBT keycaps are made of Polybutylene terephthalate plastic. POM keycaps use Polyoxymethylene.

ABS being the most popular because it is cheaper – therefore it is also the most commonly used. This is why brand name keyboards usually only use ABS. Although it is by no means impossible to get POM and PBT keycaps, too. ABS being the cheapest material also means they’re the least durable which is a downside but should not influence your decision to much.

As for sound PBT keycaps will be more crisp and clean because they are so thick. While ABS keycaps make a more soft sound and vibrate more because they are more thin. POM keycaps will make a deeper thud when they bottom out. No one material is better it’s all about personal preference and even though it sounds like there is a big difference for most people it doesn’t really matter. Finally, when it comes to custom keycaps: I say go for it – just make sure they’re not to big and uncomfortable to press.

And that’s it! I sincerely hope this helped you understand keycaps better and what kind will work for you. Have a nice day.

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