A Buyer's Guide to Getting the Best Keycaps

July 24, 2023

One of the easiest ways to enhance the aesthetics, durability, and typing comfort of your mechanical keyboard is by installing the best keycaps.

In this buyer's guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know about choosing the perfect keycaps. From understanding the different materials such as ABS and PBT to exploring various profiles like Cherry, XDA, DSA, and OEM, we will help you navigate the keycap landscape.

We will also discuss the importance of compatibility with different layouts and the benefits of keycap customization. We will provide you with a list of top keycap designs and themes for gaming keyboards.

Whether you're a keyboard enthusiast or a casual user, this guide will equip you with the knowledge to make an informed decision and find the best keycaps for your mechanical keyboard.

What are keycaps and why are they important for keyboards?

A keycap is a small plastic cover on the key switch of a computer keyboard. Keycaps indicate the key function or alphanumeric character they correspond to.

Keycaps not only affect the functionality and aesthetics of your mechanical keyboard. They also play a crucial role in your user experience with your keyboard. 

Choosing the right keycaps is key to maximizing your keyboard experience.

Keycaps: The Basics

There is a wide range of options available when it comes to keycaps. There are many brands, styles, and colors to choose from. 

Key caps are often made of either of two plastic materials: ABS or PBT. ABS keycaps are cheaper and have a smooth feel. PBT keycaps are higher in quality, durable, and have a somewhat textured surface. 

Why Do Keycaps Matter for a Keyboard?

Every keyboard has keycaps; you cannot use a keyboard without them.

But keycaps are not just plastic pieces that you could type on. You can lengthen the life of your keyboard by replacing the stock ones with better ones. You can use keycaps that help you improve your typing and gaming experience.

And, of course, you can use keycaps as your personal statement as you customize your mechanical keyboard.

How Do Keycaps Affect the Typing Experience?

You can maximize your typing comfort and efficiency with the right keycaps that perfectly complement your keyboard. They affect the way your fingers interact with your entire keyboard.

The shape, height, and material of the keycaps can greatly impact your typing speed, accuracy, and typing experience. Whether you're playing a game of Call of Duty, typing messages on FB, composing a report for work, or undergoing CBT (Computer-Based Training), choosing the right keycaps can make a noticeable difference.

Look for keycaps with a profile that suits your typing style. We will discuss that shortly.

Keycap Materials: ABS vs PBT

The material used in keycaps to customize your mechanical keyboard can greatly impact how you type as well as the longevity of your keyboard. Key 

ABS, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, is a cheaper and more common keycap material. ABS keycaps feel smooth and slick, allowing faster and smoother movement across the keyboard.

PBT, or polybutylene terephthalate, keycaps feel thick and durable. They're made of higher quality and stronger plastic material. It has a textured feel and is superior to ABS keycaps in terms of durability. 

Keycap Profiles: Which is the Best?

Various keycap profiles are available in the market. Find the profile that best suits your typing style, personal requirements, and aesthetic preferences.

The Cherry profile is highly recommended for gaming and typing. The keycaps' sculpted design has a slight angle that accentuates accuracy. 

The DSA profile, reminiscent of the IBM model M keyboard, is a good option for fast typers due to its flat surface.

For those who enjoy customizable layouts, the unique XDA profile offers maximum flexibility.

Consider how each profile complements RGB lighting customization. Cherry and DSA profiles work well with RGB lighting, while XDA keycaps offer a unique aesthetic when paired with vibrant RGB setups.

How to choose the best keycaps for your mechanical keyboard?

One important factor to consider when choosing keycaps is their compatibility with your keyboard. It's crucial to ensure that the keycaps you choose will fit perfectly on your mechanical keyboard.

Different layouts such as 65%, tenkeyless, ANSI, and ISO, may require specific keycap sizes. It's also important to note that ANSI and ISO layouts have different enter key sizes, so make sure to check for compatibility.

Older keyboards with non-standard layouts may require specific keycap sizes.

To ensure full compatibility, you can opt for keycaps made for specific keyboard models. Check your keyboard user manual; there should be an indication of which keycap profiles or types are compatible with your keyboard.

Picking the Right Keycap Profile for Your Typing Style

Consider the keycap profile that best suits your personal typing style. The keycap profile refers to the shape and design of the keycaps.

Cherry, XDA, and OEM are some of the profiles widely available in the market. Each has its own characteristics that suit preferences, needs, and typing styles. It's recommended to try different profiles and see which one feels the most comfortable and natural for you.

Customization Options and Keycap Sets

There are a variety of customization options and keycap sets available so you can customize your keyboard.

Some popular sets include Drop DCX White on Black Keycaps for a classic and versatile look, Drop DCX Hyperfuse Keycaps for a stylish mix of colors, and Kinetic Labs Whale Keycaps for an affordable and durable option.

There are themed keycap sets such as the Lord of the Rings MT3 Black Speech Keycaps and the Matt30 Nerd DSA Keycaps.

The advent of 3d-printers also gave rise to keycap designs that are not available in the market. 3d-printing truly opened the door to having truly custom-designed keycaps.

Artisans also carve, sculpt, and create keycaps from different materials.

RGB Lighting and Keycaps

RGB lighting paired with the right keycaps can truly elevate the overall aesthetic and user experience.

There are keycaps specifically designed to enhance this feature. Pudding keycaps, for example, allow the backlighting to shine through the sides of the keycaps, creating a unique and eye-catching effect. On the other hand, double-shot keycaps are made from two separate plastics, allowing the backlighting to shine through the legends for easier reading.

The RGB lighting itself can be programmed via an on-board keyboard feature or a separate app that you can download on your computer. This allows you to program light patterns, colors, and more.

Artisan Keycaps: Adding a Unique Touch

Artisan keycaps are the perfect way to showcase your personal style and stand out from the crowd.

These one-of-a-kind keycaps are handcrafted by skilled artisans and 3d-printers, making each piece a work of art. Whether you're into cute animals, video game characters, or intricate designs, there's an artisan keycap out there that's perfect for you.

Not only do these keycaps add a unique touch to your keyboard, but they also enhance the overall aesthetics. With their attention to detail and high-quality craftsmanship, artisan keycaps are sure to catch attention.

Where to buy the best keycaps?

Standard replacement or upgrade keycaps are available in most computer supply stores.

Exclusive or limited-edition keycaps are often produced in limited quantities and can be found on websites like Drop.com and mechanicalkeyboards.com.

You can also check out Etsy, Amazon Handmade, and Go Imagine. There are plenty of artists and craftsmen who sell their custom-made wares, including unique keycaps. 

Group Buy: Acquiring Limited Edition Keycaps

Group buys are a unique way for keyboard enthusiasts to get their hands on exclusive keycap sets that may not be available in regular retail channels.

Group buying typically involves a group of people collectively placing orders for a specific keycap set, which allows for the production of a limited number of sets. Group buys often have a set ordering period and a production timeline, so it's important to stay informed and act quickly.

Joining gaming communities and computer customization forums as well as following the media accounts of keycap designers and vendors can help you stay up to date on upcoming group buys. Remember, limited edition keycaps can sell out fast, so be prepared to act when the opportunity arises.

Best Online Stores for Keycap Shopping

Head to the top online stores for an unparalleled selection of keycaps. Drop.com, Amazon, and mechanicalkeyboards.com are some of the best places to find keycaps that suit your style and preference.

Drop.com offers a wide range of keycap sets, including limited edition collaborations like the Lord of the Rings MT3 Black Speech Keycaps and the Drop + Matt30/DEV/TTY MT3 Keycaps.

Amazon has a variety of budget-friendly options like the YMDK PBT Sublimation Keycaps and the YMDK Carbon 108 Cherry Keycaps.

For custom keycap sets, mechanicalkeyboards.com is the go-to store, offering unique designs like the Matt30 Nerd DSA Keycaps and the Drop + Mito XDA Canvas Keycaps.

Check your local area too. Brick-and-mortar computer stores and local suppliers have a myriad of replacement and custom keycaps available.

Keycap Sets: Full-size, TKL, and Compact Layouts

Full-size keyboards have all the keys, including the numpad while TKL (tenkeyless) keyboards omit the numpad for a more compact design. Compact layouts, such as 60% or 65% keyboards, have even fewer keys.

To ensure compatibility, ensure the keycap set you choose matches the size, type, and layout of your keyboard. Pay attention to the keycap sizes, especially for non-standard layouts. Some keycap sets are specifically designed for certain keyboard models, ensuring a perfect fit.

How to install and replace keycaps on your keyboard?

Customizing your keyboard involves replacing the keycaps. Don't worry it's easy.

Removing and Installing Keycaps: Step-by-Step Guide

  • Turn off your computer and unplug the keyboard. This will ensure your safety and prevent any accidental damage.
  • Gently pull a keycap that you want to remove upwards using your fingertips. If it's a standard keycap, it should come off easily. For larger or non-standard keycaps, you may need to use a keycap puller.
  • Once the keycap is removed, carefully clean the switch underneath using compressed air or a small brush.
  • To install a new keycap, align the stem on the bottom of the keycap with the switch and firmly press it down until you hear a click.
  • Repeat this process for each keycap you want to replace.
  • Plug in your keyboard and power on your computer to test your new keycaps.

Special Keycaps: Media Keys

Some mechanical keyboards have special media keys, dials, and knobs that allow you to directly adjust the volume, skip music, increase screen brightness, and more from your keyboard.

These media keys are often not replaceable. If you need to replace them, call a brand-recommended service manufacturer to do so. Don't try to change them yourself as these controls are connected to a separate system. 

Mac-Specific Keycaps for Apple Keyboards

If you're an Apple enthusiast and want to enhance the look and feel of your keyboard, there are keycap sets designed specifically for Macs.

These keycaps usually feature Mac-specific legends, such as the Command, Option, and Control symbols, to ensure compatibility and a cohesive aesthetic. Mac-specific keycaps often come in sleek and minimalistic designs that match Apple's aesthetic. You can find these keycaps on websites like Drop.com and mechanicalkeyboards.com, which offer a variety of options to choose from.

Creating a Unique Look with Custom Keycaps

Custom keycaps offer a wide range of options for customization. You can choose different colors and designs, add custom images, or even opt for artisan keycaps. You can create a visually stunning keyboard that stands out.

Custom keycaps also provide an opportunity to showcase your creativity and individuality. Whether you prefer a minimalist design or a bold and vibrant look, there are endless possibilities to explore. 

Top Keycap Designs and Themes for Gaming Keyboards

Dive into the world of gaming keycaps with popular styles and themes that'll add a touch of personality to your keyboard.

Whether you're a fan of retro designs, durable doubleshot keycaps, or a mix of gaming and typing functionality, finding the right keycap set is essential for both comfort and aesthetics.

Popular Gaming Keycap Styles and Themes

One keycap style that gamers love is the neon design of the Ducky Joker PBT Keycaps. These keycaps have a 90s bowling alley feel, creating a vibrant and nostalgic gaming atmosphere. The bright and intense colors of the keycaps make them perfect for gaming or at-home use.

Made from doubleshot PBT material, they're durable and long-lasting. The textured feel of the keycaps enhances grip and prevents slippage during intense gaming sessions. Additionally, the Ducky Joker PBT Keycaps are compatible with most standard layouts, making them versatile and easy to install.

Gaming Keycaps: Enhancing the Gaming Experience

Gaming keycaps are specifically designed to enhance your gaming sessions by providing a visually appealing and functional upgrade to your keyboard.

Not only that but these keycaps also enhance your gaming performance. The keycaps are designed to provide a comfortable and ergonomic typing experience.

Retro Keycaps: Nostalgic Designs and Colors

Step back in time and relive the nostalgia with retro keycaps, bringing a touch of vintage charm to your keyboard setup. Retro keycaps are designed to evoke memories of classic keyboards like the iconic IBM model M. These keycaps have a distinct look and feel, with a flat surface and bold, colorful legends. They're often made from durable materials like PBT, ensuring longevity and resistance to wear.

Doubleshot Keycaps: Ensuring Long-Lasting Legends

Doubleshot keycaps are made from two separate plastic layers, with the legends being a different color from the rest of the keycap.

This allows for easy readability and ensures that the legends won't wear off even with heavy use. Doubleshot keycaps are especially popular among gamers and typists who want their keycaps to remain pristine and legible for years to come.

They also work great with RGB lighting setups as the illumination can shine through the legends for a stunning visual effect. 

Keycaps for Gaming and Typing: Finding the Right Mix

When it comes to gaming, a keycap set with a comfortable and ergonomic profile is essential. The Cherry profile is highly recommended. The keycap has a slight angle that follows the natural curve of your finger, allowing a more comfortable typing experience. 

For typing enthusiasts, the XDA and DSA profiles offer a unique and flat surface, reminiscent of the classic IBM model M keyboard. These profiles are designed to allow your fingers quick movement across the keyboard while not compromising accuracy. 


So there you have it - a comprehensive buyer's guide to finding the best keycaps for your mechanical keyboard. By considering factors such as materials, profiles, compatibility, and customization options, you can enhance the aesthetics, durability, and typing comfort of your keyboard.

Whether you're looking for a classic and versatile option, an affordable and durable choice, or a unique collaboration, there are keycap sets out there to suit your preferences. Happy typing and gaming!

Erickson, a certified Interior Designer and Ergonomist, has cultivated a unique career blending aesthetics, functionality, and well-being. Holding a Bachelor's degree in Interior Designfrom a prestigious institution, Erickson is well-versed in creating spaces that are both visually pleasing and conducive to human comfort and health.
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