Mechanical Keycap Profiles: Cherry Profile vs OEM Profile

September 13, 2023

The Cherry and OEM keycap profiles stand as two iconic pillars in the realm of mechanical keyboards, each offering distinct attributes that shape both the tactile and visual aspects of typing.

This article embarks on a journey of exploration, dissecting the nuances, strengths, and considerations that accompany the decision between OEM and Cherry profile keycaps. As the canvas upon which the keyboard enthusiast's experience is painted, this choice holds the power to transform typing into an art form, blending comfort, aesthetics, and functionality into a harmonious whole. Join us as we delve into the realm of keycap profiles, uncovering the merits, drawbacks, and personal preferences that guide the path between Cherry and OEM.

Let's delve into the characteristics of both profiles to help you make an informed decision.

What is a Keycap Profile?

Keycap profiles refer to the specific shapes and dimensions of individual keycaps on a keyboard. Different profiles are designed to provide varying levels of comfort, ergonomics, aesthetics, and typing experiences. Keycap profiles play a significant role in determining how a keyboard feels to use, how keys are positioned and sculpted, and how the overall typing experience is perceived.

Common Keycap Profiles

There are several popular keycap profiles, each with its own unique characteristics. Some of the most well-known keycap profiles include:

1. Cherry Profile: This is one of the earliest and most widely recognized keycap profiles. Cherry profile keycaps have a slight curve with a medium height, and the top of the keycap is cylindrical, meaning it follows a consistent curve. The Cherry profile keycaps are the standard to which other profiles are measured.

2. OEM Profile: Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) profile keycaps are usually often found on many mass-produced keyboards. OEM keycaps are generally taller and more rounded than Cherry profile keycaps, offering a slightly different typing feel. They are commonly used on standard office and gaming keyboards.

3. SA Profile: The Sculpted SA profile is characterized by its extremely tall and spherical keycaps. SA keycaps provide a distinctive and retro aesthetic and are often chosen for their unique appearance. Typing on SA profile keycaps can be quite different from other profiles due to their height.

4. DSA Profile: DSA keycaps have a uniform spherical shape and are relatively shorter compared to many other profiles. These keycaps are known for their consistent feel across all keys, which can be advantageous for touch typists.

5. XDA Profile: Similar to DSA, XDA keycaps are uniform in height and shape, but they have a wider top surface. XDA profile keycaps are sometimes chosen for their modern and minimalistic appearance.

6. KAT Profile: The KAT profile is similar to SA in terms of height, but it offers a more modern and streamlined design. KAT keycaps have a sculpted shape and a shorter keycap stem compared to SA.

Why Keycap Profiles Matter

The keycaps for your keyboard are your main interface with your computer. A keycap profile affects how comfortable and ergonomic the keyboard is, the tactile and auditory feedback you receive while typing, and the visual aesthetics of your setup. Since typing is a central activity for many people, choosing the right keycap profile can significantly enhance your enjoyment and productivity when using your keyboard.

  • Comfort and Ergonomics: Different keycap profiles have varying shapes and heights, which can affect the ergonomics of your keyboard. A profile that matches your hand shape and typing style can reduce strain and promote a more comfortable typing experience. For instance, some profiles provide a more natural angle for your fingers, minimizing wrist discomfort and fatigue.
  • Tactile Feedback and Typing Feel: The shape and curvature of keycaps impact how your fingers interact with them. Profiles with different slopes and contours can provide varying degrees of tactile feedback, affecting how you feel the keypresses and key releases. Some users prefer a more pronounced tactile feel, while others might prefer a smoother and quieter typing experience.
  • Sound and Acoustics: Keycap profiles can also influence the sound your keyboard makes while typing. Taller profiles might produce a deeper and more resonant sound, while flatter profiles could result in a crisper and quieter sound. If you're particular about the auditory experience of typing, the keycap profile can play a significant role.
  • Customization and Aesthetics: Different keycap profiles have distinct visual appearances. Some profiles have a more modern, minimalist look, while others offer a retro or sculpted aesthetic. Choosing a profile that aligns with your preferred keyboard design and visual style can enhance the overall aesthetics of your setup.
  • Typing Speed and Accuracy: The comfort and familiarity of a keycap profile can impact your typing speed and accuracy. If the keycaps are designed to match the natural curve of your fingers, you might find yourself typing more quickly and accurately.
  • Personal Preference: Ultimately, the keycap profile you choose comes down to personal preference. Some users might prefer the classic feel of Cherry profile, while others might enjoy the unique aesthetics of SA or DSA profiles. Experimenting with different profiles allows you to discover what feels best for you.
  • Compatibility: Different keycap profiles might have varying levels of compatibility with different keyboard layouts and sizes. Some profiles are better suited for specific layouts, so considering compatibility can be crucial if you're building a custom keyboard.

Cherry Profile Keycaps: What You Need to Know

You've probably heard about the Cherry profile keycaps in your quest for the perfect typing experience, but what's all the hype about? Let's dive into the rich history and unique characteristics of these sought-after keycaps.

History of the Cherry profile

The Cherry keycap profile has a rich history that dates back to the early days of mechanical keyboards. It was developed by Cherry Corporation, a German company that has been a prominent player in the mechanical keyboard industry since the 1950s. 

Cherry Corporation was founded in 1953 by Walter Cherry in Auerbach, Germany. The company initially focused on producing electrical components and switches for various industries.

In the 1970s, Cherry Corporation expanded its product offerings to include mechanical keyboard switches. These switches, known as Cherry MX switches, became popular due to their durability and tactile feel. As mechanical keyboards gained traction, Cherry Corporation saw an opportunity to innovate further by designing a keycap profile that complemented their switches.

Cherry Corporation introduced the Cherry keycap profile as a way to enhance the typing experience for users of their mechanical switches. The profile was characterized by a slight curve, medium keycap height, and cylindrical keycap tops. This design aimed to provide a comfortable and ergonomic typing experience while maintaining compatibility with Cherry MX switches.

The Cherry keycap profile gained widespread recognition and adoption within the mechanical keyboard community. Its compatibility with Cherry MX switches and its comfortable typing feel made it a popular choice for many enthusiasts and manufacturers.

Over time, other keycap profiles emerged such as the OEM, SA, and DSA profiles. Despite the competition, the Cherry profile remained a preferred option for many users due to its balanced design and compatibility with a variety of keyboards.

As the mechanical keyboard community expanded, enthusiasts began customizing their keyboards with unique keycap sets. Custom keycap manufacturers started producing sets in various profiles, including the Cherry profile, allowing users to personalize their keyboards according to their preferences.

Even in the face of newer profiles, the Cherry profile has retained its popularity and influence. It's often chosen for its comfortable typing experience, tactile feedback, and compatibility with a wide range of mechanical keyboards.

Pros and Cons of Using Cherry profile keycaps

Cherry profile keycaps are a popular choice among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts due to their comfortable design and widespread compatibility. However, like any keycap profile, they come with both advantages and disadvantages. 

Pros

  • Comfortable typing feel: Cherry profile keycaps are known for their comfortable and ergonomic design. The slight curvature, medium height, and shape of the keycaps are conducive to a natural hand position, reducing strain during extended typing sessions.
  • Tactile feedback: Many users appreciate the tactile feedback provided by Cherry profile keycaps. The curved design of the keycap tops offers a noticeable bump when a key is actuated, which can enhance typing accuracy and feel.
  • Balanced keycap shape: The keycap tops of Cherry profile keycaps are cylindrical, which means they follow a consistent curve. This design is considered balanced and comfortable for various hand shapes and typing styles.
  • Widespread compatibility: Cherry profile keycaps are compatible with a wide range of mechanical keyboards, especially those that use Cherry MX or MX-style switches. This compatibility makes it easy for users to find and replace keycap sets.
  • Customization options: Due to their popularity, there is a wide variety of keycap sets available in the Cherry profile. This allows users to personalize their keyboards with different color schemes, materials, and legends.

Cons

  • Less unique: As Cherry profile keycaps are quite common, some enthusiasts might prefer a more unique or specialized keycap profile to differentiate their keyboard setup.
  • Limited variety: While there is a good selection of Cherry profile keycap sets available, the variety might not be as extensive as some other profiles like SA or DSA, which offer more extreme shapes and aesthetics.
  • Adaptation period: Switching from a different keycap profile to Cherry might require a short adaptation period, as the typing feel and hand positioning can differ. Some users might need time to adjust to the curvature and height.
  • Less retro aesthetic: If you're interested in a retro or vintage keyboard aesthetic, the Cherry profile might not offer the same level of nostalgia as profiles like SA or some other older profiles.

Exploring popular Cherry profile keycap sets

The Cherry keycap profile is known for its comfortable and balanced design, and it has inspired the creation of various popular keycap sets that are widely used by mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Here are some of the popular Cherry keycap profiles:

1. GMK (Group Buy Manufacturing Keycaps): GMK is a well-known manufacturer of high-quality keycap sets in various profiles, including Cherry. GMK keycaps are highly regarded for their precise legends, durable doubleshot construction, and vibrant color options. These sets often feature unique themes and designs that cater to a wide range of tastes.

2. EnjoyPBT: EnjoyPBT produces keycap sets in Cherry profile using dye-sublimation printing on PBT plastic. They offer a range of colorways and designs that appeal to both minimalists and enthusiasts looking for unique themes.

3. ePBT (Electronic Plastic Keyboards): Similar to EnjoyPBT, ePBT produces Cherry profile keycap sets with dye-sublimation printing on PBT plastic. They are known for their high-quality and affordable options, making them a popular choice for those seeking well-made keycaps without breaking the bank.

4. SA-inspired Cherry Keycaps: While SA profile is a separate keycap profile, some manufacturers have produced Cherry profile sets that are inspired by the SA aesthetic. These sets often have a more sculpted look, giving users a chance to experience a taller profile with Cherry compatibility.

5. Keycap Group Buys: The mechanical keyboard community often organizes group buys for unique and limited-edition Cherry profile keycap sets. These group buys allow enthusiasts to purchase exclusive sets with custom designs, colors, and themes.

6. Artisan Keycaps: Some artisan keycap makers create Cherry profile artisan keycaps. These are typically small, sculpted keycaps that add a unique touch to a keyboard. Artisan keycaps are often collectible and can complement larger keycap sets.

OEM Profile Keycaps: What You Need to Know

In this discussion, you'll delve into the world of OEM profile keycaps. You'll explore their distinct features and origins, comparing them with other popular profiles like Cherry and SA. You'll also unpack their pros and cons.

Additionally, you'll get to discover some of the most sought-after OEM profile keycap sets in the market.

Most importantly, you'll learn why many users gravitate towards OEM profile over other options. It's not just about standard availability or cost-effectiveness, but also about personal preference in typing feel and aesthetics.

History of the OEM Profile

The OEM keycap profile, like the Cherry profile, has a history that's deeply intertwined with the evolution of mechanical keyboards. OEM stands for "Original Equipment Manufacturer," and the OEM keycap profile is one of the earliest and most commonly used profiles in the keyboard industry. 

In the early days of mechanical keyboards, various manufacturers produced keyboards with different keycap designs. One of these designs, which eventually became known as the OEM profile, emerged as a standard for many mass-produced keyboards.

As mechanical keyboards became more popular, there was a need to standardize keycap shapes and sizes to ensure compatibility and interchangeability. The OEM profile was developed to create a consistent keycap design that could be used across different keyboard models and brands.

The OEM profile features a slightly curved top surface on its keycaps, and the keycaps are generally taller compared to the Cherry profile. The curved top contributes to a comfortable typing experience, and the taller height is aimed at improving the aesthetics and overall feel of the keyboard.

The OEM keycap profile gained widespread adoption due to its compatibility with a wide range of mechanical keyboards. Many major keyboard manufacturers used the OEM profile in their products, contributing to its popularity and recognition.

The OEM profile's popularity is partly attributed to its use in a variety of consumer keyboards, from office keyboards to gaming peripherals. Its design is often aimed at providing a comfortable and approachable typing experience for a broad audience.

OEM keycaps were traditionally made from ABS plastic, which is less durable than PBT but can have a glossy finish. Over time, custom keycap manufacturers started producing PBT keycap sets in the OEM profile, offering enthusiasts the option for higher-quality materials.

While the basic shape and design of the OEM profile have remained relatively consistent, there have been slight variations and adaptations by different keyboard manufacturers. Some OEM keycap sets may have slightly different curvature or height, but the general characteristics remain similar.

Pros and Cons of Using OEM profile keycaps

Using OEM profile keycaps comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. These keycaps have a standard design that's been widely adopted in mass-produced keyboards, making them a familiar choice for many users. 

Pros

  1. Familiar typing experience: OEM keycaps are commonly used in many off-the-shelf keyboards, so they provide a familiar and recognizable typing experience for most users.
  2. Comfortable design: The OEM profile features a slight curve on the keycap tops, which can contribute to a comfortable and ergonomic typing experience.
  3. Taller keycaps: OEM keycaps are generally taller compared to some other profiles, giving keyboards a more traditional look and feel.
  4. Widespread compatibility: OEM keycaps are designed to be compatible with a wide range of mechanical keyboards, making them a versatile option for replacement or customization.
  5. Diverse availability: Due to their widespread use, OEM keycap sets are available in a variety of color options and designs, catering to a broad spectrum of aesthetic preferences.
  6. Affordability: Since OEM keycaps are widely produced for mass-market keyboards, they are often more affordable compared to some specialized keycap profiles.

Cons

  1. Limited customization: OEM keycaps, especially those included with pre-built keyboards, might not offer the same level of customization and uniqueness as other profiles designed specifically for enthusiasts.
  2. Standard appearance: The design of OEM keycaps is generally more conservative and mainstream. If you're looking for a more distinct or unconventional aesthetic, you might find the OEM profile less appealing.
  3. Durability: OEM keycaps are often made from ABS plastic, which can wear down and develop a shiny, smooth texture over time. This might affect their durability and long-term appearance.
  4. Less tactile feel: The tactile feel of OEM keycaps can vary, and some users might find them less pronounced compared to other profiles that offer more tactile feedback.
  5. Less compatibility with non-standard layouts: While OEM keycaps are compatible with many standard keyboard layouts, they might not work well with non-standard layouts or smaller form factors that require different keycap sizes.
  6. Less unique sound: The sound produced by typing on OEM keycaps can be relatively standard and might not offer the same level of auditory customization as some other profiles.

Exploring popular OEM profile keycap sets

The OEM keycap profile itself is a standardized design that's widely used in many mass-produced keyboards. However, when it comes to aftermarket keycap sets that follow the OEM profile, there are several manufacturers and collections that offer popular and high-quality options. 

1. HyperX Pudding Keycaps: HyperX is a gaming brand that offers Pudding Keycaps in the OEM profile. These keycaps have a dual-layer design with translucent sides that allow RGB backlighting to shine through, creating a unique and vibrant lighting effect.

2. Razer PBT Keycap Upgrade Sets: Razer, a popular gaming brand, offers PBT keycap sets in the OEM profile. These sets are made from more durable PBT plastic and are designed to enhance the look and feel of Razer keyboards.

3. Ducky Keycap Sets: Ducky is a reputable keyboard manufacturer that produces a variety of keycap sets in the OEM profile. These sets often come in PBT plastic and feature unique colorways and designs.

4. Tai-Hao OEM Keycap Sets: Tai-Hao is a well-known manufacturer of aftermarket keycap sets. They offer a wide range of colorful and themed keycap sets in the OEM profile, catering to different aesthetics and preferences.

5. Drop (formerly Massdrop) Keycap Collaborations: Drop collaborates with various keycap designers and manufacturers to produce high-quality keycap sets in different profiles, including OEM. These sets often feature unique themes and designs that are appealing to enthusiasts.

6. Keycap Group Buys and Artisans: While not always mass-produced, there are also various keycap group buys and artisan makers that create unique OEM profile keycap sets. These sets might be limited in quantity and offer distinctive designs and colorways.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Cherry and OEM Profile Keycaps

Choosing between different Cherry and OEM profile keycap sets involves considering a variety of factors to ensure you select a set that aligns with your preferences and needs. Here are some important factors to consider when making your decision:

  1. Design and Aesthetics:
    • Look at the visual design, colorway, and legends of the keycap set. Does it match your preferred aesthetic and keyboard theme?
    • Consider whether the keycap set offers a unique or eye-catching design that appeals to you.
  2. Keycap Material:
    • Check whether the keycap set is made from ABS or PBT plastic. PBT is generally more durable and resistant to shine over time.
    • Consider your preference for keycap texture: PBT keycaps tend to have a slightly rougher texture compared to the smoother ABS.
  3. Legends and Typography:
    • Evaluate the legibility and clarity of the legends (printed characters) on the keycaps. Make sure they are easy to read and accurately aligned.
    • Consider whether the keycap set offers different font styles or additional language support if needed.
  4. Keycap Profile Compatibility:
    • Confirm that the keycap set is indeed in the Cherry or OEM profile if that's the specific profile you're seeking.
    • Ensure compatibility with the layout of your keyboard, especially if you have non-standard or custom layouts.
  5. Compatibility with Switches:
    • Check if the keycap set is compatible with the type of switches you're using.
    • Make sure the keycap stem and mount align with your switches for proper fit.
  6. Customization Options:
    • Consider whether the keycap set offers options for additional kits, such as alternate key sizes, spacebars, and novelty keys.
    • Evaluate the customization potential for adding your own personal touch to the set.
  7. Availability and Price:
    • Check if the keycap set is readily available for purchase or if it's a limited run or group buy.
    • Consider the price range of the keycap set and whether it fits within your budget.
  8. Brand and Manufacturer Reputation:
    • Research the brand or manufacturer producing the keycap set. Established and reputable manufacturers often produce higher-quality sets.
    • Look for reviews and feedback from other users who have purchased keycaps from the same brand.
  9. Community Feedback:
    • Participate in online keyboard communities, forums, and social media groups to gather feedback and opinions from other enthusiasts.
    • Ask for recommendations and insights from those who have experience with the specific keycap set you're considering.

Exploring other Keycap Profiles 

Beyond Cherry and OEM, there's a whole world of other styles that might be the perfect fit for your typing or gaming needs.

In addition to the Cherry and OEM keycap profiles, there are several other popular keycap profiles that offer unique aesthetics, tactile experiences, and customization options. 

  1. SA Profile (Spherical All): The SA profile is characterized by its tall, spherical keycaps with a sculpted design. It offers a vintage and distinctive aesthetic, and its high profile provides a pronounced tactile feel. SA keycaps are often used in retro-themed or custom keyboards.
  2. DSA Profile (Deep Space): DSA keycaps have a uniform cylindrical shape, meaning all the keycaps have the same height. This profile offers a clean and modern aesthetic. DSA keycaps are popular for their consistent feel across the entire keyboard.
  3. XDA Profile: Similar to DSA, XDA keycaps are uniform in height. However, they have a larger surface area on top for a slightly different typing experience. XDA offers a sleek and minimalistic appearance.
  4. KAT Profile (Keyreative All Touch): The KAT profile features a slightly taller profile than DSA and a concave surface on the keycap tops. KAT offers a comfortable typing experience and supports a variety of layouts.
  5. MT3 Profile (Matt3o Profile): MT3 keycaps have a unique sculpted design that aims to provide a comfortable and ergonomic typing experience. MT3 sets are often produced in unique colorways and draw attention with their distinctive look.
  6. Choc Profile: The Choc profile is designed for low-profile switches like Kailh Choc switches. It offers a shorter and flatter keycap design, resulting in a different typing experience suitable for compact and portable keyboards.
  7. Oblivion Profile: The Oblivion keycap profile is designed to evoke a futuristic and sci-fi aesthetic. It features a combination of angles and curves for a visually striking appearance.
  8. JTK Profile: JTK is a manufacturer known for producing high-quality keycap sets in various profiles, including Cherry and OEM-inspired profiles. Their sets often feature unique colorways and designs.
  9. Custom Artisan Keycaps: While not a profile per se, artisan keycaps are unique, handcrafted keycaps that are often used to replace specific keys for visual enhancement. They come in various shapes, sizes, and themes.

Each of these keycap profiles offers a different typing feel, aesthetic, and overall experience.

Conclusion

Cherry profile keycaps, with their ergonomic design and tactile feedback, have etched themselves into the annals of keyboard history. Their curved tops and medium height create a typing experience that combines comfort with accuracy. Their compatibility with Cherry MX switches and a balanced aesthetic has made them a staple for enthusiasts seeking a versatile and classic keyboard setup. 

OEM profile keycaps offer a familiar, universally accessible design. As the cornerstone of many mass-produced keyboards, they provide a comfortable and approachable typing experience with their curved tops and taller height. Their compatibility and widespread availability make them an attractive choice for those seeking a straightforward option. 

The choice between Cherry and OEM profiles depends on individual preferences and priorities. A careful evaluation of factors such as comfort, typing feel, sound, aesthetics, customization, and compatibility will guide the selection process. 

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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