A Handy Guide to Custom Mechanical Keyboard Keycap Selection

March 25, 2024

The keycaps on your keyboard provide the visual aesthetics of your mechanical keyboard. But they're more than that. As the first components your fingers make contact with when using your keyboard, they can impact your comfort, precision, and experience as you type on your keyboard. 

In this article, you'll gain insight into the subtle differences in keycap profiles and materials that will allow you to make the right decision when customizing your keyboard. We will also provide you with tips on how to maintain your new keycaps.

Are you ready to learn how the perfect keycaps can wholly change your keyboarding experience and tap into the true capabilities of your mechanical keyboard? 

Finding the Right Keycap Profile for Your Mechanical Keyboard

comparative image of XDA and DSA mechanical keyboard keycaps

Choosing the right keycap profile for your mechanical keyboard goes beyond aesthetics. It's also about comfort and precision at every key press.

A keycap profile is about the shape and height of the keycaps on a keyboard. Different keycap profiles provide a different feel and impact the ergonomics of typing. There are several common keycap profiles: 

  1. DSA (Uniform)
    • Uniform in height and shape
    • All keycaps have the same profile, which makes them interchangeable
    • Often used in custom and compact keyboards
  2. SA (Spherical All)
    • Spherical shape with a high profile
    • Offers a retro look and used for aesthetic purposes
    • Commonly seen in vintage keyboards
  3. Cherry/OEM
    • Standard keycap profile introduced by Cherry
    • Slightly contoured with a cylindrical shape
    • Common on many pre-built mechanical keyboards
  4. DSA (Dolch)
    • Similar to Cherry profile but with a flat top
    • Uniform in height like DSA, but with a different shape
    • Clean and modern appearance
  5. DCS
    • Similar to Cherry profile but used by Signature Plastics
    • Slightly contoured with a cylindrical shape
    • Used in some custom keycap sets
  6. XDA
    • Uniform keycap profile with a flat top
    • Similar to DSA but with a larger surface area on the top
    • Provides a smooth and consistent feel
  7. MT3
    • Spherical and high-profile keycap set
    • Offers a sculpted shape for a unique typing experience
    • Gaining popularity in the mechanical keyboard community
  8. SA (Sculpted)
    • Similar to SA, but with a more sculpted profile
    • Varied heights for different rows, providing ergonomic benefits
  9. KAT
    • Uniform profile with a flat, low-profile design
    • Similar to DSA but with a different aesthetic
  10. Choc
    • Low-profile keycap designed for slim mechanical switches
    • Commonly used in low-profile or compact keyboards

Different Keycap Materials

The kind of keycap material you choose defines the overall feel, sound, and performance of your keycaps and your keyboard. Let's list down some common keycap materials:

  1. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): A common thermoplastic polymer used in keycap production
    • Characteristics:
      • Lightweight
      • Smooth surface
      • Prone to wear and shine over time
      • Often used in stock keycap sets
  2. PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate): Another thermoplastic polymer used for keycaps
    • Characteristics:
      • Durable and resistant to wear
      • Generally thicker and more textured than ABS
      • Resistant to yellowing
      • Preferred by many enthusiasts for its durability
  3. POM (Polyoxymethylene): A high-performance engineering plastic used in keycap manufacturing
    • Characteristics:
      • Smooth and durable
      • Resistant to abrasion
      • Provides a unique feel
      • Less common than ABS and PBT
  4. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): A thermoplastic polymer used in various applications, including keycaps
    • Characteristics:
      • Can have a softer feel compared to ABS and PBT
      • Less common in premium keycap sets
  5. Double Shot ABS/PBT: A keycap with legends and base made of different materials
    • Characteristics:
      • Legends are injected into the keycap, ensuring long-lasting legends
      • Combines the durability of PBT or ABS with the clarity of legends on ABS
  6. Metal: Keycaps made from metal materials like aluminum or zinc alloy
    • Characteristics:
      • Heavier and more rigid than plastic keycaps
      • Provides a premium and substantial feel
      • Less common due to higher cost
  7. Wood: Keycaps crafted from various types of wood
    • Characteristics:
      • Unique and natural appearance
      • Lightweight
      • Less common and often found in custom or artisan keycap sets
  8. FDM/Resin/Artisan: Handcrafted keycaps made from resin by artisans. Some are also 3D-printed using FDM or resin.
    • Characteristics:
      • Highly customized and unique designs
      • Often used as decorative or accent keycaps
      • Limited production, making them sought after by collectors

How To Choose The Best Keycap Set for Your Mechanical Keyboard

an image of different keycap types

Finally, it's time to pick the perfect keycap set to complement your mechanical keyboard. Let's give you a simple yet effective guide: 

  1. Material: Consider the feel and look you prefer, as well as the durability of the material.
    • Keycaps are made from different materials such as ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate), POM (Polyoxymethylene), and PBT+POM blends.
    • PBT is known for its durability, resistance to shine, and a more textured feel. ABS keycaps may develop a shiny appearance over time.
  2. Profile: Choose a keycap profile that suits your typing style and comfort preferences.
    • Popular profiles include SA, DSA, Cherry, and others.
    • Some people prefer the ergonomic benefits of sculpted profiles, while others like the uniformity of flat profiles.
  3. Color and Aesthetics: Choose a set that complements your keyboard or matches your style.
    • Keycap sets come in various color schemes and designs. 
    • Some keycap sets feature custom legends, novelties, or artisan keycaps for added customization.
  4. Compatibility: Make sure the keycap set you're eyeing for is compatible with your keyboard layout.
    • Different layouts (e.g., ANSI, ISO, HHKB) have different key arrangements.
    • Check for additional keys like non-standard bottom row sizes, split spacebars, or special keys used in custom layouts.
  5. Print Method: How are the legends on your keycaps printed?
    • Keycap legends (the characters on the keycaps) can be printed using different methods such as dye-sublimation, double-shot molding, or laser etching.
    • Double-shot molding is known for durability as the legends are molded into the keycap rather than printed on the surface.

Maintaining Your Keycaps

As you use your mechanical keyboard, your keycaps will accumulate grime, grit, and dirt. Legends may fade. The material's integrity may be compromised.

Thus, to keep your keyboard in top condition, you need to maintain your keycaps.

  1. Regular Cleaning: Dust, oils, and debris can accumulate on keycaps over time. Regularly wipe your keycaps. Use a soft brush or compressed air to remove loose particles.
  2. Keycap Removal: Remove your keycaps periodically for a more thorough cleaning (see below). 
  3. Cleaning Solutions: For general cleaning, a mixture of mild dish soap and water is effective. Scrub the keycaps thoroughly with an old toothbrush. For stubborn stains or discoloration, consider using isopropyl alcohol (at least 70%). Let the keycaps dry thoroughly before reinstalling them to the switches.
  4. Avoiding Heat: Excessive heat can cause keycaps to warp or become discolored. Avoid placing your keyboard in direct sunlight or near heat sources. Do not use hot water for cleaning as it may damage the keycaps.
  5. Protective Measures: Use a keyboard cover when you're not using your keyboard to prevent dust and debris from settling on the keycaps. Wash your hands before using the keyboard to minimize the transfer of oils and dirt.
  6. Avoiding Chemicals: Don't clean keycaps with harsh chemicals such as acids, cleaning sprays, or solvents. They can damage the keycap material and legends.
  7. Using a Keycap Puller: When removing keycaps, use a keycap puller designed for your specific switch type. Avoid using excessive force to prevent damage.
  8. Custom Keycap Care: If you have custom or artisan keycaps, follow any specific care instructions provided by the manufacturer. Be mindful of potential fading on printed legends over time and adjust cleaning methods accordingly.


Keycaps provide aesthetics on your mechanical keyboard. They're also the first components that come into contact with your fingers as you use your keyboard. 

With this guide, you have a good amount of knowledge so you can choose the right keycap set for you. You're primed to transform your mechanical keyboard into a personal expression, a blend of visual appeal and comfort.

Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
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