Keycap Shapes: How They Fit Into Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboards

May 10, 2024

First impressions last, and that includes ergonomic mechanical keyboards. When you type on a keyboard, keycaps are the first components that will touch your fingers. This will set the tone for your typing experience.

That's why it's important to understand the concept of keycap profiles. By understanding the shape and form of keycaps, you can choose the right keycaps that help in boosting the ergonomics of your keyboard.

What are the Different Types of Keycap Profiles?

When buying keycap sets to customize your mechanical keyboard, the salesman may ask you what's your preferred keycap profile. Keycap profiles refer to the overall shape and contour of individual keycaps on a keyboard. Different keycap profiles have distinct heights, angles, and shapes, which can affect the typing experience, ergonomics, and aesthetics of a keyboard. 

  1. OEM Profile: One of the most common keycap profiles, OEM keycaps have a slightly spherical shape and a medium height. OEM keycaps offer a comfortable typing experience for most users and are widely used in many standard mechanical keyboards.
  2. Cherry Profile: Named after the Cherry Corporation, Cherry keycaps have a lower overall height. They have a more cylindrical shape with a slight curve towards the top. Many enthusiasts prefer Cherry profile for its lower profile.
  3. DSA Profile: DSA (or "Deep South Automotive") profile keycaps have a uniform height across all keys, which makes typing feel consistent. These keycaps are shorter compared to OEM and Cherry profiles. The flat, cylindrical shape of DSA keycaps minimizes finger movement.
  4. SA Profile: SA (or "Spherical All") profile keycaps are tall, sculpted, and have a retro aesthetic. Typing on them is comfortable, making them a favorite of touch typists. SA profile keycaps often have a pronounced curve, which some users find ergonomic.
  5. XDA Profile: XDA profile keycaps are similar to DSA keycaps in terms of uniform height. They have a slightly larger surface area and a more rounded top. 
  6. KAT Profile: KAT profile keycaps are relatively new to the market. They are similar to SA profile keycaps. However, KAT keycaps have a more modern design with smoother lines and less pronounced sculpting.

How Do Keycap Shapes Influence Typing Comfort?

an image of a mechanical keyboard

There's a reason why there are different keycap profiles; they offer different levels of ergonomics. Their profiles impact finger movement, hand posture, and overall ergonomics. 

  1. Height: The height of keycaps affects how far your fingers need to travel to reach each key. Lower-profile keycaps, such as Cherry or DSA profiles, can reduce finger fatigue by requiring less vertical movement. Higher-profile keycaps like the SA profile may provide better finger support but could increase the strain on your fingers over extended typing sessions.
  2. Shape: The curvature and shape of keycaps can influence how your fingers rest on them. Keycaps with a more sculpted design such as the SA profile provide better finger placement and support, reducing the likelihood of typing errors and fatigue. Flatter keycaps, like DSA or XDA profiles, promote a more neutral hand position and can be beneficial for ergonomic typing.
  3. Surface Area: Keycaps with larger surface areas, such as SA or KAT profiles, provide more contact area for your fingers to rest upon. This can distribute pressure more evenly across your fingertips and reduce localized discomfort. However, excessively large keycaps may require more effort to press and can strain your fingers over time.
  4. Texture: Some keycaps feature textured surfaces or sculpted patterns to improve grip and tactile feedback. These textures can enhance typing comfort by providing better finger control and preventing slips, especially during fast typing sessions.
  5. Uniformity: Keycaps with uniform profiles, like DSA or XDA, offer consistent typing experiences across all keys. This uniformity can promote better finger coordination and reduce strain caused by adjusting to different key heights or shapes.

Choosing the Right Keycap Set

Knowing there are more keycaps out there, you might want to replace the stock keycaps on your ergonomic mechanical keyboard to make it even more finger-friendly. Here are some tips to help you make the best choice:

  1. Consider the keycap profile: Study different keycap profiles to find the one that best suits your typing style and ergonomic needs. Lower-profile keycaps like Cherry profile keycaps or DSAs may reduce finger fatigue while sculpted profiles like SA may offer better finger placement and support.
  2. Consider the material: Keycaps come in various materials, including ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic, PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) plastic, and POM. PBT keycaps are generally more durable than ABS keycaps.  PBT keycaps tend to have a more textured surface, which can enhance grip and tactile feedback during typing.
  3. Texture and surface finish: Textured or matte keycaps can provide better finger control and prevent slips. Smooth or glossy keycaps feel slippery and are ideal for fast typists.
  4. Customization options: Explore keycap sets with customization options such as different colors, legends, and novelty keycaps. Customizing your keycaps can add a personal touch to your keyboard setup and make it more visually appealing. However, always prioritize comfort and usability over aesthetics.
  5. Consider ergonomic features: Ensure that the keycap set is compatible with your keyboard's layout and design. Some keycap sets are specifically designed for ergonomic keyboards and offer keycaps tailored to their unique configurations.

Conclusion

Keycaps are the very first objects that your fingers will touch when you type on a mechanical keyboard. At this initial contact, it's important that you already feel comfortable. This is where the ideal keycap profile comes in.

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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