Most mechanical keyboards come with basic keycaps. Often times made with cheap ABS plastic material. After you’ve had some time to get used to your new keyboard you may realize you want to upgrade those caps to something of higher quality and with a touch of personality. You can achieve this with a custom color and design.
ABS is better for color, PBT is better for longevity. While each type of plastic has fans claiming it’s the best, each has its benefits. ABS plastic is better for showing vibrant colors but is prone to shining with extended use. PBT won’t wear down in the same way but isn’t as colorful and is more susceptible to warping.
Doubleshot legends are usually best, but dye-sublimated ones can be good too. Doubleshot keycaps often have crisper legends, due to the injection molding process, but dye-sublimated keycaps can often look great at reduced cost. Look for close-ups of the legends before purchasing.
Unless you’re only interested in RGB, avoid thin, laser-engraved keycaps. The cheapest keycaps tend to be thin and backlit with laser-etched legends. These can be great for showing off RGB but are often made from low-quality ABS plastic and don’t feel great to type on.
The thicker the keycap, the better. Thick-walled keycaps often feel more solid under the finger and are nicer to type on (up to about 1.5mm).
Keycap profile affects sound and feel. Watch typing tests and consider preferences before buying. Taller, spherical keycaps, like those in SA profile, often have a lower-pitched and slightly louder typing sound than shorter, cylindrical ones. SA keycaps can also feel more fatiguing and have a learning curve.
Cheap keycap sets aren’t necessarily bad but often struggle with quality control. Amazon and other marketplaces are flooded with cheap keycaps. Cheap doesn’t necessarily mean bad, but they’re more likely to have quality control issues, like off-center or fuzzy legends. Read reviews when possible and check the vendor’s return policy.
Which keycaps will fit your keyboard?
- The first and most important thing to consider when shopping for keycaps is which sets will fit your keyboard. The vast majority of keycaps are designed to fit cross stem switches, which includes Cherry MX and its clones. If the top of your switch looks like a “+” then you’re in luck. If you’re using a Topre keyboard or a keyboard with Logitech’s Romer-G switches, the options are much more limited.
- Most keycap sets are designed to support the “standard” layout shown in the picture above. Even though many keyboards look the same at first glance, pay special attention to the bottom row and modifiers.
- Gaming keyboards will often shrink the Windows key and increase the size of Ctrl and Alt to make them easier to access in-game.
(GMMK PRO (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
- Likewise, if your keyboard uses a compact layout, such as the Glorious GMMK Pro (pictured above), keys are often shrunk to achieve the smaller size. This extends beyond the bottom row, so take time to look over the entire board.
- If your keyboard uses non-standard keycap sizes, don’t worry! The most affordable aftermarket keycaps often only support standard sizing, but many kits include extra keys for exactly this situation. Look for sizing charts on the product page to ensure the kit you’re considering is compatible with your keyboard.