Guide to Mechanical Keycaps: Everything You Need To Know Before Purchasing

Written By Alla Levin
December 13, 2022
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Guide to Mechanical Keycaps: Everything You Need To Know Before Purchasing

Are you looking to purchase mechanical keycaps for your keyboard and not quite sure where to start? Look no further – this guide to mechanical keycaps has everything you need to know before making your purchase.

From the different types of keycaps available to the other switches, materials, and compatibility, this guide provides all the information you need to ensure you’re getting the best keycaps for your needs. Whether you’re looking to upgrade your existing keycaps or get a brand-new set, this guide will help you make the right choice. 

Types of MaterialsMechanical Keycaps

Keycaps are made of a variety of materials. The type of material you choose will depend on your preferences and how you want your keycaps to feel. Some materials are better than others, but the best material for you will depend on your intentions with these keycaps. Some are better suited for gaming whilst others can be your standard run-of-the-mill office computer keycaps. 

Here are some of the most common materials used for keycaps: 

  • ABS – ABS stands for Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and is one of the most common keycap materials. ABS plastic is used to make everything from Lego blocks to protective helmets, but its main use is for modern keycaps. It’s a lightweight plastic that’s durable, water-resistant, and easy to clean. It’s also very affordable and easy to produce, which makes it a very accessible material. While it’s a relatively strong plastic, it’s not as durable as other materials and can break if you drop your keyboard. 
  • PBT – PBT stands for Polybutylene terephthalate and is a plastic that’s more resistant to wear and tear than ABS, making it a more durable option. While it isn’t as lightweight as ABS, PBT keycaps are more resistant to breaking and last longer than ABS. PBT also happens to be very resistant to scratches and oil which is why they are primarily used in keycaps for gaming
  • POM – POM stands for Polyoxymethylene and is a hard, durable plastic that’s similar to PBT. It’s more expensive than ABS and PBT, but is a very high-end plastic that’s very impact-resistant and scratch resistant.

Types of Stems

Keycaps with different stems can be used on different types of keyboards. The key stem is the switch that your keycap will be mounted on so they must be compatible. Most key stems are relatively standard, but there are some exceptions to look out for. Here are some of the most common keycap stems:

  • Cherry MX – These keycaps fit on most modern mechanical keyboards. They’re extremely common, and come in different stem sizes, so you can get one set of keycaps that’ll fit your other keyboards. These are generally the best keycap stems to get if you’re purchasing new keycaps. 
  • Cherry MX Clone – These keycaps are designed to fit specific clones of Cherry MX switches. They fit clones such as Gateron, Outemu, and Zealios switches. These keycaps will fit if you have an older keyboard with Cherry MX switches.
  • Topre – These keycaps are designed to fit Topre switches. This is a rare key stem, but it’s used in a few rare keyboards. It’s rare because you can only get these keycaps on the market if you purchase a new keyboard with Topre switches.

Keycap Sizes and Profiles

Keycap sizes and profiles come in a wide variety that increases in height and thickness. The thinnest and the smallest keycaps that we see are found on laptops and Mac keyboards, coming in at around 2.3mm in height. The most commonly used mechanical keycaps for gaming and office use are Cherry and OEM profile keycaps. These are 9.4 mm and 11.9 mm respectively, which has proven to be the perfect mix between robust design and smooth key clicks.

Some keycap brands prioritize using certain profiles. So if you’re going to place new keycaps on an expensive keyboard, it’s best to check on the retailer’s website what stems or switches will be compatible.

Features to Look for When PurchasingDifferent Types of Mechanical Keycaps

As you browse for the best mechanical keycaps for your keyboard, there are a few important features to look for. Here are some of the most important ones: 

  • Compatibility – Make sure the keycaps you purchase are compatible with your keyboard. This means checking the keycap type, and the stem type to ensure they’re fit for your keyboard. 
  • Height – Depending on the layout of your keyboard and what you’re most comfortable with, you may want to get the same height keycaps as your keyboard. Or, you may want a different height keycap to create a different layout.
  • Materials – You’ll also need to make sure that the materials of the keycaps you purchase are right for your keyboard. You don’t want to purchase expensive PBT keycaps only to find that they’re incompatible with your keyboard.

Different Types of Mechanical Keycaps

Keycaps for gaming have been on the rise over the last decade. As gaming has become considered Esports, millions of people around the world have been spending countless hours at their keyboards. With this in mind, it only made sense that the keyboard’s ergonomics started becoming a priority. 

However, not all keycaps are made to improve your game. Many people invest in decorative keycaps to complete their setup, particularly if they are streamers whose keyboards will be in the frame. It’s common to find elegant purple keycaps used to match the mousemats and headsets of the user. Not only that, but ASMR lovers put great emphasis on the types of keys used for the clicking sounds and aesthetics.

To summarise, there are various types of mechanical keycaps based on the preference of the user. Many love to invest large amounts of money into keycaps for gaming, whilst others just want their keyboard to look nice. Whatever your keycap desires, you’ll be able to find something.

Conclusion

Keycaps are an important part of every mechanical keyboard and come in various materials and types. When purchasing new keycaps, you’ll want to make sure they’re compatible with your keyboard and fit the layout and type of your keyboard.

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