Keycap Profiles: They make a difference

There are many things that comprise the feel and sound of a keyboard’s typing experience – your switches, plate, housing and even your keycaps all play a role. For someone just getting into aftermarket keycaps, it can be absolutely daunting. So many places to buy them, and special sets are often only available for a super limited time, in only one location, and enough jargon to make your head spin. We hope to clarify some things here today so you may have an easier time selecting and buying keysets.

What makes a keycap profile?

The profile of the caps is the most important factor when determining a set for use. This is sometimes referred to as “sculpt“, as well. The way the caps are shaped can make a big impact on your usability and overall opinion on how much you like or dislike typing on that specific keyboard.
By /u/jacobolus

What keycaps are common?

If you’ve bought a mechanical keyboard from a popular manufacturer such as Cooler Master, Ducky, Corsair, etc, then you’re probably quite familiar with OEM profile keycaps, which are arguably the most common these days. It’s a medium-height, medium-curved profile that tries to appeal to people by being the “jack of all trades” keycap profile.

What’s popular in the enthusiast community?

While OEM is what most people these days start on, it’s fairly common for more experienced users to have a particular favorite that isn’t OEM, such as the very popular Cherry or SA profiles. Both of these profiles may be relatively old, but they still hold up well today. Cherry is a somewhat shorter profile than OEM and has a very subtle sculpt to it. This, combined with the high quality that Cherry keycaps tend to always have and massive variety, makes them a favorite among the community. Two popular manufacturers of these keycaps are GMK and EnjoyPBT. GMK produces doubleshot ABS keycaps, and Enjoypbt produces single shot PBT keycaps, with dye-subbed legends. We’ll go more into this in a later guide.

SP’s SA profile is another favorite, and a bit more exotic. They are much taller than either Cherry or OEM profiles, and depending on the particular set, can feature a fairly aggressive sculpt or a completely neutral sculpt that is flat. SP (Signature Plastics) also makes several other profiles, such as DSA and DCS, though they tend to be a little less common these days.

Some important distinctions:

Another important thing to note are the row profiles. Within each keycap profile, you’ll notice that each row of caps is often note the same sculpt as the rest. If we take a look at a standard fullsized keyboard with OEM-profile keycaps, you’ll see 6 rows of keys. The top row (F-key row) profile is called row 1. The second row (Number row) is also row 1 in sculpt. The next row down has a profile of row 2, then we go down to row 3,  followed by row 4. The bottom row is also row 4, here.

On most profiles like OEM and, for the most part, Cherry, there is no deviation. However, if we take a look at SP’s DSA profile, you’ll notice it’s completely flat, so the row profile doesn’t even matter. The only popular profile that tends to get confusing is SA, where there can be quite a bit of deviation. You might see an SA set with a row profile of 1-1-2-3-4-4, or 2-2-3-3-3-3, or even a uniform row 3 design, all depending on which set it is and which sculpt the user that put the order in for it decided on.

Just like switches, there is no right or wrong, it’s whatever you prefer the most. It’s a little unfortunate, but the only true way to know what you like it to try it!

Quakemz’ guide to lubing switches!

Disclaimer: When it comes to lubing, there are multiple schools of thought and differing opinions. What I’ll be displaying here today is by no means the end-all be-all method for everyone ever. After quite a bit of experimenting, this is the method that works best for me. Your mileage may vary! Furthermore,  lube isn’t a cure. It makes good switches great, it does not make bad switches great. 

Equipment you will need for this process:

  • Your desired lube
  • Your desired switches (This guide will be for MX-style switches)
  • A small, clean fine-tipped brush (Here I am using size 5/0, but normally I prefer 10/0, which is a noticeably smaller size)
  • A clean and open work space (don’t forget to wash your hands first, too!)
  • Tweezers that are sized appropriately for handling springs and stems
  • Something to open the switches with (depending on your tweezers, they might work.)
  • Time to spare (this isn’t something to rush. Set aside more time than you think you’ll need for this.)
  • (Optional, but helpful) Something to hold the switches steady during the lubing process

Let’s start with our items and work area. As you can see, I have everything I need, easily within reach, as well as a clean and open work space. It’s important your area and items are all clean, so you don’t accidentally get dust, dirt, pet hair, skin oils, etc. into the finished switches, which can cause issues. If you’re using a blend of lubes like I am here, you’ll want to give that container a vigorous shaking before we start, as the lubes can often separate after a while. I like to prop up the vial in something that holds it, like this open switch tester here, but anything that accomplishes this will be fine.

Once those conditions are met, we can start to lube our switches! The general thought is that thinner lubes/blends work better for linears, and thicker lubes/blends work better for tactile switches. While I do share this opinion, it doesn’t mean you have to. Thinner lubes will net you a slicker, more “glide-y” experience, which most people tend to prefer on linears, though it’s not as good at covering up imperfections in the switch, so there is a trade-off. Thicker lubes won’t make for as slick of a finished product, but it will cover up more imperfections in the switch. This is better for tactile switches, because you get the most friction during the tactility, where the slider legs meet with the metal leaf, so thicker lubes help hide that, while using less in those areas.

I prefer to work from starting from the base of the switch, so we’ll start with the base of the housing. As for the amount of lube to use, I use a very thin layer–like, seriously thin. About as thin as you can get it. Like salting food, it’s always easier to add a little more, than it is to subtract. With this in mind, I wipe off a lot of the excess lube on my brush back into the vial before applying to any part of the switch.

It will be even more obvious when you open your own switches, but there are two rails inside the bottom housing, which the slider moves up and down on–one to the left and one to the right. These are my first targets. Lube the entire length of both rails. Next, we head to the metal leaf itself. On each side of the leaf (left and right in the picture above), where our slider legs rubs against for actuation, those are the next targets. I lube the entire vertical length of each side, because the slider legs will touch a lot of it.

Moving in my preferred direction, the spring is next. If I’m being totally honest, I almost never lube the spring at all, as I don’t feel it provides enough of a benefit to me for the effort it takes. For the sake of this guide, I will touch on it, though. Using our tweezers gently, hold the spring with one hand and lube the entirety of it with the other, inside and out, as well as both ends. It’s worth noting that most experienced lubers prefer something much less thick for this, such as straight Krytox 103, 105, or even knife oil. If you have a bottle, some people go as far as to dip the entire spring in and let the excess drip off. Place the spring back into the bottom housing.

Now on to the slider. Like with the springs, you’ll definitely want the tweezers here. Grabbing it by the stem, you’re going to lube this side entirely, as well as the opposite side. Don’t forget those two legs that protrude outwards. Those touch that metal leaf that we lubed earlier, which is often where most of the “scratchiness” comes from in switches, due to the increased area of friction.

Once done, it should look something like this, or hopefully a little less, since I used a bigger brush than I normally do.

Carefully, using the tweezers, place the slider back into the housing, on top of the spring. The metal leaf in the bottom, legs of the slider, and logo on the top housing should all be aligned with each other, otherwise you risk damaging the metal leaf when you press them together for reassembly.

Now we have a super smooth linear switch! As far as tactile switches go, the process is the same for me, but I often use a little more lube than with the linears, and use less lube on the legs and metal leaf. Those two areas affect tactility the most, so the more lube applied to those spots, the less “bump” you will have once completed.

A couple additional tips:

  • New/unused switches get smoother after a few weeks of daily use, so I suggest using them a bit before lubing, if you can, since it will result in a better finished product. This is sometimes referred to as a “break-in period”.
  • Even if a lubed switch doesn’t feel quite as good as you wanted it to, consider using it for a while, anyways. After some use, the lube spreads out more evenly, making it a bit smoother. If it’s 95% to where you want it, that extra use will get you the final 5%.
  • Be consistent! Use the same amount of lube for each switch and in the same spots. The more consistent you are, the more consistent the final product will be.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment! There really is no right or wrong here. I strongly encourage you to try different lubes, different lube locations, and different amounts of lube.

Thank you very much for checking out this guide. Happy lubing!