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.
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!