A Guide to Keycap Profiles and Materials

Customizing your mechanical keyboard starts with keycaps. These removable caps come in different shapes, materials, and aesthetics to optimize your typing experience. Choosing the right set allows you to tailor the look, feel, and performance to your needs.

In this guide, we’ll explore keycap profiles like Cherry, OEM, SA and how their height and sculpting affect ergonomics and customization. We’ll also compare materials like smooth ABS to textured PBT in terms of durability, sound, and texture.

What are Keycap Profiles?

Keycap profiles refer to the overall shape and height of keycaps on a mechanical keyboard. The profile affects the look, feel, and ergonomics when typing.

There are two main categories of keycap profiles – uniform and sculpted. Uniform profiles like DSA and XDA have identical keycaps across the keyboard. This allows keycaps to be rearranged between rows for custom layouts. Sculpted profiles like Cherry and OEM have unique shapes for each row to match natural finger motion. For example, bottom rows are shorter to reduce strain on pinky fingers.

While sculpted profiles limit customization, most find the ergonomic benefits worthwhile. Profiles also differ in terms of keycap walls and top shape, further contributing to aesthetics and feel. When purchasing keycaps or keyboards, consider whether you prefer the customization of uniform rows or the ergonomics of sculpted profiles.

Common Keycap Profiles

There are several common keycap profiles, each with their own characteristics. The profile you choose impacts the look, feel and performance of your keyboard.


The OEM profile features keycaps of medium height with angled tops. This standard design makes OEM a versatile option suitable for most users. The rows have a mild sculpting effect for comfortable typing. OEM keycaps are commonly found on many mass-produced mechanical keyboards.


Cherry profile keycaps are slightly shorter than OEM, with a similar angled top shape. Their proportions are praised for an ergonomic feel that minimizes finger strain. The subtle sculpting between rows enhances aesthetics while remaining easy to type on. Cherry profile is named after the popular Cherry G80 keyboard line which popularized the design.


SA keycaps stand out with their tall height and spherically sculpted tops. The aggressive sculpting and vintage appearance make SA popular for retro-styled custom builds. However, the tall profiles may not suit all typists.


Both DSA and XDA share uniform, lower profiles ideal for custom and non-standard layouts. DSA features spherical tops while XDA has a more rounded shape at medium height. Their portability between rows allows flexibility in layouts like Dvorak or Colemak.

Other profiles like KAT, MT3, and “Chiclet” offer unique designs. KAT has an angled concave shape across sculpted rows. MT3 provides a tall, angular profile with sharp corners. “Chiclet” keycaps get their name from their low, flat laptop-style shape. Testing different profiles can help find your ideal fit based on factors like ergonomics, customization needs, and aesthetic preferences.

Keycap Materials: ABS vs PBT Keycaps

When selecting keycaps, the material greatly impacts durability, feel, and sound. The two most common options are ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) plastics.

ABS keycaps tend to feel smoother to the touch but are less durable over time. Their softer, quieter acoustics come from the plastic makeup. However, ABS is infamous for developing “shine” – keys lose their texture as oils accumulate. This doesn’t affect performance but bothers those wanting pristine keycaps.

In contrast, PBT keycaps have a slightly grittier, textured feel for better grip. Their composition gives PBT a deeper, more resonant sound signature. While ABS shines literally, PBT withstands wear – retaining texture and lettering even after heavy long-term use. This durability makes PBT a clear choice for those prioritizing longevity.

The tradeoffs reflect personal preference. Do you want the smooth, quiet feel of ABS or the textured, resonant acoustics of PBT? Consider aesthetics too. ABS shines over time, while PBT retains its appearance. Ultimately, both offer great performance so choose based on desired texture, sound, and durability needs. Testing both is recommended to determine your ideal typing experience.

DurabilityLess durable, prone to wearing down over timeVery durable, maintains texture and lettering
FeelSmooth, slippery textureTextured, grainy feel provides more grip
SoundSofter, quieter acousticsSlightly deeper, more resonant sound
ShineNotorious for developing shine from finger oilsResistant to shine, keeps original appearance
CostTypically more affordableUsually costs more than ABS keycaps

Choosing the Right Keycap Set

When selecting a new set of keycaps, it’s important to consider your intended use – gaming, typing, or both. The keycap profile impacts comfort and efficiency for your needs. You’ll also want to choose a set that provides the aesthetic you’re looking for. Here are some tips on choosing the right keycaps:


For gaming, profiles like Cherry are recommended for their efficient, ergonomic sculpting that reduces fatigue and improves response time. The lower profile allows fingers to move swiftly and accurately.


For frequent typing, sculpted profiles again provide comfort – the shape matches natural finger motion to reduce strain during extended sessions. The varied row heights create a cascade effect, helping place fingers properly. This enhances speed and accuracy.

Aesthetics and Customization

Beyond use, keycaps play a big role in aesthetics. Their color, material, and textures dramatically affect the visual appeal of a keyboard. Choosing a set that matches your style makes your keyboard a stylish desk accent. Custom and artisan keycaps take personalization further – your keyboard can be a unique expression of your personality.

So first select based on your needs – a sculpted profile optimized for gaming or typing. Then choose a keycap set that makes your keyboard look as good as it performs. With so many options, you can find the perfect set to match both your fingers and your eyes.

Final Thoughts

Customizing your keyboard with new keycaps opens up exciting possibilities to craft your ideal typing experience. By understanding keycap profiles and materials, you can select caps that specifically match your priorities and preferences.

Consider your hand size, typing style, and keyboard uses to determine the ideal shape and sculpting. Tactile enthusiasts may prefer textured PBT while those seeking a silent, smooth feel may opt for ABS. Visually, the options are endless – select colors and designs that reflect your personal flair.

Swapping keycaps is an easy, non-permanent mod letting you upgrade both aesthetics and ergonomics. It breathes new life into an existing keyboard or unlocks the full potential of a new purchase. It also provides a fun way to regularly change up the look and feel of your desk.

The keycap possibilities are vast. Start exploring profiles and materials to discover your perfect match. Don’t be afraid to experiment until your keyboard looks, feels, and functions precisely how you like it. Your ideal keycaps are out there waiting – type on!

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