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.
There are a few things to consider when thinking about how to choose the right keycaps for your keyboard:
- When deciding on a new keycap set, you’ll want the colors and design to match the rest of your keyboard / setup.
- You'll will also want to make a decision on the keycap material as well as it’s printing method.
- Next if your keyboard has backlighting consider see-through keycaps to maximize the backlighting effect.
- Last but certainly not least, ensure your keycaps will fit your keyboard
It all comes down to personal preference when deciding on keycaps and when customizing your keyboard in general. In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about customizing the keycaps of your keyboard.
1. Choose a Design and Color to Match the Rest of your Keyboard / Setup
Keycap sets come in many diffrent color schemes and variations. Everything from simple white / black and multi-colored themes all the way to custom designer themes that have a limited run.
You can even create your own color scheme by mixing and matching keys from diffrent sets. You have the opportunity to be as creative as you want without any pressure (you can always change it later).
Really into action figures and you want to match your keyboard to your collection? You can do that! This level of customization is what draws so many people into this hobby, it's really up to you to decide how far you want to take it.
Need some inspiration? Browse our keycaps to get the creative juices going.
2. Choose a Keycap Material and Printing Method
The manufacturing process to make keycaps can take many diffrent forms. It's important to understand the materials and process behind your keycaps since it will impact durability / feel and finish.
When it comes to keycaps there are usually two types of materials to choose from. Your choices are either ABS plastic or PBT plastic.
Basically, ABS plastic is a cheaper material. Most keyboard manufacturers prefer using this type of cap in order to reduce costs. ABS plastics wear out more quickly (legends fade) and also develop a shine over time. Here is an example of worn ABS keycaps.
On the contrary, PBT plastics are often a much higher quality material. Overall, keyboards last much longer with PBT keycaps. They are also less likely to fade or become shiny.
The printing method refers to the method used to give keycaps their color and in addition how the legends (letters/ symbols) are imprinted on the keycaps. The method used will determine the long term durability of the set.
Pad printing uses a rubber pad to transfer ink from a printing plate to the keycap. This method has the advantage of being cheap and flexible (the process can be adapted easily to print any character in any color required) but the ink is prone to wear.
Double Shot Injection Molding
Double-shot moulding is a two-step process. In the first step, the legend or graphics to be placed on the keycap, are moulded in plastic. The plastic insert, resulting from the first step, is then placed into another mould, and plastic is inserted under heat to combine both moulds to a single piece keycap.
This process is more expensive and labor intensive, but the end result is a durable keycap that legends that will never fade or ware.
Dye sublimation is a process where heat is used to penetrate plastic material with a dye. This is different to printing in that printing forms a layer of paint on top of the plastic, whereas dye sublimation causes the dye to sink into the plastic.
Because the dye permanently stains the plastic, it cannot be worn off unlike laser printing.
Laser marking is the use of a laser beam to mark the legends onto the keycaps. Laser marking works well with straight lines, but has difficulty achieving clean coverage of solid fill areas such as arrowheads.
In general the best option is going to be either double shot PBT keycaps or dye sublimated keycaps. Both processes will guarantee keycaps that will never fade over time.
3. Consider Shine-through Keycaps
RGB or not to RGB? That’s the big question. This simple decision will decide which caps you should be looking for. Obviously, if you have backlighting then you want a keycap that will allow the light to shine through. These include pudding caps and double-shot caps.
RGB lighting looks pretty cool. However, some of the best keycaps available are single-shot keycaps. A lot of mechanical keyboard hobbyists prefer to not have a backlit keyboard. Because of this, a lot of custom keycaps are made with this in mind.
If you absolutely love RGB lighting then there are plenty of awesome double shot and pudding keycaps however, your options may be a bit more limited.
Let’s take a closer look at double shot keycaps and pudding keycaps.
4. Make Sure your Keyboard is Compatible with the Keycap Set
Before purchasing anything you will want to check to make sure your keyboard will be compatible. Most keyboards will be compatible with most keycaps, however there are times when that’s not true.
The form factor is usually a non-issue. It decides how many keys your keyset needs to have to fit every switch. However, if you are using a 75% mechanical keyboard, which enjoys no universal standard of keycap sizing and/or placement, the chance of finding a fitting set is mostly limited to expensive custom runs or sets from the keyboard’s manufacturer. Here are the most common form factors in use today:
Full Size / Full-Size
The most recognizable mechanical keyboard form factor is the full size. Chances are, when you are asked to picture a keyboard, this is the form factor you will think of. The full size form factor has around 104 keys in total, depending on the layout.
TKL / Tenkeyless / 80%
Tenkeyless is the first step down the form factor ladder, tossing the ol’ numpad for some space on your desk. The TKL form factor has 88 or so keys in total, depending on the layout.
The 60% form factor removes anything right of the Enter key, as well as the function row. These functions are usually accessible by holding FN and pressing other keys. The 60% form factor has about 61 keys, depending on the layout.
Form factor isn’t the only thing that affects the keyboard’s physical features. Depending on the country you live in, you might have different experiences about the key shapes or functionality.The layout is the physical shape and size of the keys within a particular form factor.
You will want to be sure to choose a keycap set that fully covers the layout of your keyboard.
ANSI, ISO and JIS
These layouts are going to cover 99% of layouts you will see on any mechanical keyboard. We have highlighted the differences in relation to each other to make them easier to spot. If you have only lived in one area of the world for your entire life, it’s probable that you have only ever seen one of these around. Usually, it’s ANSI for America, ISO for Europe, and JIS for Japan.
Now you have a pretty good understanding of what to look for before purchasing your new set of custom keycaps for your keyboard. Each person is different and has different preferences so it’s nice to be able to customize the keycaps to look and feel exactly how you want them to.
Our wide collection of keycaps are a great way to start creating the exact look and feel you want. They feature unique color combinations, shine through legends and are made from high quality double shot PBT plastic. For a limited time, you can save 20% when you join our newsletter.