mechanical keyboard with custom colored keycaps

How to Pick Custom Keycaps for Your Mechanical Keyboard

Building a PC is one of the most exciting things you can do in the tech world. You can customize your monitor, the aesthetics and performance of the PC itself, and make your desktop look awesome. This includes not just plants, lamps, and your favorite Pokémon figurines, but your desk mat, mouse, and keyboard as well.

You may be ready to switch things up after owning your mechanical keyboard for a while, perhaps to keycaps with different aesthetics, materials, or profiles. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing custom keycaps for your mechanical keyboard.

Common Keycap Styles

There are a few keycap styles to know when you’re first diving into getting custom keycaps for your board.

Pudding Keycaps

hyper x pudding keycaps RGB on black board
Image Credit: HyperX

If you love having RGB in your setup, these are worth considering. Along with the letter on the top of the keycap, pudding keycaps have translucent sides that allow light to seep through, giving you a much brighter and more vibrant keyboard than other keycap styles.

Artisan Keycaps

artisan keycaps from various Etsy artists pokemon flowers BMO
Image Credit: Etsy

These are keycaps placed on your board mainly for aesthetics. Plenty of these are custom-molded and hand-painted and can be found on Etsy by various artists. They’re usually placed on keys that aren’t used very often, such as the ESC key. This way it will sit on the top corner of your keyboard, standing out amongst the rest of the board.


How to Pick Custom Keycaps

The world of building custom keyboards is incredibly exciting but also daunting as there’s so much to know in terms of choosing keycap profile, style, and material. Here is your guide to easily understanding these terms and choosing the best custom keycaps for your needs.

Keycap Material: ABS vs. PBT

purple white pink yellow and green custom keycaps on desk mechanical keyboard

The custom keycap material is important for a few different reasons, some of which will be more important to you than others. First, we’ll be discussing the differences between ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) keycaps. The material can affect the sound of the keyboard clicks, the durability, as well as the color and design of the keys.

ABS keycaps are more common, as they’re usually the more affordable option. They have a shinier finish and are made of thinner plastic. These keycaps tend to show oils from your fingers, and the material can wear down over time. Depending on your switches, ABS keycaps can even have a different sound than PBT keycaps due to the thinner plastic. ABS keycaps can make typing slightly quieter compared to the thicker plastic of PBT. However, this is subjective, and hearing the difference in person is your best bet to understand how big of a deal this is for you. ABS keycaps also tend to have more vibrant, colorful offerings than their PBT counterparts.

PBT keycaps are less common and more expensive but are of higher quality than ABS. This material tends to be made of thicker plastic, is more durable, slightly textured, and has a matte finish; these keycaps should last longer than your cheaper ABS keycaps and prevent oils from showing.

This durable material does come with its downsides, however. The colors available tend to be less vibrant than what is available for ABS keycaps, but that may not be a problem at all for you. This material is great for those who want a clean, minimal setup with all black, white, or gray keys. Some enthusiasts also prefer the chalky, slightly dulled look of colored PBT keycaps. PBT keycaps are also said to have issues with warping, such as the spacebar, but can be easily fixed by applying heat.

One material is not superior to another; it’s more of a personal preference. However, it is something to look out for when shopping for custom keycap sets, so it’s an important thing to note.

How to Find Keycaps That Fit Your Board

cherry mx stems showing switches on keyboard

How do you know if a custom keycap set you like will be compatible with your board? Here’s a simple way to check.

Most keycaps will be compatible with Cherry MX stems, which is common in the world of mechanical keyboards. While shopping for custom keycaps, you may even see the phrase “Cherry MX Stem Compatible” to help you out.

To check if your current keycaps are compatible, use a keycap puller to pry out one of your keycaps and flip it over. If it’s a Cherry MX stem, you will see a plus sign, “+”, on the bottom of your keycap and the switch itself. By doing this, you should be confident in purchasing any custom keycaps compatible with Cherry MX stems.

Keycap Profile: OEM vs. Cherry vs. DSA vs. SA

keycap profiles shown from side with colored keycaps OEM

The keycap profile is essentially the shape of the key. Just like material, this is based on personal preference. People who are writers or simply enjoy typing a lot may prefer the feel of one profile over another, and the same goes with PC gamers.

An OEM profile is simply what came with the mechanical keyboard you bought, whether Logitech, Corsair, Razer, etc. Most prebuilt mechanical keyboards come with an OEM profile. These keycaps are slightly sculpted and curve upwards, creating a comfortable divot for your finger to lay in when typing or playing a game. The keys are often not uniform, as some rows have taller keys than others.

Cherry profile keycaps have a very similar shape and typing feel to OEM, but are slightly shorter. If you are already comfortable with your OEM keys and find a custom keycap set design you love but have Cherry profile keys, it should be safe to go with these over another OEM set.

DSA profile keycaps are some of the shortest available in custom keycap sets. They are short, flat keys and tend to have a lower pitch than taller keycaps. You may like this profile if you’re coming from an ordinary laptop or non-mechanical keyboard with flatter keys. These are good if you want to have a low-profile keyboard as well. Some people are used to flat, non-rounded or sculpted keys, and these would be fine for them. For those used to typing and gaming on OEM profile keycaps, these would take some getting used to.

On the other hand, SA profiles are some of the tallest keycaps available. They almost look like if you stuck LEGO bricks to your mechanical keyboard, though this isn’t a bad thing as they aesthetically fit some setups very well. Enthusiasts tend to love SA profiles for their sound but come with the drawback of being difficult to type on, but this is different for everyone.

Choose a Design You Like That Will Fit Your Setup

minimal custom keyboard design with desk mat, plants, mouse, and monitor, iphone

Now for the fun part: it’s time to choose a keycap design you love that fits with the rest of your setup. This is where the world of building custom keyboards gets extremely exciting.

There are endless possibilities when designing your keyboard. Some love a minimal setup at their gaming desk with no RGB and choose the typing feel over everything else, while others will spend a lot of time focusing on color. You can choose a gradient, two to three tone-colored keys, or go for something minimal with blank keycaps.

Those who want a Kirby-themed desk setup should go for pink and white keycaps with an artisan keycap placed on the top left corner of the board. You can build around this idea with a matching desk mat, figurines, wall decals, and more to accentuate your setup.

Have Fun in the World of Custom Keyboards

Although there are an overwhelming amount of terms and technical issues to know of in the world of custom keyboards, it’s all worth it in the end when your keyboard ends up looking exactly how you pictured it in your head.

This is also now an additional piece of knowledge you have in your arsenal to help you later down the road when building a gaming rig for yourself, friends, and family.

Mechanical keyboard with several keys removed

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