The keycap is the face of the keyboard. It connects to your switch, is the only contact point you have with your keyboards. There are a lot of things to know about your keycaps. This guide will broaden your knowledge and help you make the right choice when you change your keycaps.
Why should you change your mechanical keyboard keycaps?
Old and worn out keycaps.
This is the most obvious reason for changing keycaps. There is a high chance the keycaps on your mechanical keyboards are made with ABS. This commonly found material doesn’t last as long and fades relatively fast. We will discuss other keycaps materials in this post.
Typing feels and profile.
Keycaps have different profiles, and they can subtly affect the typing feels. Some keyboard enthusiasts notice a big difference when they change keycaps. Keycaps can be textured and stiff, while others can be described as wet and slippery.
The profile of your keyboard can affect the way you type. It can reduce some stress while working. You may find different keycap profiles to be well suited for typing or gaming.
To be honest, most keycaps on keyboards look simple and boring. This is not a bad thing, as long as the keyboard is functioning well. If you want to give your keyboard a facelift, then you will need to change the keycaps.
Manufacturers like Varmilo create beautiful works of art. These themed keyboards have alluring designs and patterns. You can also get keycaps with a minimalist design if you do not like flamboyant keyboards.
You can also customize your keyboard for gaming, and get a set of keypads for the WSAD keys or any other key you use while playing those AAA titles. Your keyboard will never look and feel the same again.
Mechanical keyboard Keycap legends.
Legends are the alphanumeric characters and symbols on the keycaps, which let you identify a key and its function. They are printed or etched with different methods. These processes are used based on the type of keycap material and the price set for consumers.
Printing is a cheap method for making legends. A pad with the desired character is dipped in ink and is pressed on the keycap. Sometimes, a protective coat is added to the keycap. Keycaps with printed legends tend fast quite fast.
You should know that this temporary layer of protection only increases longevity. The coating will also change the feel. It is a versatile method. Different fonts in any color can be easily printed on keycaps.
Laser etching or marking involves using a laser to engrave or mark the keycaps. There are different techniques used in laser etching. They include foaming, engraving, and charring.
These methods differ in the type of finish they produce. For instance, foaming leaves solid bubbles on the surface of the keycaps.
Engraving uses a laser to create grooves on the keycaps. The grooves can be filled with color.
The charring method heats a part of the keycap to leave the desired mark.
Dye-sublimation requires high temperatures to add characters and symbols on keycaps. PBT is the preferred keycap material because of its high melting point.
A special paper is printed with the desired legend. It is then heated to a high temperature with the keycap. The dye turns into vapor, and the pores in the plastic expand.
This process is complex and labor-intensive. A darker legend must be used on the lighter base keycap to achieve the desired effect. Keycaps with this process can be expensive.
The dye-sublimation process can be used to make beautiful designs and patterns on keycaps. Dye-subbed keycaps have a high resistance to fade, and they last long. Although rare, dye-sublimation Is also used on ABS keycaps.
Double-shot injection moulding.
The double shot method involves using two plastics with different colours to make the keycap. The outer layer of the keycap is first made with a mould, then the other coloured plastic is added. There are no restrictions on the colour combinations with this process.
Double shot keycaps are very durable. The keycap has uniform wear with the legend, and the colors stay the same. This process is labor-intensive and expensive. This technique is mostly applied to ABS keycaps. You can also find double shot PBT keycaps.
Triple-shot injection moulding.
As you may have guessed, this method is similar to the double shot method. They are durable, and the colors do not fade at all. Three colored plastics are used in the triple shot process. Because of the intensive labor process, keycaps made with this process are costly, and they are not common.
Mechanical keyboard Keycap profile.
Keycaps are made into different shapes. The keycap profile is the shape made by keycaps. Some keycaps are round, concave, or flat. Other things that contribute to the keycap profile include the height of the slope and the curvature radius on the keycaps’ surface.
Keycap profiles can be categorized using three different criteria: Uniform or sculpted; high, low, or flat; and spherical or cylindrical.
The shapes of the keycaps on different rows are modified to give a profile for the keyboard. These profiles, when seen from the side, have different shapes. For instance, MIX 1.0 has a slightly undulating shape when seen from the side. Other keycap profiles include OEM, Cherry, SA, DSA, to name a few.
The OEM profile is the standard keycap profile that comes with most mechanical keyboards. If you want to experiment with other profiles, you have a ton of options to choose from.
Mechanical keyboard keycap materials.
Mechanical keyboard keycaps are made with different materials, these materials have their perks. The three most common materials used in keycaps are ABS, POM, and PBT.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is the commonest keycap material you will find. They are cheap and easy to mass-produce. The economies of scale help to reduce the price significantly. You will find ABS keycaps on many computers and laptops.
ABS keycaps are smooth and softer than PBT keycaps. They produce less noise too.
ABS keycaps are not as durable as other keycaps. They deteriorate faster than other keycap materials on this list. They develop a shine after a while, and the keycaps change colour, especially white keycaps.
Polybutylene Terephthalate is a sturdy and durable plastic used in keycaps. Keycaps made with PBT are stronger and more durable than those made with ABS.
PBT keycaps are made with a more complex molding process. They have a higher melting point than ABS keycaps.
These keycaps do not change color or give a key shine after extended use. PBT keycaps also have a better feel when typing. As expected, PBT keycaps have a higher price than ABS keycaps. You will find them on high-quality keyboards.
Legends are printed on PBT keycaps using dye-sublimation, laser etching, and double-shot injection.
POM is an acronym for Polyoxymethylene. It is a high-quality plastic used in keycaps. They are not as common as PBT or ABS. The feel of POM keycaps can be described as smooth and wet, just like ABS keycaps.
Unlike ABS, it is a very durable material. The melting point of POM is higher than ABS but not as high as that of PBT. POM keycaps are the most expensive of the three keycaps.
Legends are printed on POM keycaps using laser-etching.
Other materials are used to make keycaps. These materials and the methods used to produce them offer some features that PBT and ABS don’t. Other materials include rubber, metal, resin, and wood.
Some manufacturers make keycaps by 3D printing them. Polyurethane is used to make these 3D printed keycaps. These keycaps come with a variety of designs. As long as they fit the switch, they can be made into almost any shape.
Hand-molded keycaps, just like 3D printed keycaps, can be made into anything imaginable. These keycaps take a lot of time to make, and they are costly.
What is the best keycap material?
Ultimately the choice of the keycap material depends on your preferences. If you want smooth and quiet keycaps that won’t cost you much, go for ABS keycaps.
On the other hand, PBT keycaps are hardy, more durable, and have a more solid feel. Sometimes, manufacturers cut corners when they produce keycaps. You should buy keycaps from a trusted manufacturer.
What is the best type of keycaps?
The price of the keycap set you want to buy will vary based on many things. They’re mainly the material, the printing method, and the manufacturer. You should buy from a trusted manufacturer who produces high-quality keycaps. Irrespective of your budget size, you will find good keycaps.
Before you buy some keycaps, you need to know if it is compatible with the mechanical switches in your keyboard.
You also have to take account of the size and layout of your keyboard. Imagine buying a space keycap that is shorter or longer than the original one. You may have issues with swapping some keycaps from an ISO layout keyboard to an ANSI layout keyboard.
The shift and the enter keys on both keyboards are different, which can help you determine if your keyboard has an ANSI or ISO layout. The enter key on an ISO keyboard has an L shape, and there is an extra key on the row where the shift keys are located.
Some keyboards also have customized keys. Some function buttons may be larger or smaller than other keyboards with the same layer.
Regardless of the shape or form of the keycap, if it doesn’t fit the stem of the switch, you can’t use the keycap. Mechanical keyboards have different switch stems. There are cross, circular, rectangular, and other oddly shaped items. On the upside, a lot of mechanical keyboards have Cherry MX stems.
Having a keypad with washed-out keys doesn’t look eye-pleasing at all. You need to consider the printing method used on the keycap you want to buy. We are sure you have familiarized yourself with the printing methods discussed earlier.
Apart from longevity and durability, the printing methods used on keycaps will affect their price. Depending on the material, printed keycaps are the least expensive, followed by laser marked keyboards. Dye-sublimated and double-shot keycaps are pricier than the rest, but they are worth their gold weight.
You want durable, high-quality keycaps, and we recommend dye-subbed keycaps. If you can afford the more expensive double shot or triple shot keycaps, then you should go for them.
Keycaps can subtly change the typing feels. The sound the keyboards make will be affected by the keycap material. You will notices this the most on your fingertips.
Having a rough surface of a keyboard will prevent your fingers from slipping. If you want highly customized keycaps, you should expect it to affect the overall keyboard feel.
The sound/noise from the keyboard mainly depends on the switch type, but keycaps can affect the sound. ABS keycaps make more noise while typing than PBT keycaps. You may prefer this if you need more robust audio feedback. PBT generally gives a low thumpy sound. This is good if you want to reduce the noise your keyboard makes.
The quality of a keycap depends on many factors. These include the material, the thickness of the keycap, and the printing method. As you would expect, a thicker keycap will last longer than a paper-thin keycap. Also, the keycap must not be too thick so as not to affect the feels. Different keycap materials last than others, it is advisable to buy a durable one.
If you have a backlit keyboard, you need to get the keycaps that are well-suited for it. Apart from the added visibility at night, backlit or RGB lighting looks cool on keyboards. Most aftermarket keycaps are opaque, which means they do not let light pass through them. Puddy keycaps and double shot keycaps are suitable for backlit keyboards.
Keycap manufacturers create stunning customized keycaps. These keycaps add a little more style and elegance to your keyboard. In the name of customizations, you may get keycaps that take up space on the keyboard. These keys may allow no room for the remaining keycaps.
How to Replace Your Mechanical Keyboard’s Keycaps?
Keycap tools and accessories.
- Keycap puller:
The keycap pullers come in different sizes and shapes, but they serve the same function, to remove keycaps. They are relatively easy to use. There are two types; wire-pullers and ring pullers. Wire pullers are more flexible, but anyone will work fine.
- Key lock-outs:
The actuation point is the distance the switch travels before a key is registered. You do not have to fully depress a key to actuate it.
Key lock-outs are small plastics that are used to prevent you from bottoming the keys. To install them, simply remove the keycaps with a keycap puller and slide them under it. The final step is to put back the keycap.
O-rings are torus-shaped rubber or silicon objects that dampen the sound of your keyboard. If your switches are too clicky, o-rings will help with the noise. They are placed beneath the keycaps. O-rings can reduce the travel distance of your switches.
How to remove keycaps from your mechanical keyboard?
You need to know how to remove the keycaps if you want to replace them or give them a well-deserved wash. An appropriate keycap puller will do quick work of this.
It is common to find a keycap puller included when you buy a mechanical keyboard. You can get one online or in a local store if you do not have one.
Before you remove all the keys on your keyboard, you need to know their positions and the layout. Installing the keycaps back can be challenging without prior knowledge of their arrangement.
We recommend taking a picture of your keyboard before you install new keycaps.
Use one hand to hold down the keyboard while you work with the other hand(preferably your dominant hand), place the puller on the keycap and keycap. Once the puller has gripped the keycap, pull out the keycap.
You should exercise more caution while removing bigger keys like space and enter keys. They usually have extra support to keep them firm.
Do not apply excessive force while pulling; doing so can damage your switch.
DIY Keycap puller.
You need to be extra careful when working with or making your tools.
If you lack a keycap puller, there are tools you can use. It is not advisable to use your hands to remove the keycaps. Doing so can hurt your fingers and damage the keycap.
You can fashion one out of a paper clip. Use a pair of pliers to straighten it out and bend it to form a ‘J’ shape. Place it under the keycap and pull till you hear a pop sound.
You can also use a butter knife or a flat screw head to remove keycaps. Apply the butter knife or screw head at the edge of the key and gently pull up. When you hear a click, pull it up with your hand or an appropriate tool. Go ahead to remove as many keys as you need.
How to Replace Your Mechanical Keyboard’s Keycaps?
Reapplying the keycaps is not as arduous as some think. If you have a new set, as long as the keycaps are compatible and they are the same length, you shouldn’t have a problem.
We recommend you start with the larger keys first. This will give you more room to fix them quickly. You need to carefully align all the keys properly when you install them.
Take into consideration the support stems for the larger keys. Put the keycap over it and push down slowly. Do the same for the rest of the keycaps.
If you experience serious resistance, it may indicate that the keys are wrongly aligned or not compatible.
Varmilo mechanical keyboard keycaps.
If you are thinking of getting a new set of keycaps, then we highly recommend Varmilo keycaps.
Varmilo is a peripherals brand owned by Shenzhen Zhihaihe Technology Co., Ltd.
Varmilo has a plethora of keycaps that will fit well with your keyboard. They have keycaps for different layouts and different switches.
Varmilo makes their keycaps with high-quality PBT material, which makes them super durable. They also produce themed mechanical keyboards. The beautiful Varmilo keycaps will add more style to your workspace.
The colorful designs are printed using the dye-sublimation process; the colors will last long and not fade.
These keycaps are thick and will last longer than traditional keycaps you will get in the market.
Varmilo also makes mechanical Keyboards and superior-quality EC switches. The products are also super affordable. Having a Varmilo product Is a worthwhile investment.