Are All Keycaps the Same Size? A Comprehensive Guide

Welcome to the world of mechanical keyboards, where customization is king, and the size of your keycaps can make or break your typing experience.

This blog post is dedicated to keyboard enthusiasts and general users alike, delving into the intriguing question: Are all keycaps the same size?

SectionDetails
IntroductionExploration of the importance of keycap sizes in the world of mechanical keyboards, addressing the question: Are all keycaps the same size?
Understanding Keycap Sizes and CompatibilityDiscussion on the significance of keycap sizes for different keyboard layouts, measured in units (e.g., 1u for standard keys).
Standard vs Non-Standard Keycap LayoutsStandard Layouts: Common in full-size, TKL, and 60% keyboards with predictable key sizes. Non-Standard Layouts: Found in custom and gaming keyboards with unique key sizes, requiring specific keycap sets.
Different Keycap Profiles and Their SizesOEM Profile: Common with a gentle slope. Cherry Profile: Similar to OEM but shorter. XDA Profile: Flat and wide. SA Profile: Tall and sculpted. KAT and DSA Profiles: Unique sculpting and height.
Unique Keyboard Sizes and Keycap FittingChallenges in keycap fitting for 65%, 75%, and 96% keyboards, and ergonomic keyboards like Alice-style layouts due to non-standard key sizes and placements.
Special Key Designs and Their SizeFocus on keyboards with split spacebars and backspaces, which require specially sized keycaps and limit the availability of standard keycap sets.
Material and Manufacturing: Do They Affect Size?Impact of keycap materials (PBT and ABS) and manufacturing processes (double-shot molding, dye-sublimation) on keycap size, texture, and sound profile.
Customization and Artisan KeycapsThe role of artisan keycaps in keyboard customization, offering unique designs and handmade craftsmanship, and considerations for their use.
FAQs and Common Misconceptions About Keycap SizesAddressing common questions and clarifying misconceptions about keycap interchangeability, compatibility, and fit for different switches.
ConclusionEmphasizing the importance of understanding keycap sizes and compatibility for an enhanced keyboard experience.

Understanding Keycap Sizes and Compatibility

Keycaps are more than just plastic pieces on your keyboard; they are the primary interface between you and your typing or gaming experience. Keycap sizes are crucial for compatibility with different keyboard layouts. They are typically measured in units, with 1u being the size of a standard key like ‘H’ or ‘J’.

Standard vs Non-Standard Keycap Layouts

Standard layouts are the backbone of the keyboard world, providing a consistent and familiar typing experience. These layouts are widely adopted in various keyboard types, including:

  • Full-Size Keyboards: The most common layout, featuring a full set of alphanumeric keys, function row, navigation cluster, and a numeric keypad. The key sizes and spacing are standardized, making it easy to find replacement keycaps.
  • TKL (TenKeyLess) Keyboards: These omit the numeric keypad found in full-size keyboards, offering a more compact design while retaining the function and navigation keys. TKL keyboards are popular among users who prefer a smaller footprint without sacrificing functionality.
  • 60% Keyboards: These layouts take compactness further by removing not just the numeric keypad but also the function row and navigation cluster. What remains are the essential alphanumeric keys, often with secondary functions assigned to them for missing keys. This layout is favored for its portability and space-saving qualities.

In standard layouts, key sizes are predictable, with most alphanumeric keys being 1u in size, the spacebar typically around 6.25u, and modifier keys (like Ctrl, Alt, Win) usually 1.25u. This uniformity makes it easier to purchase aftermarket keycap sets, as most sets are designed to fit these common dimensions.

Non-Standard Layouts

Non-standard layouts, often found in custom and gaming keyboards, present a unique set of challenges and opportunities:

  • Custom Mechanical Keyboards: These keyboards are designed for personalization and often feature unique layouts that deviate from the standard. They might have different key sizes, unconventional placement, or additional keys for specific functions.
  • Gaming Keyboards from Brands like Razer, Corsair, and Logitech: These keyboards often modify standard layouts to enhance gaming performance. This might include larger spacebars, additional macro keys, or differently sized modifier keys. While these changes can improve gaming efficiency, they also require specially designed keycaps.
  • Impact on Keycap Compatibility: The biggest challenge with non-standard layouts is finding keycaps that fit. Since the key sizes and spacing can vary significantly from the standard, users often have to search for specific keycap sets made for their keyboard model or layout. This can limit options in terms of style, material, and price.
  • Customization and Aesthetics: While non-standard layouts can limit keycap choices, they also offer a level of uniqueness and personalization. Brands often design these keyboards with a specific aesthetic or functional goal in mind, catering to niche markets within the keyboard community.

Different Keycap Profiles and Their Sizes

Keycap profiles play a crucial role in defining the look and feel of a mechanical keyboard. Each profile offers a distinct typing experience and aesthetic appeal. Let’s delve deeper into some of the popular keycap profiles:

OEM Profile

  • Description: The OEM profile is the most common keycap profile found on pre-built keyboards. It features a gentle slope that is comfortable for typing, making it a versatile choice for both gaming and general use.
  • Characteristics: The keys in the OEM profile are of varying heights, with the rows curving slightly to fit the natural typing angle of fingers. This ergonomic design helps in reducing finger strain during prolonged typing sessions.

Cherry Profile

  • Description: The Cherry profile is similar to the OEM but with a slightly shorter overall height. This profile is named after the famous Cherry MX switches, often found in mechanical keyboards.
  • Characteristics: Cherry profile keycaps have a more pronounced curve across the rows, which some typists find more comfortable. The shorter height can lead to a different, often preferred, typing feel and sound, especially among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts.

XDA Profile

  • Description: The XDA profile is known for its flat and wide design. It stands out for its uniform height across all rows.
  • Characteristics: This profile is ideal for those who prefer a consistent feel across all keys. The larger surface area of each keycap can be more forgiving for typists and is often appreciated for its minimalist aesthetic.

SA Profile

  • Description: The SA profile is notable for its tall and sculpted design, reminiscent of vintage keyboards from the early computing era.
  • Characteristics: These keycaps are significantly higher than other profiles, providing a unique typing experience. The sculpted design of each row conforms to the natural shape of fingertips, offering both a nostalgic look and a distinct typing sound.

KAT and DSA Profiles

  • KAT Profile: A newer profile that combines elements of SA and DSA. It features a sculpted design with a lower height than SA, making it more accessible for a wider range of users. The KAT profile is known for its smooth top and comfortable typing experience.
  • DSA Profile: The DSA profile is characterized by its uniform height and spherical top. Unlike profiles like OEM or Cherry, DSA keycaps are the same height across all rows, providing a flat typing surface. This profile is often preferred for its simplistic design and ease of custom keycap creation.
Unique-Keyboard-Sizes-and-Keycap-Fitting

Unique Keyboard Sizes and Keycap Fitting

The world of mechanical keyboards is not limited to standard sizes. As the community grows, so does the variety of keyboard sizes and layouts, each bringing its own set of challenges and requirements for keycap fitting.

Let’s explore some of these unique keyboard sizes and their implications for keycap compatibility.

65% Keyboards

  • Characteristics: 65% keyboards strike a balance between compactness and functionality. They typically include arrow keys and a few additional navigation keys, which are absent in 60% layouts.
  • Keycap Fitting: The challenge with 65% keyboards often lies in the right shift key, which is usually smaller than the standard size. Additionally, the presence of extra keys next to the arrow cluster can require specific keycap sizes that aren’t typically included in standard sets.

75% Keyboards

  • Characteristics: 75% keyboards are a step up from 65% in terms of functionality, adding more keys like function row keys while maintaining a compact footprint.
  • Keycap Fitting: Similar to 65% keyboards, the right shift key is often smaller. The unique arrangement and spacing of the function row and additional keys also demand specific keycap sizes and profiles for a proper fit.

96% Keyboards

  • Characteristics: 96% keyboards are designed to provide the functionality of a full-size keyboard in a more compact layout. They achieve this by closely spacing the keys and often eliminating gaps between key clusters.
  • Keycap Fitting: The key challenge in 96% keyboards is the non-standard placement and size of keys, especially in the navigation and numpad clusters. Finding keycaps that fit this layout requires careful consideration and often a specialized keycap set.

Ergonomic Keyboards (Alice-style Layout)

  • Characteristics: Ergonomic keyboards like Alice-style layouts offer comfort and less strain while typing.They often feature a split design with keys angled to match the natural positioning of the hands.
  • Keycap Fitting: The unique shape and split layout of ergonomic keyboards mean standard keycap sets are often not compatible. These keyboards may require custom keycap sets designed specifically for their layout, with varying sizes and angles to accommodate the ergonomic design.

Considerations for Unique Keyboard Sizes

  • Custom Keycap Sets: For non-standard layouts, look for custom keycap sets that include the necessary sizes and profiles. Group buys and specialty keyboard retailers are good sources for these sets.
  • Compatibility Check: Always check the compatibility of keycap sets with your keyboard, paying close attention to key sizes like the right shift, spacebar, and any unique keys specific to your layout.
  • Ergonomic Design Requirements: For ergonomic keyboards, consider the need for different keycap profiles on each side of the split to maintain comfort and usability.
Special-Key-Designs-and-Their-Size

Special Key Designs and Their Size

The realm of custom mechanical keyboards is not just about unique sizes but also about innovative key designs that enhance typing efficiency and ergonomics.

Among these are keyboards with split spacebars and backspaces, each presenting its own set of challenges and requirements in terms of keycap fitting.

Split Spacebars

  • Overview: Split spacebar designs divide the traditional long spacebar into two or more keys. This design allows for more thumb-accessible keys, often used for functions like backspace, enter, or modifier keys.
  • Keycap Size: The individual keys in a split spacebar setup are smaller than the standard 6.25u or 7u spacebars found in most keyboards. Common sizes for split spacebar keycaps are 2.25u, 2.75u, 1.25u, and even 1u.

Availability:

  • Split spacebar keycaps are rare in standard keycap sets. Users often need to look for specialized sets or purchase individual keycaps to accommodate this design.

Split Backspaces

  • Overview: A split backspace design replaces the standard 2u backspace key with two 1u keys. This modification brings the backspace key closer to the home row, reducing finger travel for more efficient typing.
  • Keycap Size: This layout replaces the usual backspace with two customizable 1u keys.
  • Availability: Finding 1u keycaps for split backspace designs is challenging, as standard sets usually have a 2u backspace. Custom keycap sets or individual purchases are often necessary.

Considerations for Special Key Designs

  • Customization Options: While these special key designs offer ergonomic benefits and can enhance typing speed, they also require a more customized approach to keycap selection.
  • Mix and Match Approach: In some cases, keyboard enthusiasts might need to mix and match keycaps from different sets or purchase individual keycaps to achieve the desired layout and functionality.
  • Compatibility and Profile Consistency: When selecting keycaps for these special designs, it’s important to ensure not only size compatibility but also profile consistency across the keyboard to maintain a uniform typing experience.
Material-and-Manufacturing-Do-They-Affect-Size

Material and Manufacturing: Do They Affect Size?

The choice of material and manufacturing techniques in keycap production not only affects the durability and aesthetics of keycaps but can also have subtle impacts on their size and feel. Let’s delve deeper into how these factors play a role.

Keycap Materials

  • PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate): PBT keycaps are durable and wear-resistant.They are typically thicker than ABS keycaps, which can slightly affect the keycap height and the overall feel of the keyboard. The thickness of PBT keycaps often leads to a more solid and “thocky” sound when typing.
  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): ABS keycaps are more common and tend to be smoother and less thick compared to PBT. They offer a glossy finish and smooth typing but are prone to shine over time from finger oils.

Manufacturing Processes

  • Double-Shot Molding: This process molds two plastic layers to form a keycap. The bottom layer forms the keycap itself, while the top layer consists of the legend (the letter or symbol on the keycap). Double-shot keycaps are durable and their legends do not wear off easily. This process can result in keycaps with slightly raised legends, which might affect the overall height and texture of the keycap surface.
  • Dye-sublimation: prints and heat-seals legends on keycaps, offering detailed designs but altering the texture at the legend area.

Impact on Keycap Size and Feel

  • Thickness and Height: The material and manufacturing process can influence the thickness and height of keycaps. PBT keycaps are generally thicker, which can lead to a slightly taller profile. The double-shot process might add minimal height to the keycap due to the layered construction.
  • Surface Texture: The surface texture of keycaps can vary significantly depending on the material and manufacturing method. PBT keycaps often have a grainy texture, while ABS keycaps are smoother.
  • The double-shot process results in slightly raised legends, noticeable during typing.
  • Sound Profile: The material and thickness of keycaps contribute to the sound profile of a keyboard. Thicker PBT keycaps tend to produce a deeper sound, while thinner ABS keycaps might result in a higher-pitched clack.

Subtle size differences from materials and manufacturing can significantly affect the typing experience.

When choosing keycaps, it’s important to consider how these factors align with your preferences for feel, sound, and aesthetics.

Choosing between PBT’s durability and texture or ABS’s smoothness and shine is crucial for your ideal keyboard setup.

Customization-and-Artisan-Keycaps

Customization and Artisan Keycaps

In mechanical keyboards, customization is key, with artisan keycaps leading this personal expression trend.

These keycaps aren’t just functional; they’re miniature works of art reflecting the user’s personality and style.

The Allure of Artisan Keycaps

Unique Designs: Artisan keycaps feature a wide range of designs, from simple patterns to intricate sculptures of various themes. The creativity and diversity in design make each keycap a unique piece of art.

Handmade Craftsmanship: Artisan keycaps are handcrafted with unique sculpting, casting, and painting, making each one distinct.

Material Variety: Artisans use a wide range of materials to create these keycaps, including resin, wood, metal, and even precious stones. This variety allows for a multitude of textures and visual effects, making each keycap a distinct piece.

Artisan Keycaps in Keyboard Customization

Personal Touch: Adding an artisan keycap to a keyboard instantly personalizes it. A single keycap on the escape key or a few on the board can make a significant statement.

Collectible Nature: For many in the mechanical keyboard community, collecting artisan keycaps is a hobby in itself. The rarity and uniqueness of certain designs make them highly sought after, turning them into collectible items.

Community and Collaboration: The artisan keycap scene is a vibrant community where artists and enthusiasts come together. Collaborations between keycap artists and keyboard builders often result in stunningly themed keyboards.

Considerations for Using Artisan Keycaps

Typing Experience: Artisan keycaps are visually appealing but not always ergonomic, often used on less-used keys due to their unique shapes and sizes.

Compatibility: It’s important to ensure that the artisan keycap is compatible with the keyboard’s switch type. Artisan keycaps typically fit Cherry MX stems, common in mechanical keyboards.

Aesthetic Balance: Integrating artisan keycaps into a keyboard setup requires a thoughtful approach to maintain aesthetic balance. Too many artisan keycaps or overly complex designs can overwhelm the look of the keyboard.

Artisan keycaps are a testament to the creativity and passion of the mechanical keyboard community. They enable keyboard customization, transforming a regular input device into a personal statement piece.

Artisan keycaps bring artistic uniqueness to keyboard customization, whether for aesthetics, personal expression, or collecting.

FAQs and Common Misconceptions About Keycap Sizes

Are all keycaps interchangeable? Not always. Compatibility depends on the keyboard layout and switch type.

Can I use any keycap set on my mechanical keyboard? It depends on the keyboard’s layout and the keycap set’s design.

Conclusion

Understanding keycap sizes and compatibility is essential for anyone delving into the world of mechanical keyboards.

Choosing the right keycaps is key for a better, more personalized keyboard experience, benefiting gaming, typing, and customization

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