What are keycaps?

Keycaps are an excellent way to customize your keyboard.

Photo via Colton Deck

A keycap is the plastic covering on top of each key switch that identifies the letter or symbol input into the computer. Casual users are content with stock keycaps, but keyboard enthusiasts often switch keycaps out for custom options. 

Gamers and professionals who use their keyboards often prefer a mechanical keyboard over a membrane keyboard. Mechanical keyboards have individual switches and contacts under each key, while membrane keyboards use a continuous membrane layer that runs beneath each key to register keystrokes. 

Both types of keyboards are appropriate for typing, but many users prefer the feel, style, and sound of mechanical switches. Mechanical boards also offer many different switches to choose from, allowing the users to improve their precision and speed based on their switch preference. 

The distinction between the two types of keyboards is important if you’re looking to customize your keyboard in the future. Mechanical keyboards allow for more customization and keycap swaps. Regular wear and tear damages keycaps over time. The top legends can become dull or worn out, but swapping them is relatively easy on most mechanical keyboards. 

PBT keycaps – Photo via Colton Deck

Most keycaps are compatible with every keyboard, but there are some differences to consider. Mechanical keyboards traditionally use Cherry MX-style switches, but some companies use their own proprietary key switches. Keycaps designed for MX switches may not fit correctly on different switch types, so check which ones your board has before purchasing a new set of keycaps. Your keyboard’s layout will also play a role in determining compatibility. Non-standard 1800 and 65 percent keyboards, like the Drop Shift and Alt, will need specific keycap sets.

Keyboards also differ between regions, and some countries have significantly different keyboard layouts like ANSI and ISO. Double-check the layout of your keyboard when purchasing keycaps to ensure they are compatible.

HyperX Pudding keycaps – Image via HyperX

Keycaps also come in different materials and designs to change the way they feel or look. Some keycaps, like pudding keycaps, allow more light to shine through the keys and are perfect for keyboards with RGB capability. Others have rubberized tops, which can let players identify important keys while gaming. 

Some online retailers have many readily available options that come in a variety of designs and colors. But many artists create custom keycap sets that are only available through group buys and resale.

Screengrab via Omnitype

The price of keycaps can also drastically change based on the quality or design. Exclusive or limited sets can cost hundreds of dollars, while mass-produced keycaps are inexpensive. Check reviews before purchasing a set to ensure the caps will match your preferred typing experience.

Keycaps are an excellent way to customize the look and feel of your gaming setup. Remember to do your research before purchasing a new set, and be careful when removing keycaps to avoid damage.