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Keycaps and profiles

The big differences at your fingertips.

 

What are profiles?

For this, I'll assume that you've read through the pages of this wiki section in order, and already know what keycaps are.

In the very simplest sense, keycaps are pieces of molded plastic. 
This means that anyone making keycaps can customize their shape at will.

Check this image (photo by jacobolus, source here). You can see the massive differences in how different profiles look from the side.
This impacts the typing feel and aesthetics heavily. To home in on your favorites, it's important to know the basics about them.

Things to know

Let's cover the basics.

Top surface form

The very top surface (the side of the keycap that you touch) can differ massively:

  • Cylindrical: curved side-to-side. The most common and popular type.

  • Spherical: Curved like a bowl. Popularity follows the cylindrical type.

  • Flat: No curvature at all. Not too common.

 

Sculpt

The rows of a keyset can differ when viewed from the side:

  • Sculpted: The rear rows are taller, and the center rows are shorter. Makes it easier to reach for keys as you type.



  • Uniform: Each row has the same height. Makes it possible to mix and match keycaps regardless of the key's row.


Legends Style:

The legends (letters and symbols) printed on each keycap may not be printed at all.

  • Double-shot:
    • Two layers of plastic are built into each keycap: One for the base, and one for the letters.
    • Super crisp legends, any color combination possible.
    • Legends will not wear off.
    • Expensive. Usually 100~300USD per keyset.

  • Dye-sublimated (Dyesub):
    • Ink is injected deep into the plastic.
    • Permanent legends that won't fade or wear off.
    • Ink must be darker color than the plastic (usually); reduces the possible color combinations.
    • More affordable than doubleshot; usually 50~150USD per keyset.

  • Lasered:
    • A laser engraving is used to make the legends.
    • Usually fades after use.
    • You can "feel" the legend since it's been burned in. Feels fairly awful.
    • Cheap.

  • Pad-printed:
    • The legends are printed on, then covered with a coating to prevent them from fading.
    • Even then, it still rubs off.
    • Similar to lasered, you can feel the legends as they're a thick layer printed on top.
    • Cheap.
  • Blanks:
    • No legends whatsoever.

In general, the only "enthusiast grade" styles are doubleshot, dyesub, and blanks, with popularity decreasing in that order.

 

Material

Not all plastics are equal.

  • ABS
    • Colorful.
    • Sounds deeper and more muted than PBT (described below).
    • Becomes shiny after extended use due to wear.
    • Used for doubleshots.
    • Not used for dyesubs, since it would melt when reaching high temperatures during the process.

  • PBT
    • Withstands higher temperatures than ABS; used for dyesubs and blanks mainly.
    • Resists becoming shiny from wear.
    • Very few facilities can do double-shot PBT; however, due to the brittle nature and high temperatures required, they are very rare.

Other materials are used for keycaps as well; however, these two are the most widely available options.

 

Thickness

Self-explanatory.

  • Thick
    • Used by most decent key profiles, excluding a certain few
    • Sounds deeper; more durable

  • Thin
    • Usually used by inexpensive keysets, such as ones that come with mass-produced keyboards
    • Tends to sound hollow, higher pitched, "cheap"

 

The Major Profiles

That was a lot of info. 

Fortunately, you mainly have to remember only a select few, since not all combinations exist.

Continued on the list of major profiles.

 

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