For years now, mechanical keyboards have been a go-to option for keyboard enthusiasts – especially gamers. These keyboards are durable, easy to customize, and repairable compared to membrane keyboards.
Generally, the market is full of different types of keycaps and switches that differ in structure and functionality. So, you need to find a keycap compatible with the type of switch on your keyboard.
Read this article to find out more about keycaps. We have addressed the questions of whether all keycaps fit all switches and how to find the appropriate keycaps for your keyboard.
Let’s jump right into it.
Why a keycap can’t go on any keyboard
Mechanical keyboards often use a physical switch to register keystrokes – unlike membrane keyboards that rely on a rubber layer to send electrical signals to the keyboard.
The switch – and all its components – lies underneath the keycap. It has several components that help register every press on each key. They include:
- An upper housing – It is the top part of the switch responsible for holding all the components of the switch.
- A stem – This is where the keycap attaches itself to the switch. (We’ll get back to this in a few)
- Crosspoint contact – When you press down the key, this component, consisting of two metallic leaves, creates the signal the computer needs to identify the key you pressed.
- Spring – It lies under the crosspoint contact and brings the key back up. It also controls how much force you need to press down the key.
- Bottom housing – Manufacturers install the switch on this component. It lies on the bottom part of the switch – beneath the spring, and holds everything together.
Both the keycap and the switch have stems, which should be compatible. If the keycap’s stem is cross (+) shaped, then the stem on the switch should have a similar shape (hollowed out) so that they can lock into each other. Otherwise, you may need to buy a new keycap since it won’t function even if both sets have similar physical profiles.
Different companies use different types of stem shapes. Stems can be cross-shaped, round, or rectangular. The most common shape is the cross (+), which the Cherry MX brand uses on all its switches and keycaps.
Are there other ways to know if a keycap will fit?
Even though checking the stems on the keycap and the switch is the most crucial factor to use when confirming compatibility, it’s not the only factor you need to consider. Every keyboard in the market is different; therefore, it’d help if you could also consider other attributes on it, such as:
- The key profile:
Keycaps have different shapes. The most common types include sculpted, stepped, flat, and Chiclet. Checking the key profile used on your mechanical keyboard is essential because manufacturers will make the keyboard’s body with a specific profile in mind. Having more than one key profile can affect user experience immensely.
- Key Spacing:
This is the distance between the center points of two neighboring keycaps – usually measured in units. You might notice a difference in how manufacturers measure the length; hence, you should consider checking this on the product’s specifications.
- Key layout:
The most common types of layouts include ANSI and ISO. In both cases, the keycap sizes, shapes, and spaces in between could differ among different keyboard models. Therefore, it’d help if you could check this.
- Keycap thickness:
Keycaps have different thicknesses, and although it might not be a major problem, some may fail to fit your keyboard because they are thicker than the surrounding keycaps.
- Type of stabilizers used
Manufacturers normally add these parts under large keys to keep them stable. If the stabilizer used is incompatible with the keycap set you brought, the key might become loose, reducing durability since it can break the switch underneath.
- Compatibility with your backlight
Some keycaps can block your backlight – especially if they don’t fit, although this may not affect functionality. However, if seeing the backlight is important when using your keyboard, you can check the product page to see whether the manufacturer mentions this in the description.
Can you replace keyboard switches instead?
Suppose you buy a new set of keycaps and then realize that they don’t fit or the typing or gaming experience doesn’t suit your needs. In this case, can you change the switch instead of buying new keycaps?
The answer is yes. It’d be the best way of dealing with this problem in such a situation. Economically, it makes sense if you don’t have a keyboard that can fit the keycap set you bought.
Unfortunately, you may have to replace all the switches because it’s difficult to find sellers that will only sell each component alone. It will also have an impact on your typing experience if you change the switches. Which, then, is the best switch for your keyboard? It will depend on what you prefer most. The three most common types of switches are:
- Linear switches:
Gamers prefer this type of switch because they respond quickly. They are smooth and quiet. Manufacturers use red, yellow, and black color codes to identify these types of switches.
- Clicky switches:
They are loud switches that typists love. Although beginner-friendly, the loud clicking noises can be distracting in a quiet environment such as an office or a library. Typists love these switches because their resistance reduces the chances of pressing other keys by mistake. The Colour codes used to identify them are blue and green.
- Tactile switches:
It’s a versatile switch that is neither too noisy nor too silent. Gamers and professional typists love these switches because you can use them in different environments. Most brands use brown and clear color codes to identify these switches.
Are mechanical keycaps the same as membrane keycaps?
Mechanical and membrane keyboards differ in so many ways. For instance, the switches used in both types are different. Mechanical switches use a physical switch to generate a signal, while the switches in a membrane keyboard use rubber domes.
Additionally, the keycap on a membrane keyboard is a hollow shell- with a legend printed on it- that lies on top of the rubber dome. Therefore, if you are thinking about replacing the keycap on your membrane keyboard with a mechanical one, it won’t fit because of its structure and switch design.
The only way out is to change the entire board or buy a mechanical one, which can be costly.
Making your keyboard quieter if you don’t want to replace anything
A user’s typing technique, the switch used, and the model of the keyboard are some of the things that determine how loud a mechanical keyboard can be. If you’d like to be less of a distraction when playing a game or typing at night or in an office, you don’t have to change anything on the keyboard, the keycap, or the switches.
- Place a deskmat under your keyboard as it prevents your desk from vibrating
- Install foams inside the keyboard
- Place O-rings on the keycap and switch stems
- You can apply lube on the keyboard’s stabilizers and the switches
How to change keycaps
Once you land on your ideal keycaps for your mechanical keyboard, you next need to figure out how to replace the old keycaps and install the new ones. Changing the keycaps is not difficult; in fact, you don’t even need to hire anyone to do it, as the only tool you need is a keycap puller.
If you don’t have this tool, you can use your fingers (although it can be tedious and painful) or a paper clip. You can also make your own DIY keycap puller using guitar strings, pipe cleaners, armature wire, and steel wire. Avoid using plastic keycap pullers and jumbo paper clips, as they can cause keycap damage.
Start by inserting the keycap puller into the keycap. Ensure that the metal wires are under the keycap’s bottom area. Once you hear a snap, pull it upwards gently. Don’t be in a hurry because you can easily damage the keycap and the switch if you use a lot of force.
While inserting the new keycaps, you can use the opportunity to blow out and clean the dust that’s been sitting there for some time.
Replacing switches on a keyboard
If you want to replace linear switches with tactile or clicky ones – or the ones you have are not functioning well, you can also do this on your own. How difficult or easy the process will be depends on whether the switch is hot swappable or soldered.
You can replace hot swappable switches by simply removing the keycap and using a switch puller tool. Once you snap it into place, pull the switch upwards in a straight and gentle manner. You can wiggle it a little bit if it refuses to come out immediately. After it comes out, place the new switch on the replacement slot, align it, put it into place, and then place the keycap.
In case the keyboard has a soldered switch, it may require you to disassemble the entire keyboard to access the circuit board. Remove the switch by desoldering it, then place the new switch and solder it.
Simple tips to use when shopping for keycaps
When shopping for new keycaps, compatibility is the most crucial point to consider. But if you’ve already figured out that, there’s a chance you’ll come across many keycaps that fit the profile or style you require.
So, how do you choose among all these options presented to you? Some tips to make your shopping experience fun include:
- Check why you need new keycaps
Thinking about this beforehand is best because it can influence your buying decision. Typically, people buy new keycaps because the ones they are using are worn out, broken, or uncomfortable to use. Keyboard enthusiasts also buy new ones because they want to give their keyboards a new look.
Besides, it will help you make an informed decision on the budget. By the way, don’t limit yourself to buying expensive options only. You can also find cheap options that are comfortable to use and durable.
- Choose a durable material
Most keycaps are made of two materials, ABS and PBT. ABS is preferred for people who’d like a budget-friendly option and a keycap that adds color to your keyboard. On the other hand, the plastic used to manufacture ABS keycaps is not durable, and the print fades out over time.
PBT is a go-to option for users looking for a high-quality keycap that can withstand millions of keystrokes. They are also less noisy and provide a rough (sandy) texture compared to ABS.
- Check the printing method used
Manufacturers often use different printing methods to engrave legends (keycap inscriptions). The most commonly used printing methods are dye-sublimated, double-shot keycaps, triple-shot, laser engraving, and laser etching. Many keyboard enthusiasts consider double shots the best option because they don’t wear off easily.
- Research the best brands
You can also get a second opinion by researching the best options online. You can join online communities where they talk about such gadgets. Alternatively, you can try your friend’s keyboard to test its feel and sound or go to keyboard workshops/exhibitions where you can test a variety of keyboards.
There you have it, friends. We’ve come to the end of our article today, and I hope all the information we provide in the article is helpful and answers your question. From the article, you can see that it’s essential for you to check the compatibility of the keycap and the switch before you place an order since they are not universal.
Additionally, the keyboard’s keycaps and switches are important in ensuring you have a good typing experience or gaming. If you need help recognizing the best keycap option, be sure to ask a friend or experts in this area.