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Low-Profile vs High-Profile Keyboard Designs

Having discussed the two bigger design considerations for newcomers to the mechanical keyboard hobby—size/layout and staggered/ortholinear layouts, the remaining topics to cover are a bit more straightforward. Entry number three in our intro series will cover low vs high-profile keyboard designs.  
Image Credit: @savidini Topics include: 
Low-Profile vs High-Profile

What Do “Low-Profile” and “High-Profile” Mean Low and high profile are referring to the keyboard case surrounding the switches and keycaps. If you’re coming from a standard rubber dome keyboard, you’ve almost certainly been using what would be considered a high-profile keyboard.  High-profile case designs feature a top piece that has a height equal to the bottom of the keycaps. When keys are pressed, the keycaps will travel down below the case level.  Low-profile on the left vs High-profile on the right:
Image Credit: Drop Keyboard Builder Low-profile cases, conversely, have a top piece that sits well below the height of the keycaps. In fact, the top of the case is immediately below the switches—since the switches slot directly into the top piece of the case. 
Image Credit: @r_b_d

Why Bother With Low-Profile If high-profile is the historical standard for keyboards, why even bother with low-profile designs?  Simply put, low-profile case designs are easier, faster, and cheaper to prototype and produce than high-profile designs. This is particularly true for metal constructions. Low-profile metal cases can be laser cut from a stack of layered sheets of metal, with or without plastic diffusers sandwiched between.  Some of my favorite keyboards in my personal collection were produced this way, in fact—extremely small production batches of custom boards made by acquaintances in the hobby. 
Image Credit: @HoffmanMyster Low-profile cases don’t need to be laser cut though, and they certainly don’t need to look as homemade as my example above. Quite a few low-profile keyboards are CNC milled just like their taller counterparts, opting for the low-profile aesthetic as a preference (and a material cost and machine time saving as a bonus, resulting in slightly lower costs). 
Image Credit: @milica

Is High-Profile Better The obvious follow-up question then is to ask—is high-profile better than low-profile? Well, if weight is what you’re after, then high-profile is probably the way to go. More material in the case means high-profile designs are heavier.  One more fairly minor consideration is durability. Since low-profile cases are a bit more exposed on the sides, transporting a low-profile keyboard in a backpack or bag is more likely to result in keycaps catching and putting sideways pressure on switches. If you’re not doing anything too crazy with your keyboard this shouldn’t be much of a concern.  If you’re an RGB fan, a positive side to low-profile keyboards is a less obstructed view of per-key LED RGB. Especially if the board contains a south-facing style switch setup, which means the LEDs will shine towards the user, rather than away from, with a north-facing switch setup. At the end of the day, the main determining factor is probably going to be aesthetics. Some people prefer the “buttoned up” look of a high-profile case. Others like the exposed switches on a low-profile board.  Which look matches your style? 

Image Credit: @Jlem1974

Edit: Formatting

Nov 3, 2022
And not a single photo of a low/high profile keyboard with ISO layout in the article. Classic!
Nov 3, 2022
Great post! Personal I always go for low-profile if I have long sessions because I notice it puts less strain on my wrists. (6+ hour sessions for several days in a row) Main reason is because I've never managed to get wrist rests to "work".. High-profile is always nice for weight and sturdy'ness, and even though It's not what I pick for long hour session, I definitely feel they are better to type on and general usage just feels.. nicer (to me)😅
Nov 2, 2022
Can we discuss low profile switches on a low profile board? I custom built a wrist rest to have my keyboard angle away from me slightly. The only way to do this is to add at least a small amount of height. With a high profile there was a very big difference in my mouse hand height and keyboard hand height which is not ideal ergonomically. I went to a low profile/low profile setup and it is MUCH improved ergonomically.
TheerealistOoh, good point - maybe @ThereminGoatMK is going to discuss low-profile switches in his upcoming discussions. :D I am curious though @Theerealist, I'd imagine the biggest factor in your situation is the low-profile switches, as far as keeping the overall typing height lower / closer to your mouse. And a standard high-profile case would be too high for those switches, so that's a non-starter. Are there any "high-profile" (actually medium-profile) cases designed for low-profile switches?
Real talk, DSA caps don't get the appreciation they deserve in the community anymore. I love my DSA Drifter and can only hope we will see some (a single?) DSA set in 2023
KAT is a really good middle-ground between SA and DSA, and IMO I'd make the claim that it's a better SA. DSA being unsculpted is a huge benefit, particularly for trying out different layouts. No need to buy multiples of various caps to accommodate all the rows those keys might be used in. For typing though, sculpted is still best IMO. This is why we need sculpted PCBs/plates!
Nov 21, 2022
ThereminGoatMKI'd love to see more DSA as well, but my favorite so far is actually XDA. I also have yet to try out KAM. Do you know if there's any chance of an XDA or KAM set in the future? (hopefully in an ErgoDox-compatible set)
Oct 23, 2022
I do not like to make such claims without data to consider first. But I intuit that all other things being equal a low profile setup will produce more and louder noises than will a high profile setup. Further, when using my low profile CTRL using a wireless mouse is a requirement. Otherwise the mouse cable will constantly get hung up under the more exposed key caps. And that, my friends, is no joy. So for me, high profile keyboards are almost always preferred.
GenjokoanCan't say I've encountered the mouse cord problems myself, but oof - that would be annoying. 🤦‍♀️ I'm pretty partial to high-profile as well, other than the more homemade keyboards mentioned above.
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