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Keycap Profiles

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When considering which aftermarket keycap set to get, there can be many different factors to consider. We’ve already discussed the different materials that keycaps can be made from, and of course there is the obvious colorway consideration, but what about the shape of the individual keycaps themselves?  In the early days of the enthusiast keyboard hobby, there were extremely limited options available for aftermarket keycap sets. Unicomp was making replacement keycap sets for buckling spring keyboards and Signature Plastics was making keycap sets compatible with MX switches (GMK had not yet become an option to the enthusiast market - that would come a couple years later).  Now, though? You’d be easily forgiven for being overwhelmed by the number of options available on the market at this point.  Let’s walk through the characteristics that define the various profiles, and cover some of the major profiles you’ll come across.  ▪️ Keycap Shape (Spherical, Cylindrical, Flat) ▪️ Sculpted or Uniform ▪️ Keycap Height ▪️ Common Profiles Keycap Shape There are three main types of keycap shapes to consider - spherical, cylindrical, and flat.  Spherical keycaps are shaped as if you set a sphere slightly into the top of a flat surface and remove the portion where the sphere and keycap intersect. In other words, the keycaps have a spherical-shaped divot cut out of the top. This can have a nice “keycap hugging your fingertip” feeling to it, and also has a nice vintage aesthetic to it (many early keycaps were spherical). 
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Image Credit: @Mfhdn Cylindrical keycaps look like if you set a cylinder into the top of a flat surface (longways top to bottom) and remove that intersecting portion. If you’ve primarily typed on non-laptop, “regular” keyboards, you probably typed on cylindrical keycaps. 
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Image Credit: @Iwantsocks Flat keycaps are exactly as they sound - completely flat. These are a lot harder to come across in the mechanical keyboard world (I’m only aware of the G20 profile and some other one-off gaming caps compatible with MX switches), since they’re primarily used in low-profile applications like laptop and Apple keyboards. You will see them occasionally available on the aftermarket for ML-compatible switches, but we won’t be covering non-MX switches here.  To Sculpt or Not to Sculpt
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Image Credit: @Mugi812 The degree to which a profile implements “sculptedness” impacts both the typing feel as well as interchangeability of keycap positions (any amount of sculpt will mean you can’t just swap keycaps willy nilly).  A sculpted profile implements different side profiles to the keycaps in different rows across the keyboard. This means that the keycaps in the F-row will have a different shape to them than the keycaps in the lower alpha row (zxcv). This generally tends to feel more natural to our fingers as they move from a central location on the home row - reaching up to a taller key and down to an upward-angled key means that your fingers are hitting the keycaps from a more perpendicular angle (to the keycap at least, not the switch).  Conversely, non-sculpted, or uniform, profiles do not have any variation across rows. Each row of keycaps is identical in side profile, creating a flat appearance across rows when viewing from the side. This is helpful when designing a super low-profile keyboard (think of laptop and Apple keyboards), but also has benefits related to custom layouts. With the keycaps in each row having the same exact shape, you can easily shift them around and change the layout without causing visual inconsistencies. If you want to try Dvorak, Colemak, or any other unique layouts without needing to buy an additional kit of keycaps just for that layout, a uniform profile may be best for you.  There is one oddity to cover on this topic as well - Buckling Spring keyboards (and a few community creations) feature a sculpted plate and PCB/membrane, meaning that the keyboard overall has a sculpted typing experience while featuring keycaps with identical shapes across each of the rows. 🤯 Truly the best of both worlds, and another reason that Buckling Spring is the gold standard.  Keycap Height
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Image Credit: @peppermint_mocha After deciding what keycap shape you like and whether you want sculpted or uniform keycaps, the final differentiator between various profiles is the height of each respective keycap.  If you’ve settled on a spherical sculpted profile, as an example, you will be faced with a few different options to select from - SA, MT3, KAT, MDA, OSA, among others. Part of what sets these apart from each other is the degree of sculpt, or how severe the sculpt angle is when viewed from the side. The other factor is the height of the keycaps; SA caps are pretty tall, while MT3, KAT, and OSA fall somewhere in a more medium height range, and MDA has shorter lower rows than the rest (MDA F-row caps are roughly as tall as the others). There is no one answer to which is best, and I think the sheer number of options speaks to how many different preferences everyone has. (If I had to generalize though, most people tend to prefer medium-height keycaps - not exactly surprising, eh) Height is all relative, so for me to call a particular profile “tall” or “short” doesn’t mean much without something to compare to. Thankfully there are quite a few online tools that have cataloged most of these profiles and can show a comparison view allowing you to see their relative heights and shapes stacked on top of each other. One of my favorites for this is keycaps.info (stack view), but there are other similar resources that you might come across.  Common Profiles
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In practice, profiles you’ll come across will feature some combination of keycap shape and a sculpted or uniform profile. Let’s look at some of the more common or influential profiles designed for MX-compatible switches of each possible iteration (profile name, followed by vendor/manufacturer in parentheses).  Spherical + Sculpted:  ▪️ SA (Signature Plastics) ▪️ MT3 (Drop) ▪️ KAT (Keyreative) ▪️ DSS (Signature Plastics) ▪️ MDA (Melgeek) Spherical + Uniform:  ▪️ DSA (Signature Plastics) ▪️ XDA ▪️ KAM ▪️ SA (Signature Plastics) - that’s right, SP can make the entire set with R3 keycaps for a uniform profile  Cylindrical + Sculpted:  ▪️ Cherry (GMK, Cherry for OG sets) ▪️ DCX (Drop) ▪️ DCS (Signature Plastics) ▪️ OEM (Stock keycaps for most mass-market boards) ▪️ BS (Unicomp, IBM for OG sets) - remember that the keyboard sculpts profile; keycaps are identical shapes across rows Flat + Uniform:  ▪️ G20 (Signature Plastics) ▪️ Apple (Apple) I am not personally aware of any MX-switch profiles that are either [Cylindrical + Uniform] or [Flat + Sculpted] - if you know of any, please share!  What’s your favorite keycap profile?
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DoomSauce
1
Jan 11, 2023
SA is my favorite so far. I've tried XDA and Cherry and OEM and they're all fine I guess. But SA feels and sounds SO good. I love the sculpted and tall feel and look of SA. I think I would really enjoy MT3, but I just haven't been able to get my hands on any so far. One of these days. I'm sure I'll love em.
thrillhouser
3
Jan 10, 2023
I love MT3 profile, but they keycaps are way too high for me to use everyday. For me, spherical keycaps are the way to go. Love the feel of the "scoop" of those keycaps as I type. I also like the height of ASA or OEM profiles, but I don't really like their shape. Maybe combine the height of ASA/OEM profiles with spherical shapes. That would be a dream to try. Also interested in trying MDA profile keycaps.
Vandenhul
240
Jan 10, 2023
thrillhouserYou should try KAT. They are spherical with a height similar to OEM. Last time I checked, https://Kono.store had a few KAT sets for sale, otherwise it is a very long group buy process.
MamaNet
7
Jan 10, 2023
I love MT3 and SA profiles. But I tend to go for the MT3 as they are more "cupped" for lack of a better word. The SA profiles I have tried tend to be "flatter" and I find my fingers tend to slip sometimes and this makes the chatter worse. I also have cherry and MDA profiles but I use them very infrequently and only on my alternate keyboard. My daily driver really is the MT3 specifically the cyber set. I really like to try the lighter colors so I have gone also for the MT3 Godspeed but the material is different and the keycaps tend to get dirty easily and difficult to remove the smudges. So I just kept them in the box after 3 weeks, maybe to use in the future. But for now, I stay with the MT3 cyber, no matter the shine. I have actually embraced the shine and looking to make the shine uniform in all keys LOL.
Vandenhul
240
Jan 10, 2023
Tesoro Gram Spectrum has a uniform profile with cylindrical caps. Only that one keyboard have I seen with a uniform profile for cylindrical caps.
Xenogear
8
Jan 9, 2023
Am I the only person that really enjoys XDA profile? It really brings out the personality of tactile switches imo. Definitely need to try some mt3 as it seems so many of you enjoy it! Very well written article. I learned ACTUAL typist style on buckling spring IBM terminal boards before most people were born!(it makes me laugh every time I see people using their fingers for the space bar and none of them can actually type correctly except for a very few YouTubers!) Seems like no one knows actual typing techniques. But wtvr works for you! I bottom out 70+g springs so I can't use linear switches unless they are s spring swapped. I bottom out Durock t1's and I don't like this long pole nonsense. It feels like the keyboard is smacking my fingers back if that makes sense LOL! Really want to try dcx out. Again, great article!
aowens42
9
Jan 10, 2023
XenogearI got two sets of Matt3o's keys that mirror IBM Beam Springs in profile and sound to a degree. I love those old keyboards. Used them for years, and I learned on an IBM Selectric.
andromache
3
Jan 9, 2023
How is DCX different from Cherry profile?
andromachePhysically, it's very similar, but does have some slight differences in height/angles. Here's a comparison side view. For all intents and purposes, you wouldn't notice a difference while typing. The legends on DCX are more significantly different from Cherry/GMK - alphas are more consistently weighted, multi-line legends are "better" horizontally aligned, and many of the mod legends are differently sized/spaced (for better or worse depending on your preferences)
Aristarco
147
Jan 9, 2023
Nice article. I prefer MT3 but since I'm in Latin America, DCS and XDA is way better to move the keycaps around to adequate the layout (e.g. the [{ ]} keycaps are a row below the one in US ANSI) without distorting the profile angle. I ordered some LatAm keycaps in Cherry profile from an obscure source but haven't arrived so I can't say if this works for me. Big thanks to Matt3o for making an international subset with LatAm keys in the /dev/tty Custom keycap set!! Bought 2 and have them on my favorite keybs.
https://www.keycaps.info/ My favorite keycap profile resource
erickongThat's my fave too (linked in the article including the very useful stack view for comparisons)!
HoffmanMysterMe three.
aLottaLiam
0
Jan 7, 2023
Great overview of profiles, theres a couple on here that I wasn't familiar with before! Excited to see how DCX differs from Cherry profile once my DCX Dolch shows up!
shanghaied66
10
Jan 5, 2023
MT3 is my favorite so far - but I'm enjoying DCX which is one of the newer types on your list.
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