The best mechanical keyboard keycaps

It’s the first thing you touch and the last thing you would remember when typing on it. Yep, keycaps. All this time you’ve focused on those switches or keyboard, but never paid any attention to the keycap and why should you?

Well, you’ll be surprised how much difference there is and how that piece of plastic can influence your typing experience. Beyond the experience, there are many factors that influence the overall quality of the keycap, such as the coating, legends, and plastic. All important factors we like to keep in mind for the Wooting mechanical keyboard.

Keycaps plastics

The most talked differences are the type of plastic; ABS and PBT. In general, PBT is seen as superior over ABS keycaps, because it’s stiffer, durable (just don’t hit it with a hammer), stays true in color and doesn’t develop a shine effect over time. Take a look at your keyboard, most likely you’ll find some glossy keys.

Shine effect keycap
Source: Geekhack. The shine effect.

You’ll also find during typing that the sound between ABS and PBT are significantly different. PBT will sound a bit more “thumpy” or lower toned and ABS a bit more “clicky” or higher toned.

There is also POM and PC plastic, but these are less common. POM- is a quality grade higher than PBT keycap, but also considerably more expensive and therefore very uncommon. PC is a tough clear plastic used for translucent keycaps, popularized by Signature Plastics.

Translucent key
Source: Pinterest by Sluxi. Translucent keycaps

Oh, forgot one! PVC; probably the least favorable but after ABS, the most common keycap plastic found on inexpensive keyboards. The characteristics are quite similar to ABS but more sensitive to heat. It’s scrutinized for its environmental impact, so boo!

You can also find out what your keyboard keycap is made of, by yourself.

You might ask, who cares? Well, once you realize how much time and keypresses you input on a daily base, especially in this tech savvy time, you’ll start to get more picky, or you just get addicted to the mechanical keyboard hobby and start hoarding for moar.

Keycaps manufacturing

Back to business, we can conclude that most keycaps are made by either ABS or PBT, but other than the plastic type, the manufacturing process is just as important. A keycap is often made by a single- or double injection molding process. The latter is only used for what is called “double-shot” keycaps.

Double shot keycaps are made from 2 layers of plastics, most commonly ABS. The first layer is usually molded for the legend (the graphic on the keycap), followed by the second mold injection for the keycap hull, thus “double-shot”.

Source: Reddit by Ripster55. Double shot cut in half
Source: Reddit by Ripster55. Double shot cut in half

Double-shot is an expensive process that requires a separate mold for each color with a minimum of two. Therefore, single mold injected keycaps are more common. A single injection mold only produces a naturally blank keycap and requires another (different) process for the legends. The most popular methods are:

  • Pad printing
  • Sublimated dying
  • Laser printing

For each printing method, the quality is very dependent on the manufacturer, but will never last longer than double-shot keycaps.

Pad printing is by far the most popular method for nearly all inexpensive keyboard. There are different pad printing methods, but basically it literally prints the legends on the keycaps.

Sublimated dying infuses the ink with the plastic through a heat press process. It’s best used with PBT to prevent the plastic from wearing too fast, as the ink sinks in very shallow. It’s very similar to how they make those cute custom family picture mugs, ahww.

Laser printing is after pad printing a very popular method. Especially with the increasing demand for backlit keycaps. There are 3 common methods of laser printing.

Laser etching basically burns into the plastic, leaving black charcoal colored legend on the keycap. It’s commonly used on white keycaps for contrast.

Laser etching with paint fill is identical to laser etching, but afterward the engravings are filled with colored paint. Very useful on black keycaps.

Laser engraving is commonly used to make backlit keycaps. A transparent keycap is coated with a black UV paint mixture, after which a laser removes the paint in the desired legend. The illumination of the keyboards will shine through the transparent keycap wherever the paint was removed. The process looks quite wicked.

Source: Alibabaexpress vendor. Everything can be engraved with laser.
Source: Alibaba express vendor. Everything can be engraved with a laser.

Backlit keys are also possible to make with double-shot keycaps by using a transparent plastic for the legends. The illumination is in comparison slightly less due to the thick plastic, but the durability is, of course, sublime.

The last thing to notice about the build quality is the UV coating applied on the keycap, often at the very end. Depending on the manufacture, the coating can significantly increase durability and change the “feel” of the keycap. Other than that it prevents “yellowing” from sun exposure, just like those dirty old looking advertisement or menu banner at snackbars.

If you want to go even further “into the keycap”, then you should check out this in-depth analysis by Ripster55.

So what makes the best type of keycap?

Well, that kind of also depends on yourself. Any type double-shot keycaps is a very good start, but these are quite limited in availability. The same counts for PBT keycaps, but you can occasionally check out Massdrop for keycap “drops”, they usually have some special keycap deals running. Alternatively, you can just get it straight from the source, and import it from Taiwan or China.

When you really get into keycaps you can also opt to make you own 3D printed version or buy unique artisan keycaps, the choice is yours.

Different keycap sizes

Wait, hold on a second! There are 3 last important (pesky) things to notice. Not every keycap fits on every keyboard. You have to take good notice what switch you’re using because the keycap female stem has to fit with the switch male stem. Most keycaps are made for Cherry MX switch, which use the same + shaped stem, just like the alternative Gateron and Kailh switch. In most cases, you have to take extra care when searching for less common Alps or Topre switch keycaps that have a different type of stem.

That being the case, many people fall for the non-standard bottom row trap. The entire bottom row, where the spacebar is found, can differ in size. When the bottom row is different in size, either the “windows” (aka META) key or spacebar is different from standard. You can notice the former immediately if the CTRL, META, and ALT key don’t have the same size. The spacebar is a bit trickier to notice, but if any of the other keys are smaller than usual, the spacebar is also different. Just make sure to do the math and check if you have an ANSI or ISO layout keyboard.

We’re not done just yet, there is a 3rd thing, namely the key profile. Keycaps can differ in height and shape, based on the entire keycaps profile. A very familiar one is the chiclet profile, all laptops have it; entire flat keycaps. On a mechanical keyboard, the most popular profile is contoured.

That’s a bunch of information you have to process, so take another sip of your coffee, enjoy the following keycap.

potato keycap
Potato keycap

And as always

Share your opinion

Calder Limmen Written by:

Co-founder & CEO at Wooting.


  1. Marian
    May 26, 2017

    Very helpful and thorough, thank you! Looking for my first mechanical keyboard and you kinda confirmed my choice (Ducky One TKL, an RGB backlit keyboard with PCB doubleshot keycaps and MX Brown switches). Cheers!

  2. Naoisan
    August 2, 2017

    Lol just found this when I google’d “ABS vs PBT keycaps” and this was the top result! Very well written and informative article, thanks! 😀

  3. January 5, 2018

    Just desire too say your article is as astonishing. The clearness in your
    post is siumply spectacular aand i can assume you’re an expert on this subject.
    Well with your permiasion allow me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming
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  4. .AT
    February 20, 2018

    Thanks for posting such an informative article. It’s to the point and chock-full of content. I feel like I went from noob to expert in a few minutes. You’re awesome. Have a great year!

  5. July 12, 2018

    Awesome resource on mechanical keyboard keyboard keycaps. I want to ask that is it worth getting a PBT keycap keyboard over ABS for extra price?

    • July 15, 2018

      Most definitely yes. PBT keycaps are often the way to go over ABS. Only things you have to consider is design and style, what fits your keyboard best. ABS keycaps will work just fine, but when it comes to long-long use, your best bet is with PBT.

      In my personal opinion, the only type of ABS that’s worth considering after-market is double-shot. Unless it’s low priced and the design is nice.

  6. Moirraine
    January 4, 2019

    I need a keyboard with the number pad on the left side since it was never EVER meant to be on the right – whoever did that was just an abuser who hated users.

    I also need keycaps not made from CHEAP plastic which can’t take side sheer forces from damaged fingers which can not strick ‘straight on or in the middle’ but sideways from any side that that finger still can navigate.

    Most keys are way too close… again it’s so much easier to move a bit than it is to overstrike keys that are knotted, swollen and painful. I hit two keys most of the time when I am typing even through I used to be able to type without a single error.

  7. February 18, 2019

    An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who had been conducting a little homework on this.

    And he in fact ordered me dinner because I stumbled upon it
    for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanks for spending the time to discuss this topic here
    on your blog.

  8. May 16, 2019

    I’m very happy to uncover this website. I need to to thank you
    for ones time for this particularly wonderful read!!
    I definitely savored every bit of it and i also have you book-marked to see new information on your site.

  9. LDJ
    June 6, 2019

    Plastic isn’t popular or very eco any more. Any ideas for alternative materials. Aluminium perhaps?

  10. June 19, 2019

    Great blog you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics discussed
    here? I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get feedback from other
    knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Appreciate it!

    • MKC
      July 9, 2019

      Check out

  11. MBT
    July 21, 2019

    I am glad this was the first link which popped up when I was comparing PBT to ABS. Great read, saved the link for future marketing purposes!

  12. February 14, 2021

    I like how when rubber keycaps appeared the beat drops and turn into awesome hyped music.

  13. Very interesting material about Keycaps and mechanical keyboards. Clarify many thinks about production materials and durability, Thank you for share!

  14. October 15, 2021

    Very helpful and thorough, thank you! Looking for my first mechanical keyboard and you kinda confirmed my choice (Ducky One TKL, an RGB backlit keyboard with PCB doubleshot keycaps and MX Brown switches). Cheers!

  15. October 17, 2021

    Probably the most thorough review of keycap types I’ve read. Well done mate!

  16. October 18, 2021

    Which thing do you think is the most attractive and impressive of the mechanical keyboard keycaps? I mean it’s color combination or something else that attracts the most?

  17. December 30, 2021

    This is really too good about the mechanical keyboard keycaps thanks sharing this article

  18. kissasian apk
    May 1, 2022

    Which thing do you think is the most attractive and impressive of the mechanical keyboard keycaps? I mean it’s color combination or something else that attracts the most?

  19. May 31, 2022

    This is actually too great about the mechanical console keycaps thanks sharing this article.

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