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Picture this: you are clacking away on your favorite keyboard but something is different. That amazing mechanical keyboard you used to look forward to coming home to after a long day’s work is just… familiar, old, greasy, used up. You peek at your spacebar and there is an imprint of where your thumb has been resting all year – you know in your heart that your thumb deserves better. It’s time for something new. It’s time to switch out those grimy keycaps you typed on all last year or maybe you’ve had the same keycaps for longer than that. If it’s the latter,
Jokes aside, the fact that you have stumbled upon this article is a sign: It’s time to choose a fresh new set of keycaps – I’m here to help with that.
And as a serious keyboard enthusiast, I am here to show you some real quality keycaps. Since there are so many to choose from, I’ll try to keep this list short with only the top picks from each category so if you don’t come to a decision here, you will at least know what to look for.
For your convenience, these will be listed first by keycap profile, then pre-orders, and budget picks because price and quality can vary significantly between categories. For example, listing them all by price would result in the first half being cheaper OEM or low profile keycaps while the end of the list will just be a brand name potpourri. Let’s compare apples to apples.
For more details on specific keycap profiles, please see this in-depth article: Overview of Different Keycap Profiles
High-Profile Keycap Sets Top Picks (SA, SA-P, MT3)
SA-P Keycap Sets by Pimp My Keyboard
This keycap set is clean, sculpted, and minimal. An absolute pleasure to type on. I’ve written an in-depth review of this keycap set when I featured Pimp My Keyboard (article here) so I will spare you the fine details . Just know that this is an extremely crisp looking keycap set that is high-profile and has arguably the best textured finish PBT definitely worth looking into. Heck, despite my love for MT3 profile keycap sets, I am typing on this set right now!
Edit: And it gets better… special edition Snow Cap sets with elegant blue legends are available now with unique modifier artwork:
- Highly revered brand in the enthusiast community – no list is complete without PMK
- Tried and true quality and durability – long lasting sublimated legends
- Um, look at it. It’s beautiful!
- Unique and satisfying “thoc” sounds
- SA-P Profile (Info)
Price: $$; Price varies as you can select only the keycap groupings you need. For example, for a 60% keyboard like the Ducky One 2 Mini, you can select the “Alpha” ($58) kit for your letters and space bar plus “60% Text Modifier” ($18) for a top quality keycap set for $76!
Drop + Matt3o MT3 Custom Keycap Sets
Photo by u/damage449 – I’m jealous.
If you’ve been around The Keeblog for a while, you should already know.. MT3 is a Keeblog favorite. They are elegantly sculpted and amazingly comfortable to type on. Drawing inspiration from the old (very old) IBM beamspring terminals used in the 1970s these can either give your keyboard a rugged retro aesthetic OR with the newer colorways (wuddaheck is a colorway?) a uniquely elegant look. The Original /dev/tty colorway is still available in PBT while the other colorways are ABS – both are great!
- Retro sculpted profile
- Comfortable to type on
- Double-shot legends for PBT options.
- MT3 Profile (Info)
Quick Note on Amazon High-Profile Keycap Sets
There are a ton of High-Profile sets from Amazon I can list here but as I have stated in previous posts, Signature Plastics does not list on Amazon which means that the SA profile keycaps sets available (and DSA sets) are copies. Out of principle, I cannot recommend them in this section as there is a difference in quality but I can say with certainty that for just a few dollars more (often times less) you can get the genuine thing directly from Signature Plastic’s storefront, Pimp My Keyboard!
The only real reason to purchase these keycap sets from Amazon is for the price, availability, and colorway. While Signature Plastics is the original manufacturer and has the original tooling for SA profile keycaps, they don’t always carry a wide selection of colorways. At the time of writing only SA Ice Cap is available as a full set with most other SA sets being available as groupbuys that you can sign up for on other platforms. So if you really are caught up with the look of SA profile keycaps but don’t want to wait or spend big, I will list them under the budget picks section of this buyer’s guide.
OEM Profile Keycaps Top Picks (a.k.a. DCS, Cherry, OEM)
GMK Red Samurai: The Only Genuine GMK Set on Amazon (as of February 2021)
Photo by u/TraditionsNA | IG: @injure
GMK is well known in the custom mechanical keyboard community as the boutique and extra premium maker of keycaps. Their keycap sets are known for being durable and are the go-to for the most anticipated and exclusive groupbuys. GMK Red Samurai features unique Japanese themed novelty keycaps and unique hiragana legends. Do you really need Japanese characters on your keyboard that only types in the English Alphabet? Probably not. But is it the coolest thing ever? Absolutely.
- Unique Japanese Hiragana legends
- Superior Quality you can only get from GMK keycaps
- Unique and eye-catching colorway
- Samurai, bro.
Besides this ready-to-ship GMK keycap set, online retailers are stocked full with cheaper but still great options. Since this keycap profile is so widely available, there isn’t a market need to stock the shelves with super fancy boutique GMK sets. The “good stuff” can usually be found by following communities on Geekhack, r/mechanicalkeyboards I’ll share a few highly anticipated group buys in the related section below.
- FIERCE KEYCAPS WITH AN EDGE — Strap on some armor, unsheath your katana, and prepare to defend your desktop: GMK Red Samurai, the first keycap set from designer RedSuns, features a striking colorway...
- THICK & COMPATIBLE DOUBLESHOT ABS — Made in Germany using custom Cherry tooling, this GMK Red Samurai kit's keycaps are made from 1. 5-millimeter-thick doubleshot ABS for longevity and strength
- SWITCH COMPATIBILITY — Sculpted in Cherry profile, GMK Red Samurai is compatible with Cherry MX switches and clones including but not limited to Kaihua, Halo, and Gateron
Affordable Keycaps Top Picks
When it comes to OEM/Cherry profile keycaps, there are plenty available online through retailers like Newegg and Amazon. These are usually produced in bulk from overseas and while they won’t boast the quality and flashiness of big boutique names in the hobby, there is a steady supply (no waiting for pre-orders) and they are decent in quality.
Themed OEM Profile PBT Keycaps
The design on these are much less subtle with actual images printed on. Depending on the look you are going for, these just might fit the bill. My favorite out of these would be the Coral Sea set. As these are made with PBT, you can expect decent durability and a satisfying typing experience.
YMDK DSA (Low) Profile 9009 – Excellent, reliable, affordable.
- Package included: 75 key keyset which is specially used for Standard 61 64 68 GK64 YD64 Tada68
- The keycap is made of PBT material,the thickness is around 1.35mm
- The legend is dye sublimation which won't fade
- Classic retro 9009 colorway
- Different sets available for compatibility
- Extra spacebar kits available
I have several YMDK sets that I still use despite spending hundreds on boutique sets and group buys. It goes without saying that the YMDK sets, although considered budget keycaps are popular for newcomers and long time keebnerds alike.
Other YMDK Colorways:
Most Exclusive and Highly Anticipated Group-buys / Pre-orders
What the heck is a group by? A quick explanation
One of the things that makes the mechanical keyboard community so great is that fellow keyboard nerds on the internet can come together and work directly with designers from start to finish to receive exclusive and bespoke keycap sets. A quick summary of the process is this:
- Interest Check – Designer comes up with a colorway and posts it in social media communities and forums. The community agrees that it is a worthwhile venture (if there is enough interest) or provide feedback for design improvements.
- Group Buy / Pre-order period – once the community agrees and the design is finalized, the seller will initiate the group buy. There is typically a minimum order quantity and the more people that participate, the more savings are shared among each buyer.
- Waiting and receiving – since group buys are made-to-order, there are a lot of things that can cause delays such as quality checks, shipping delays, manufacturing. Overall, group buys or pre-orders are a long process. But in my experience, it has always been well worth the wait. Some can take 1-3 months from purchase to receipt (other can take up to half a year!). It’s important to note the estimated lead times on each product.
Keycap sets purchased through group buys are inherently valuable since there is limited quantity of each and unless there is a lot of demand for another round, the same colorway will generally not be produced again. This creates a lot of resale value for the keycap set with rarer sets actually doubling or tripling in value over time. It is possible to purchase a keycap set, use it for a year, then sell it the next and actually end up with more money than you started with! But of course, it’s situational and based on the popularity of the set – I can’t recommend explicitly doing it for the $$$
Novelties Kit Sold Separately
A very beautiful and elegant grayscale gradient colorway. The blueish greys of a thunderstorm all packed into high quality GMK keycaps. Stom-themed deskmats are still available for sale to match the keycap set – get them while you still can!
- Limited Quantity of Matching Deskmats
- Full Base Kit Available
- ETA: End of 2021
- Stormy Themed Novelties Kit
A beautiful soft-blue themed keycap sets with some icy sasquatch-y novelties to match! Also one of the coolest deskmats I’ve seen in a long time.
- GMK made, Designed by Fannie
- Doubleshot ABS, Cherry/OEM profile
- ETA: January 2022
- Unique Deskmats
Get it.. because how can you not?
- Make your keyboard the real star of the show (Had to have at least one pun right?)
- Krabby Patties
- Made by GMK, Designed by Paputcher
- ETA: End of 2021
Ok I love ramen. But do I love ramen enough to have a ramen themed keyboard? Duh. This keycap set features an eye-catching combination of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellows paired with a fun ramen themed novelty set. The bright magenta Japanese legends also make the set pop. Though it’s not GMK, ePBT is known for excellent quality keycap sets but for a lower price.
- Awesome Ramen Theme
- Bright, eye-catching colors and Japanese legends
- Tons of extras: Deskmats, Ramen-Themed Novelties
- ETA: Production is estimated to begin Q3
And that’s a wrap! Hope this buying guide helps. If there is anything else that you feel should be on this list, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Last update on 2023-01-31 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API