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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Keyboards | Keyboard Construction and Operation ]


Keycaps are the actual physical keys that you strike with your fingers when typing. The term "keycap" arises from the fact that these pieces "cap" the actual keyswitches that move during a keystroke, and tell the keyboard circuitry which keys were hit. Keycaps are also sometimes called "key tops" or even just "keys" (I avoid the latter term to reduce ambiguity.)

The oldest keyboards did not in fact have keycaps: the keycap and keyswitch were designed and manufactured as a single integrated unit. Removable keycaps are a superior design for a number of reasons:

  • A damaged or worn-out keycap can be replaced much more easily than replacing an entire keyswitch. (Keycaps typically "pop loose", while replacing a keyswitch is either impossible or at the very least requires disassembly of the keyboard.)
  • Keycaps can be rearranged or changed if needed, allowing reprogramming of the keyboard or the use of alternative layouts such as Dvorak or different languages.
  • The keyboard can more easily be cleaned.


Top and bottom views of an "Esc" keycap from a typical keyboard.

The keycaps play an important role in the comfort issues involved in using the keyboard, because they are what you actually are using with your fingers. In this section I discuss various issues related to the keycaps, including their size and positioning, shape, texture and travel. I also discuss special keycaps, used for larger keys such as the <Enter> key and <Space Bar>.

Next: Keycap Size, Spacing and Alignment

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