Some of the big keyboard makers want in on the aftermarket keycap business.
There are two main camps in the enthusiast keyboard world: gamers who love bright lights, bells and whistles, and granular software-based configuration controls, and hardcore typers who obsess about keycap materials and sense every nuance of a switch’s feel. The Venn diagrams of what these two groups care about overlap quite a bit, though, most notably as it pertains to aftermarket keycaps.
Up to now, replacement keycaps have primarily been the domain of hobbyists, tinkerers, and specialists. Typically, you’ll find replacement caps available in small, specialized batches. Some keyboard makers, like Varmilo, offer custom keycap-making services, though.
Getting into aftermarket caps is a veritable rabbit hole; like a kid in a candy store, you may find yourself wanting this, and this, and THIS. You can spend hundreds of dollars on a single rare set of caps.
It is this obsession that some larger companies hope to capitalize upon. The status quo for most of them has been to sell keyboards with one set of caps. That’s what you get, and you’ll like it.
Also, a Corsair representative mentioned to us in passing that the company was strongly considering developing some replacement keycaps, too. There are no details to share (it's likely no details exist), but we felt it notable that such a product is being considered.
What we saw from MSI followed the mold of G.Skill and HyperX: it’s just a few extra caps that you can swap onto, for example, your WASD keys for some extra bling and, perhaps, a more enjoyable feel when you’re gaming.
MSI had two different caps on display. Both were made of translucent red ABS plastic, but one had a rubber cap, and the other had a metal one. (That’s actual metal, mind you, not just metal-colored plastic.) There are no legends on either. Again, neither of these were a complete keycap replacement set, but hey, they could be. We were struck with how much of a departure these are from the higher-end replacement caps you usually see--PBT caps with doubleshot or dye sublimated legends. In that sense, MSI isn’t going to satisfy the keyboard enthusiasts, but it just might entice the more gamery types who love flash and bling.
PBT From Tt
Whereas MSI (and others) went with just a handful of replacement caps, Thermaltake went the extra mile with 38-key cap replacements, as well as one full set (104 keycaps).
The former are doubleshot PBT caps (and they cost $30), although we’re not certain how the legends were added. The color choices are, perhaps, somewhat odd though: You can choose between pink caps or powder blue ones. That’s not to say anything disparaging about either color choice, but those are the only two? Further, those don’t exactly match Thermaltake’s design aesthetic, and presumably, the company would want you to use these with its own keyboards.
Thermaltake’s other set of caps--the full 104--are a total departure. They’re translucent, with virtually no color tint (just a “stealth white smoke finish”) and no legends, so your backlighting just explodes through them. One can imagine what that would look like with switches that have clear housings, like Cherry MX RGB switches. It’s not clear what material these are made of, but our money is on ABS plastic. These caps will run you $35 for a set.
We’re likely seeing the beginnings of a trend here, where major companies accustomed to serving one type of keyboard enthusiast is looking at that other half of the community and pondering how to get those folks roped in, too. The above represent some recent (and in the case of Corsair, future) attempts. We’re not sure any are making much of a splash just yet, but the fact that they’re at least getting their feet wet is a sign that perhaps we’ll soon see a bigger and broader market for replacement keycap sets from mainstream gear makers.