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The fun is in the details of Drop’s new DCX keycaps

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Earlier this year, keyboard specialist Drop announced its new range of DCX keycaps. But rather than focusing on creating flashy, colorful designs like most aftermarket keycaps, the first three sets to use the new DCX profile are relatively low-key, with simple black-and-white designs or a small selection of primary colors.

That’s because the focus here is on getting the finer details in the hope that Drop’s sets can directly compete with those from GMK, a German manufacturer generally considered to be the producer of some of the keycaps for the best quality. GMK produces keycaps in the “Cherry” profile (which refers to the general shape of keycaps) while “DCX” refers to the profile of Drop keycaps. I had the chance to compare the new black-on-white DCX keycaps from Drop directly with a set of white-on-black keycaps produced by GMK. Both are sold by Drop, but its DCX keycaps start at $89 for a basic kit, while GMK’s are $110. And you know what? I think I prefer the (slightly) more affordable keycaps from Drop.

DCX’s lettering (right) is slightly thinner overall.

The cylindrical name refers to how the two sets of keys are hollowed out from left to right.

At first glance, the two sets look very similar. Both are made from thick ABS plastic, both are double-shot (their callouts are made from a second piece of plastic for extra durability), and both have a so-called “cylindrical” design. This name can be confusing because the general shape of the keys is relatively square, but look at them from the front and you will see that they are concave, as if you could place a cylinder vertically on each key. Like GMK’s, Drop’s keycaps would have slight adjustment issues with north-facing switches.

The standard sets of both keys also include a variety of additional keys that you won’t find on a standard US keyboard, such as the smaller left shift and larger enter key that you’ll see on my UK keyboard in these pictures. There are also a few different size options when it comes to the bottom row keys to accommodate the variety of keyboard layouts in use today.

The GMK (black) and Drop (white) have a very similar shape.
Photo by Jon Porter / The Verge and Photo by Jon Porter / The Verge

Take a closer look, however, and the differences start to become apparent. For starters, Drop uses a different label on its bottom row. There’s still no Windows key, but Drop has opted for “Super” in a nice nod to keys found historically on Linux computers, rather than “Code” on GMK’s sets. The fonts of the two keycaps are also slightly different: GMK’s lettering looks very slightly bold compared to Drop’s. But I don’t think one or the other is necessarily “best” here – which one you like more will come down to personal preference.

There are other areas where I think Drop’s keycaps have a slight advantage. Across the keys, the size of letters and symbols is much more consistent. The sizes of the caret (aka the little hat “^”) and tilde (~) symbols have been significantly reduced to be much more consistent with the other symbols on their respective keys. Also, the size of the arrows on the tab key has been adjusted. Everything looks much cleaner overall.

I’ve only been tapping these keys for about a day, so it’s hard to draw too many firm conclusions about how the plastic might wear over time. Out of the box it has an excellent finish, but since it’s ABS it’s safe to assume that it will develop at least a bit of shine as it smooths out with use. Keep in mind with my comparison photos that the GMK keycaps I’m comparing them to have been in use more or less continuously for a year and a half, hence the extra shine.

Since some people will inevitably ask what the keys sound like, I recorded some keystroke tests. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have the cleanest sounding keyboard (it’s a Filco Majestouch 2, with its typical Costar-style stabilizers), but I could barely tell the difference between the two.

To be clear, none of DCX’s features offer a round-the-clock improvement over what’s available from GMK. And as it stands, you still have a plot more options for different color schemes if you go the GMK route. This is the main problem with DCX at the moment: there are only a very limited number of color schemes available. They may be high quality, but they lack the color and fun that attracts many people to aftermarket keycaps. It’s fun to obsess over the details of a black-and-white set of keys, but at $90, it’s not a purchase I’d recommend to anyone outside of true obsessives.

But if Drop is able to maintain that level of quality while growing its line of DCX keycaps, and if it’s able to do that while keeping them more affordable and more readily available than GMK’s sets, then they’ll start to become very easy to recommend.

Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge