Custom Keyboard Spotlight: XDA Keycap Profile

By Ryan Whitwam

A flat profile alternative to DSA.

Most of the keycap profiles we talk about have been around for many years or at least have their roots in decades past. That's not the case for XDA. This profile only came about in the last 18 months, and it offers a cool alternative to DSA for fans of flat profiles. This is an excellent time to talk about the profile because there's a particularly attractive XDA set up for order on Massdrop.

XDA keycaps are unsculpted, so there's no difference in the shape from one row to the next. Not everyone likes typing on keycaps like this, but it's something of an acquired taste. Like DSA caps, XDA makes it easy to cover even weird custom boards because you don't have to worry about row profiles.

So, XDA profile is similar to DSA in that respect, but they're otherwise very different designs. XDA caps have a less aggressive taper from top to bottom, making them a bit more boxy with more surface area on the top. The caps are also a little taller than DSA—roughly the same as a middle row on Cherry keycap sets.

XDA on the left, DSA on the right.

All current XDA keycaps are produced in PBT plastic, which is just one of two options for DSA. PBT is harder and rougher than ABS, so it won't wear down or get "shine" over time. The legends are dye-sublimated—the dye is embedded in the plastic so it won't fade. There are no double-shot molds for XDA keycaps right now, so the legend color has to be substantially darker than the keycap material to show up well. The legends on XDA caps are good, but they aren't as laser-sharp as DSA dye-subs. At least, that was the case last year when I got these caps.

That brings us to XDA Canvas, which is the set I've used in the photos you see here. This set is back on Massdrop, and there are a ton of kit options to cover any keyboard layout imaginable. This set comes from designer MiTo, who took inspiration from the minimalist aesthetic of Dieter Rams. The legends (three distinct options) were all created specifically for this set. The strangest and most striking is the Rams set, which uses Norse/Germanic runes instead of the modern alphabet.

The base XDA Canvas set is an understated tan and gray, but there are several color kits to spice it up. You can cover simple keyboard layouts with Canvas for well under $100, and these caps should last you a very long time. Massdrop expects to ship the current round of XDA Canvas in November. That's a fairly standard wait for a PBT keyset like this. Some double-shot profiles have queues more than twice as long.