While the aesthetical side of keycap customization is the thing that comes to mind the most, it’s also possible to find instances where the customization makes it easier for you to use your keyboard comfortably.
A stepped caps lock is one of such customizations, mostly preferred for the benefit it brings in terms of accessibility and comfort rather than aesthetics, similar to a split space bar. That being said, most modern keyboards do not feature a stepped caps lock or an option to install it, despite it being a practical addition that you can find in older keyboards such as the legendary IBM Model M.
As expected, just like many other things that were eventually removed (sometimes for price-related reasons, other times for reasons completely unknown) from modern keyboards, stepped caps locks made their way into the keyboard enthusiast community, with a lot of enthusiasts favoring it over a standard caps lock.
So, what are stepped caps lock keys, and why are they used?
Stepped caps lock keys feature a design where the right side of the key has a lower profile than the rest, which creates a gap between the caps lock key and the key next to it.
While the main reason that stepped caps lock keys are used is to prevent accidental presses on the caps lock key, some keyboard enthusiasts use them simply for their aesthetics.
In most cases, the stem of a stepped caps lock key is shifted more towards the left side to prevent accidental presses even further.
While the idea of a stepped caps lock may sound odd if you never have issues with accidentally pressing your caps lock key, it’s quite a revelation for those who regularly have trouble with it.
What Is a Stepped Caps Lock?
A stepped caps lock is a caps lock key where a certain area to the right side of the key is lower than the rest. This area acts as a gap between the caps lock key and the key next (usually the “A” key) to it and is often unpressable even if you hit it by accident.
While you can find stepped caps locks in most older keyboards, they eventually went out of fashion, with almost no modern keyboard featuring stepped caps locks by default.
To signify that the lower part is nothing more than a gap, stepped caps lock keys were often designed in a way where the stem of the keycap is located at the left side of the key, rather than the center, which is the standard for any other keycap.
As expected, the caps lock switch located on the keyboard was also aligned to the left to accommodate for the difference in the location of the keycap stem. Cherry stepped caps locks are a good example of off-center stems where the stem is located on the left rather than the center.
Nowadays, it’s also possible to find stepped caps lock keys that have their stems on the center, especially in modern keyboards.
As most modern boards are produced with a centered caps lock switch by default, using a stepped caps lock keycap with an off-center stem is more trouble than it’s worth in most cases due to compatibility problems, which essentially prompted the production of stepped caps lock keycaps with a center stem.
This type of keycap is usually preferred by those who use stepped caps lock keys for the way they look, which we will be talking about more in detail in the next section, where we go into the reasons behind choosing a stepped caps lock over a regular one.
What Is the Point of a Stepped Caps Lock?
At first sight, it might be puzzling to find out the reason behind going with a stepped caps lock instead of a regular one, especially considering that none of the other keys on a keyboard can feature such a design, but wait until you hear us out.
The primary focus of a stepped caps lock is to prevent accidental presses of the caps lock key, which can easily ruin the text you’re typing and force you to type everything all over in small letters.
While this may not be relatable to you if you never have issues with accidentally pressing your caps lock key, it’s a common problem that troubles plenty of keyboard users, and if you are one of them, a stepped caps lock may be the end to all of your trouble.
On the other hand, just as with anything else in the world of keycap modification, there is an aesthetic aspect to stepped caps locks that are preferred by many.
Aesthetics is where the stepped caps lock keys with center stems that we mentioned earlier come into play. While these keys are still perfectly capable of reducing the chance of hitting the caps lock key by accident, the main reason behind their usage is the difference in looks they bring to the table.
Are Stepped Caps Lock Keys Better?
Deciding on using a stepped caps lock key comes purely down to preference, which is why it wouldn’t be right to say that it’s better or worse.
While hitting the caps lock key by accident is a problem for some, keyboard users accustomed to the layout of their keyboards may prefer a regular caps lock key as it’s easier to press.
As center-stemmed caps locks are widely available, you can always feel free to grab a stepped caps lock keycap for yourself and give it a try to see if you like it better.
Caps lock is certainly a key that isn’t well-liked, with many computer users opting for software solutions that disable or modify its functionality due to the damage it can cause when it’s accidentally pressed.
While software solutions are often more convenient than buying a new keyboard, stepped caps locks are a great way to prevent accidental presses of the caps lock key in a purely physical way, without the need for any additional software or tweaks, with the added bonus of aesthetical pleasure for some.
If you are planning on building a new keyboard soon and you haven’t tried a stepped caps lock yet, make sure to give it a try!