In the present paper, the profiles of incipient spilling breaking waves with wavelengths ranging from 10 to 120cm were studied experimentally in clean water. Short-wavelength breakers were generated by wind, while longer-wavelength breakers were generated by a mechanical wavemaker, using either a dispersive focusing or a sideband instability mechanism. The crest profiles of these waves were measured with a high-speed cinematic laser-induced fluorescence technique. For all the wave conditions reported herein, wave breaking was initiated with a capillary-ripple pattern as described in Duncan et al. (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 379, 1999, pp. 191–222). In the present paper, it is shown that at incipient breaking the crest shape is self-similar with two geometrical parameters that depend only on the slope of a particular point on the front face of the gravity wave. The scaling relationships appear to be universal for the range of wavelengths studied herein and hold for waves generated by mechanical wavemakers and by wind. The slope measure is found to be dependent on the wave phase speed and the rate of growth of the crest height prior to incipient breaking.