One of the most important aspect of designing a keycap set is the color selection and subsequent color matching process. Without a solid combination of colors that resonates with the community, a set is almost certainly destined for obscurity, or even at risk of not being manufactured at all. The entire process is also one of the few steps that can really derail a set’s production estimate. In this post I hope to shed some light on the color selection and matching process from start to finish and give plenty of tips along the way to ensure that this step will go as smoothly as possible for anyone that plans on designing a GMK keycap set.
The first, and often overlooked step, is to calibrate your monitor(s)! If you’re like me and not a graphic designer by trade, chances are that you leave your monitor in some kind of gaming mode, or eye comfort mode, and not setup to give the most accurate color reproduction. Another good thing to do is check your work on multiple devices or...
As we publish more articles in the "Mech Keys How-To" series currently ongoing, navigating the various topics and finding previous articles will only become more difficult. This thread will serve as a table of contents to help add some structure to the whole project.
Feel free to also suggest future topics in this thread, as it will surely be easier to identify gaps and opportunities for further exploration when viewing everything as a whole.
Mechanical vs Membrane
Sizes and Layouts of Mechanical Keyboards
Staggered and Ortholinear Layouts
Low-Profile vs High-Profile Keyboard Designs
Build Materials and Other Case Design Considerations
Selecting Your First Mechanical Keyboard (The_Manic_Geek)
How To Design a GMK Keycap Set (GMK_Andy)
Introduction to Mechanical Keyboard Switches (ThereminGoatMK)
The Three Main Types of Switches (ThereminGoatMK)
Switch Marketing Terms...
I don’t like the phrase “it should go without saying”; if that were the case, there would be so many things that never got mentioned, and a lot of things we’d get wrong because of it. This is also true when building your custom mechanical keyboard: there’s a multitude of best practices out there that can, and will, help guide you towards a cleanly built, good-sounding board and an overall positive experience, provided someone *tells* you what those are. Here are some that “should go without saying”, but will be said anyway for those who are new to the hobby, or just getting back in after some time away!
We’ll be focusing on hotswap mechanical keyboards, as those are by and large the most popular kind of PCB for newcomers and veterans alike, though many of our practices will still apply to soldered builds as well. As always, if there’s anything you feel we missed and would like to add, or need further clarification on, feel free to leave a comment below!
Check All Parts Before...
In the world of speakers, there is one category which is more or less overlooked by audiophile speaker manufacturers. That is the desktop speaker category—and, more specifically, its affordable segment. As we looked at this category, we wanted to design speakers that satisfy our true Audiophile community but also borrowed some inspiration for customization from our Mech Keys community.
We saw a gap in the current market, which looks something like this:
- Affordable Desktop Speakers
- Tiny satellite speakers with a subwoofer. You get all that bass but not much else.
- Bose Companion Speakers. These practically dominate the space and are the speakers to beat. They’ve been around for years and years.
- Benefits: Small size, easy for any workspace to accommodate (unless you use a 2.1 set with a subwoofer).
- Drawbacks: Limitations in audio performance due to smaller driver sizes. Generally limited connectivity and not suitable for other audio use. No customizability.
As mentioned in the first story, one detail that makes the BMR1 Nearfield Monitors unique is their removable, customizable grilles. By default, the BMR1s don’t actually come with any grilles. This is because:
1. While the grilles are designed to minimize the audible impact, audiophiles know grilles will inherently add some coloration.
2. We wanted listeners to only pay for what they need and make the speakers part of their workspace; and plenty appreciate the bare, industrial look of the exposed BMR1s. But sometimes, you want a cleaner aesthetic—one you can customize. That’s where the grilles come in.
Made of coated steel with an ABS frame, each grille attaches to the BMR1 with a satisfying magnetic click and a sleek form factor. Lightweight yet durable, they provide added protection for the drivers and surfaces of the speakers. But their main function? Personalization. We are working on a number of grille concepts and planning to include the...
Earning a spot in the name of our BMR1 Desktop Speakers, BMR Drivers are the driving force behind the sound—and size—of these cutting-edge workspace staples. So, what are BMR Drivers? Let’s start with the technical explanation, from a white paper by their manufacturer: Tectonic Audio.
Ever since the first drive unit design (patented by Rice and Kellogg in 1925), loudspeaker drive units have been steadily evolving with improved materials, refined motor design, and modern manufacturing techniques. However, many of the component parts of a modern day loudspeaker are still very similar to those used in the original 1920s prototype.
Of all these components, it could be argued that the most critical is the diaphragm, as it provides the interface between the induced mechanical vibrations and the resulting acoustic pressure waves that we hear.
Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) technology provides a novel approach to diaphragm design that addresses two significant limitations of conventional...
Update 2023-01-17: The warehouse made some significant progress over the weekend. Nearly every order for in-stock products has been processed through the warehouse system, and should have notified to your email that it is on its way. Many orders have departed the warehouse while others are waiting for courier pickup.
Some orders were waiting for an inbound delivery to the warehouse (the item would not have been listed as in-stock when you purchased, but had an estimated shipping date that has now been delayed). These items were unable to be receipted into the warehouse due to the systems outage; with warehouse operations picking back up, this process is able to begin again. For anyone waiting for these items, we expect them to be brought into inventory this week, then shipped shortly after.
This covers the vast majority of outstanding/delayed orders. If you feel that your order's status is not addressed in this update, please reach out to the CS team to take a closer look at the...
Why a 3.5-Millimeter Input?
This tried-and-true input is still valid today. While it may seem old-fashioned, the 3.5-millimeter input (also known as the stereo mini jack) scores high on both versatility and sound quality. It allows for a wider variety of connections of both modern and vintage sources of music. The majority of computers and laptops still have a 3.5-millimeter analog output, which can send a high quality signal straight into the BMR1. This analog input also allows the speakers to be connected with other sources that use an analog output—such as turntables, CD players, and tape decks—with the use of a preamplifier needed to attenuate the signal. To this day, the 3.5-millimeter jack remains both incredibly scalable and versatile, despite its seemingly old-school design.
A Word on Power
Despite their diminutive size, the BMR1 speakers play loud. In order to get a soundstage that really envelopes the listener, we’ve made sure that BMR1’s amplifier has enough...
When considering which aftermarket keycap set to get, there can be many different factors to consider. We’ve already discussed the different materials that keycaps can be made from, and of course there is the obvious colorway consideration, but what about the shape of the individual keycaps themselves?
In the early days of the enthusiast keyboard hobby, there were extremely limited options available for aftermarket keycap sets. Unicomp was making replacement keycap sets for buckling spring keyboards and Signature Plastics was making keycap sets compatible with MX switches (GMK had not yet become an option to the enthusiast market - that would come a couple years later).
Now, though? You’d be easily forgiven for being overwhelmed by the number of options available on the market at this point.
Let’s walk through the characteristics that define the various profiles, and cover some of the major profiles you’ll come across.
▪️ Keycap Shape (Spherical, Cylindrical, Flat)
Okay, so you’ve decided you want to get some aftermarket keycap sets. What should you look for? Broadly speaking, keycap sets will be split up into three different groups, according to the material they’re made of. In order of abundance, they are:
Image Credit: @callmeL
Despite this clean delineation of materials, keep in mind that nothing in the real world of manufacturing is this simple. Different manufacturers will use different material blends (the bulk material may be ABS, but there are all sorts of functional additives that will differ), tooling is different and manufactured/maintained to different standards, and quality standards are different.
In addition to the materials used to manufacture a keycap set, we must also explore a few different “legending techniques” (how the letters that you see on each keycap get there). We’ll focus primarily on the more premium legending options here, but keep in mind that you might come across others in your...
One of the most exciting aspects of the mechanical keyboard hobby is how anyone can become more than just a consumer – anyone can give designing a keycap set a shot and become a contributor as well!
I’ve been involved with designing keycap sets long before I worked for GMK – in fact my set Jukebox SA was the very first SA set to run on Massdrop years ago. Since then I’ve designed a few other kits (GMK Honeywell, GMK Mint Dolch) but have concentrated my efforts on helping other designers find good homes for their sets, and I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working directly with many of the designers in the community.
If you want to learn how to design a GMK keycap set (or any other profile – much of what I will go over will be universally helpful for any profile) I’ll be providing multiple articles here to walk you through every step of the process and best practices to use when designing a set. The steps I will go over in detail are as follows:
▪️ Basic overview /...
Springs. There’s countless instances of these simple machines all over the place in our daily lives, and even in the nightmares of those who have braved physics courses in their times. Unlike some of the more obvious day to day appearances of springs, I think that many people newer to the mechanical keyboard hobby would be shocked to hear just how important of a role springs play in their custom builds. While switch springs are capable of affecting all sorts of characteristics such as stem wobble, switch sound, and even the tactility in some switches, at the most fundamental level springs are what are responsible for giving each keystroke its weight and heft. You can radically change your keyboard’s feeling just by swapping to springs just a few grams lighter or heavier.
Image Credit: @Miroboru
Typically, switch springs are sold already pre-installed with only a few numbers to denote them on a switch’s sales page. While it is fairly common to find switch springs sold...
Ho Ho Ho…
You might have noticed our ongoing 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway. Have you opened your gifts yet? If not, no worries.
Here are a few things to know:
▪️ True to its name, this giveaway started on 12/2 and will run all the way through 12/13 (12 days… wink wink).
▪️ You can open a new gift each day. With each gift you open, you’ll also get one entry into our final raffle. The more gifts you open, the more entries you get.
▪️ It is not possible to win two identical gifts during the 12 days of Christmas. Each day, you will win something new.
▪️ With over 50 (but fewer than 100) coupons in the mix, there’s a very high chance to win a free product, such as a free pair of headphones, a free desk mat, a free Stack Overflow V2 Macropad, a free Artisanta Christmas Artisan Keycap, one of many free keycap sets, or a free Drop Paragon keyboard (valued at $499)! (Taxes and shipping are not included.)
▪️ You can also win amazing deals. Here are a few examples:
▪️ $30 off on orders over...
We’re almost ready to wrap up 2022, which also happened to be our 10 year anniversary. To commemorate the amazing 10 years, we wanted to hold one more event to share the Top 10 products of 2022. Follow our emails (and socials) going out every afternoon this week to see the Top 10 products of 2022. And while we are celebrating, we’re running one last sale for 2022—savings of up to 60%.
Top 10 of 2022:
10. Drop + The Lord of The Rings The One Ring Artisan keycap
- We commemorated a select few of the One Ring’s many hiding places in a collection of legendary artisan keycaps. Is your keyboard ready to become the Ring bearer?
9. Drop + Red Suns GMK Red Samurai Keycap Set/Custom Keycap Set
- Our first keycap set collaboration with designer RedSuns, GMK Red Samurai features a battle-ready colorway evocative of a Japanese warrior’s armor—with build quality to match.
8. Drop + The Lord of The Rings MT3 Elvish Keycap Set
- Elegant and iconic, Tengwar is the script of the Elves: immortal...
Switch Marketing Terms: What to Know and What to Ignore
If you’re just now stepping into the world of custom mechanical keyboards, or trying to expand your switch catalogue for upcoming builds, all of the phrases you may see on a switch sales page can be confusing. Where more seasoned keyboard veterans might scoff at me for making a claim like this, I can assure you that even after having purchased thousands of switches myself I still come across new, strange ways of vendors trying to sell me switches. While I don’t have the space here to go through every single one of the quirky selling gimmicks I’ve seen over the years, I figure it might be worthwhile to give a loose guide to help people out. So, in this article I’m going to cover the things that you need to both look for and ignore when buying your next set of switches!
Type and Manufacturer
Image Credit: @BMa1
While this may seem an incredibly obvious suggestion to be made as something to look out for it, it isn’t entirely without merit. To new people coming into the...
If you recall the first time you got into custom mechanical keyboards, or if you're on your first custom keyboard, you know there’s a LOT of info you wish you had going into your first board purchase and build. While there’s great info out there these days, it can be easy to get confused on what you should be looking out for and doing, so let’s distill that down to the basics of selecting and building your first mechanical keyboard. Selecting your board carries the rest of your purchase decision, so making sure you understand the board as much as possible will help make sure everything you pick is compatible and will feel and sound the way you want it to.
For this article we’ll be focusing on hotswap keyboards, as they are far more accessible these days, and tend to be a popular choice among newcomers to the space. The most important things to focus on are, in no particular order:
Socket orientation (North or South-facing)
Plate Mounting Style
While we have Drop community members across the world, I am choosing the American holiday of Thanksgiving as a moment to share some gratitude for all of your support, engagement, and insight this year.
One of my biggest reasons for joining the company a little over a year ago was Drop’s historical community-driven approach to what we design, make and curate for you—either by ourselves, with community designers, or in collaboration with some of the best brands in the world. But, even then, I did not fully appreciate how valuable an engaged, knowledgeable community can be.
We’ve brought you a pretty steady stream of product launches this year: Holy Panda X Switches; a whole new premium keycap profile in DCX and more than ten colorways launched in just a few months; some beautiful keycap and keyboard designs done with community artists; our take on gasket-mount 75% keyboards with the SENSE75; more features and value for Drop Keyboard Club members; plus, a series of collaborations...
Build materials and other case design considerations
Staggered vs Ortholinear
Low-Profile vs High-Profile
Build Materials and Design Considerations (you are here)
After discussing low-profile and high-profile cases last week, in addition to size/layout and staggered/ortholinear layouts previously, we’ve now arrived at the last of four “intro” topics to cover the basics of mechanical keyboards (not counting the switch topics that ThereminGoat has contributed as well). Our final entry in this initial series is about build materials and other case design considerations. Because there is so much to cover on this topic, some things will be omitted - let us know what you want to see more of in the comments below.
Aspects we will cover:
Plastic vs Metal
Broadly speaking, most mechanical keyboards will either be “plastic” or “metal”; of course, the specific plastic or metal of choice will impact how a board feels, but these are the two main categories. Most...
Having already discussed some of the early things to consider in the world of mechanical keyboards, it seems appropriate to take a step back and answer the obvious question - why should I even care about mechanical keyboards in the first place? This might be a solved problem to some of us, but if you’re stumbling across this early in your discovery of the mech keys hobby, you’ve come to the right place.
Why should I care so much about my keyboard?
Back when I first joined the hobby, the prevailing sales pitch for mechanical keyboards was “why would you spend $1,000 on a custom PC build only to use a $10 cheapo keyboard as your main physical interface with the computer?” While this argument has become a bit of a cliche and fallen out of favor, there is still some truth to the argument. And once you’ve decided to upgrade your keyboard from the pack-in/freebie model, you’re faced with a decision about what to move to. Do you get a nicer (probably ‘gamer’) membrane keyboard? Or do you...
Among the seemingly countless number of switch options out there, you’ll be surprised to know that the vast majority of them fit cleanly into one of three different categories known as ‘linear’, ‘tactile’, or ‘clicky’. I promise that I am not deceiving you here. Even with all of the different variations in weightings, color schemes, and manufacturing brand names that you see among switch options out there, most of them are one of these three main types. (Hint: That’s why DROP breaks down their switch options into those three categories.)
As to what the distinguishing features of each of the three main types of switches are, simply know that these are used to differentiate the sound and/or feeling between each switch. Additionally, some of the variations that you’ll see within each of these three main types may further provide some context as to how these switches are different from normal linears, tactiles, or clickies. So, without much more delay, let’s go ahead and walk through...