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...
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...
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)
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 /...
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