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
Short Intro Into Split Keyboards (dovenyi)
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)
In Defense of MT3 (StoryBoardTech)
How To Design a GMK Keycap Set (GMK_Andy)
The GMK Color Matching Process (GMK_Andy)
Introduction to Mechanical...
We met designer ArqKeebs in the previous Studio Story for DCD Bird Jungle. Now, let’s learn a little more about the keycap set itself—how Arq pulls inspiration from the real world and creates unique and compelling designs based on various source materials.
Clearly birds are a common theme between your most recent set and the Bird Jungle keycap set; have you always been interested in ornithology, or was that a more recent interest? Is there anything in particular that draws you to birds over other inspiration?
Honestly it's something recent. After seeing the Hyacinth macaw everything changed. I never paid attention to birds before. It's like when you see something once then see it everywhere. People need to take 5 minutes just to google up some birds. There are some wild and just stunning birds. Their colors are truly wonderful.
Side question as a board game fan—have you ever played Wingspan? If so, does that inspire you with its artwork and design choices?
ArqKeebs has been around in the mechanical keyboard hobby for some time now, and has taken an impressive number of keycap sets from idea to fruition over that time. It would seem that the only thing he hasn’t done until now is introduce himself to the Drop community!
So, we wanted to help get that out of the way with some questions for Arq, starting with who he is and what he’s all about (an interview more specific to the DCD Bird Jungle keycap set and his design process is coming in the next Story). Thank you to Arq for letting us peek behind the curtain!
Render created by Bingo. Model created by werk.technica.
We’ll start easy—tell us a bit about yourself and your history, mech keys related or not. Where are you from, what is your day job (if applicable), what are your other hobbies and interests outside of keyboards?
My name is David, but everyone calls me Arq. I was born in Peru, but I came to New York City when I was thirteen. I graduated a bit over 2 years ago...
Figure 1: While this is a good start from user destohfaeda, this isn't anywhere near complete...
After having collected switches for almost five consecutive years now, I can say with confidence that everything switch related comes and goes in ever-looping cycles. Strong tactile bumps towards the start of the downstroke were once novel and popular, faded out of the limelight over the past few years, and are only just now starting to make a comeback. Huge leaps in housing aesthetics happened back when the first custom colored MX-style switches began being offered in 2018, and now five years later these massive leaps in design capabilities are surging again. Even things contextually related to switches rotate around and around in cycles. One such switch-related phenomenon which repeats in a (much faster) loop is that of people wanting to make a complete list of “every switch ever”. Almost on a monthly basis for every single month since I started collecting, at least one new...
As cool as sweet colors and designer top cases might be, the long-lasting joy from your board is going to come from the way it feels and sounds. So, here’s a bit on the approach we took with CSTM.
Mounting / Acoustics / Feedback:
The CSTM is gasket mounted to optimize for typing feedback, acoustics and ease of customization. Gasket mounting has been all the rage for a while and we’ve all seen different implementations, though not all are equal. In many ways, the drive for customization and options led us to offer a product that can be built out in many ways in order to find an individual’s optimal preferences when they are using their keyboard.
Bouncy / Flex
Due to the decentralized nature of the keyboard community, as new tech developments come, their names and degree of preference can run the gamut. Naming sometimes doesn't stick or definitions remain somewhat nebulous. For example, bouncy and flexy are often used interchangeably in the community but they actually...
We’ve already talked about everything inside the CSTM80 keyboard, but what about the most visible and aesthetically-important aspect—the interchangeable top case? The idea, obviously, was to create a platform that lets you coordinate the keyboard case with your keycaps, your setup, your decor. There are other good keyboards out there in various colors and finishes, some nicely matched to the keycaps they come with. But, we thought it might be extra sweet if you could instantly and affordably change the keyboard to match your next favorite keycaps or gear or wallpaper without having to buy a whole new board.
We’ve already got a good amount in the works there, as well as a ton of potential for the designers we work with to expand their canvas outward from keycaps to encompass the entire board (along with deskmats and more). Let’s dive in.
Cases are attached to the keyboard itself with an array of magnets—easy to pop off, yet secure and stable when needed. Simply...
In defense of MT3, the most misunderstood and possibly greatest keycap profile.
Offices are tense spaces, there’s no way around it. Whether they’re silent, museum-like tombs or raucous zoos filled with energy. In this place of distraction, and often discomfort, it’s important to have tools that make you more efficient, comfortable and focused. Personally, I am lucky to work in a happy, healthy work environment with amazing coworkers, but my office is filled with distraction and on my best days it’s a challenging ecosystem in which to create.
I’ll be honest, I’m no gamer, and it wasn’t the speedy, silent linear switches or 8000Hz polling rates of gaming boards that drew me to this hobby. It was the spirit of clickety-clackety typewriters of the past and a desire to craft my words on a surface that deserved them… one that amplified my ideas and provided a comfy ambience that encouraged creativity.
I don’t feel old, and certainly don’t act old, but I’ve been a designer for 25 of my 43 years and in that whole time I’ve hated the keyboards I’ve used. With the...
The headlining feature of the upcoming CSTM80 keyboard is the magnetically attached (and easily swapped) top case, allowing you to easily customize the aesthetics of your board on a whim. That said, there is a lot going on under the hood of CSTM80 to create a full-featured board out of the box, and we’ll focus on those features in this story.
Typing Feel and Sound
CSTM80 features a peg-type gasket-mounted plate design, shipping with a polycarbonate plate by default for both the fully-built and barebones versions. The PC plate offers a satisfying typing sound and allows for a good amount of flex to take advantage of the gasket-mounting construction. The stock sound with the included linear switches (Gateron Yellow KS3) has a subtle marbly-ness while not sounding overly muted or deadened, and the included tactile switches (Gateron Browns) sound surprisingly similar while maintaining a strong tactility. We’ll let the (soon-to-come) typing tests show the sound better than...
Figure 1: A fantastic Kailh switch photo from Blitzenx51!
There’s any number of different details people look into when they’re trying to pick out switches for their next keyboard build. However, arguably none of them are as vague and mysterious as the materials used to make housings and stems. Yes, even as manufacturers are iffy about their spring weights and newer brands are sketchy about who actually made their switches, differentiating POM from Nylon from Polycarbonate remains to this day the least understood parts of mechanical keyboard switches. For what it’s worth, I don’t have a fix for that either. As someone who has completed a master’s degree in chemical engineering focusing on polymer science, I understand full well that attempting to reverse engineer the formulas of even the most simple keyboard switch materials would take months on end and nearly free-range access to numerous analytical instruments that companies simply won’t hand over to you. However, that...
CTRL, ALT, SHIFT V2
We think it’s fair to say Drop’s original CTRL, ALT, and SHIFT keyboards have earned a place as classics within the hobby. But, since their debut, it’s also fair to say there has been a lot of evolution among mechanical keyboards. So, what do you do to modernize a classic without sacrificing what made it so in the first place? And, beyond that, what might something totally new look like?
When we’ve done customer surveys and asked buyers why they picked one of the three the answer is usually the same - the design. Machined from a solid block of aluminum, then sandblasted and anodized, with pleasant rounded corners and simple-yet-elegant industrial design, CTRL, ALT and SHIFT look as great as they feel.
However, the common complaints we’ve heard are related to stabilizers, switch compatibility, and typing sound. So, we’d like to introduce you to the V2 family of these icons.
The refreshed V2 versions of CTRL, ALT and SHIFT will all have several...
As someone who has been writing documentation in the mechanical keyboard hobby space for many years now, I can say with utter confidence that there’s a lot of misinformation still floating around the hobby today. While some portion of these claims and community-wide thoughts can be traced back to dubious videos or posts that may as well have been carved into stone line by line, a good amount of the strange ideas still permeating throughout the hobby have come passed down in the form of community wisdom. Surely you recall your friend who got you into keyboards telling you to ‘Just do X’ or ‘Stay away from Y because of Z’, right? More likely than not, that is the same wisdom that their friend who got them into the hobby first shared with them several years ago. As you can probably put together, this mechanical keyboard-themed telephone game has led to quite some prolific ideas being spread over the years that are completely detached from reality. These tall tales, blatant lies, and...
As we prepare to launch the latest keycap set from biip, Extended 2048 Dark, we wanted to take some time to dive into the legending process used for the set. You may remember that the original Extended 2048 keycap set used PBT keycaps and dye-sub legends to create the iconic look. For the Dark version of the Extended 2048 set, we have worked to integrate the “reverse dye-sub” legending technique into our portfolio in order to retain the PBT keycap feel you’ve come to expect from the Extended 2048 line of keycap sets.
This is a super exciting time for us here at Drop. Reverse dye-sub on our DCD and MT3 lines is a technology that we have been refining for some time now as this method has been slowly gaining traction across the community. This process now opens quite a few new doors for unique products to come from Drop in the future.
What is Dye-sub?
We covered this in our article about keycap materials, but a quick reminder before diving into what makes reverse dye-sub...
If you think keyboard customization is mostly about switches and keycaps, let me draw your attention to the extraordinary – and often extraordinarily overlooked – split and ergonomic keyboards.
Splits may look weird and scary for the uninitiated, but the scene is thriving for a good reason. The fact that split keyboards are all over nowadays makes it even stranger that many people, myself included, may discover them only after typing on classic keyboards for decades. On my blog I've been featuring them for years, literally hundreds of them, so I'm very excited to have the opportunity to be your guide into the world of split keyboards.
One obvious answer would be ergonomics, but this could be misleading. Sure, people with existing health issues (RSI, carpal tunnel syndrome) may try to alleviate discomfort or pain developed on classic keyboards by turning to splits, while some others use them as a preventive measure. However, an even larger segment of split...
Biip is about as close to a household name as you can get in the keycap design world. We’ve already learned a lot about his history and design style in the interview that he shared for the MT3 Operator launch (check that out if you haven’t already); now he’s back to share some details about the design of Extended 2048 Dark (as well as Extended 2048).
It's clear that the design for Extended 2048 (and Extended 2048 Dark, by extension) is heavily influenced by vintage Apple keyboards like the Apple Extended Keyboard and its derivatives. What is your personal history with these keyboards? Did you use old Apple computers growing up?
I've always been drawn to vintage computers, especially microcomputers. They have a strong influence on my work, with an unrivaled charm that is hard to find today. For me, the AEKII is the most refined yet timeless keyboard from that era. It still exudes something contemporary today.
Are there any in-progress design documents that you would be...
One of the most time-honored traditions of the mechanical keyboard community are the in-person meetups hosted all over the world each year. Unlike video game communities or trading card games, there’s neither a regular weekly meeting schedule nor a large, once-per-year type convention hall that packs every keyboard enthusiast together under one roof. Instead, usually once per year people at a state, regional, or even country-wide level gather for a grassroots organized keyboard meetup bringing keyboards, artisans, and nearly everything they have keyboard related to show off and share with other people in the hobby. Whether its organized by a few outstanding, well known community members or put on by a keyboard vendor, these meetups are almost always an amazing opportunity to get to meet other people you only know from behind a screen and to try out a bunch of keyboards, keycaps, and switches you’d otherwise have to sink money into trying out. And for those of you who have never made...
Image Credit: @Tracipang
For being one of the big three types of mechanical keyboard switches, clicky switches are often incredibly underrepresented in discussions about switches at large. Whether this is a function of them seemingly being sought after more by beginners or because of clickies’ less than stellar performance notes historically, this lack of adequate discussion often leads to newer users having a complete lack of understanding of what actually makes a clicky switch clicky and how to differentiate them. Pile on the fact that the recent year or so of releases have seen a massive uptick in the variations in clicky switch designs, and even just clicky switches on their own can be a daunting challenge for people to pull apart. In order to help establish a decent base of knowledge for people interested in clickies to start out with, I figured a brief overview of the two main types of clicky switches would be useful. (As for the other half dozen or so types, I’ll...
Admittedly, I’ve not covered much in the way of ‘frankenswitches’ either here on Drop or over on my own website where I do full length switch reviews. While part of this is because there’s already way too much variety in factory-made switches out there that I still need to cover, a much larger part of this is due to the fact that the number of frankenswitches is borderline endless at this point. Frankenswitching, for those of you who don’t know, is the act of mixing and matching parts between various types of switches in order to provide a unique combination of aesthetics, performance, or a bit of both that you simply couldn’t get elsewhere in a stock switch. Combine this idea with the fact that there are well over a thousand different MX-style switches which in theory have interchangeable parts, and you can see why I refer to this list as practically endless.
Figure 1: Not quite the monster movie that goes with 'frankenswitch', but ol' Dracula and his frankenswitches just...
Okay, so you got a new macro pad, it’s working fine, but now you want to customize the keymap/layout a bit. Where do you even start?
Image credit: @HoffmanMyster
“Mapping” refers to the relational ‘map’ between the physical keys on a keyboard and the signals sent to the computer or device when a key or key combination is pressed. For most non-mechanical keyboards, this mapping is rigid and cannot be modified. Custom keyboards and most popular mechanical keyboards can be remapped using keymapping software—sometimes proprietary, especially for the latter category of brands like Logitech or Razer. We are more interested in custom boards and other offerings that do support more keymapping customization.
Arguably the “default” and most common software solution for custom keymapping is QMK, with QMK Toolbox as their software interface to flash custom mappings. QMK is incredibly powerful, but it does have two fairly major drawbacks—it’s not newcomer-friendly...
New Feature—Product Tagging in Photos (+ Giveaway!)
Hey everyone! After a successful pre-launch for Keyboard Club members, we are ready to roll out a new feature site-wide (with a bonus giveaway for those who contribute!).
Check out all the Battlestations submissions thus far! Mech Keys Battlestations
What’s this about a giveaway?
More details can be found at the end! The short version: we will be giving away two $100 Drop Rewards credits to participating users who contribute and tag their Mech Keys photos using the Battlestations flair! In order to be eligible for giveaway prizes, your photo must include at least two tagged items (not required to be Drop products—see Tagging Non-Drop Products below).
▪️ Random - selected in a raffle format; each Battlestation post submitted grants one entry into the raffle
▪️ Best Photo - selected by a committee of community members known for their incredible photography work as well as contributions to the community; criteria is ultimately up to the judges, including...
Keyboard switch lubricants. If you thought people’s variation in opinions on switches was too wide to pin down a cohesive idea of what is good and what is bad, then you clearly have never tried asking people about their favorite lube for switches. Since the very beginning of modifying mechanical keyboard switches, everyone and anyone who has ever done this, even once, will have the most detailed, intricate, and sworn-too response as to what lubricant goes with what switch, why Brand A is better than Brand B, and so on. As someone who cares way too much about switches and has spent more than his fair share of time modifying them as well, I can with confidence say that 95% of these opinions, deep articles on comparing lubes, and all the niche cases people ascribe to them are actually useless. The vast majority of people wanting to read an article or watch a video about lubing switches likely haven’t spent enough time with them to develop a super informed opinion on them, and I think...
You’ve met the man behind Solarized already, but we haven’t yet delved into the theme itself (or where Ethan’s keyboard journey has taken him). Let’s take a look at the second half of Ethan’s responses to our questions as he gives us a peek behind the curtain at Solarized—and the state of his current keyboard collection.
How many different iterations has the Solarized theme gone through before arriving at its current state? Would you be willing to share some early-stage work in progress versions with the readers?
I spent months on it—REAL months of churning through design variants, testing in different lighting conditions, playing with different color models. It was grueling, but I could see the end result I wanted from the very beginning.
A bit of trivia that I don’t think I’ve published elsewhere is that it was originally called Janus (after the Roman god with two faces), but I realized right before I released it that there was another unrelated code project that used...