Artifact Bloom keycaps review

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(originally published on Material Journal)
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In the world of custom mechanical keyboards, quality keycap sets can be difficult to come by for under $100. In this recurring series, I will be taking a look at some of the more affordable keycap options in the popular Cherry-profile. First up are the Artifact Bloom Series keycaps from Drop - these dyesub PBT keycaps are often offered in-stock and retail for $45. Specs
  • Profile - Cherry
  • Colorway - Black-on-White, Futures (9009), etc
  • Construction - dyesub PBT
  • Pricing - $45 base kit (Drop affiliate link)
  • Availability - in-stock 

Disclaimer – I received the Artifact Bloom keycaps from Drop for review. Drop has also provided me with an affiliate link, which means that I will receive a small percentage of any purchases made through the link above. All opinions are my own. 

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Introduction The Bloom Series from Artifact is a range of dyesub PBT keycap sets in the classic Cherry profile. The keycaps are available in a number of colorways, the most versatile of which are Black-on-White, “Vintage” (grey and white), Black-on-Black, and a 9009-inspired set called Futures. There are also various colored gradient sets, which I personally find to be less interesting. Most of the colorways are continually kept in-stock, but the more popular varieties occasionally switch to pre-order status when Drop’s inventory runs out (these then take about 2 months to fulfill). 
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The keycaps ship in a generic cardboard box with two clear plastic trays inside. The plastic is less rigid than that of EnjoyPBT keycap sets, so they’re slightly more prone to sending the keycaps flying when opening the box. Nonetheless, these trays are much more useful for storage than the potato-based variety offered with GMK sets and the plastic bags that Signature Plastics sets ship in.
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Construction When it comes to Cherry-profile keycaps, there are two main types of molds used. GMK is essentially the only current manufacturer with the “true” Cherry-profile, while most PBT sets end up being around 1mm taller. Artifact Bloom is no exception and falls in the latter category.


The first thing that will stand out about the Artifact Bloom keycaps is the texture. Whereas most enthusiast keycap sets have a bit of a grainy texture to them, the Artifact Bloom keycaps are completely smooth, to the point of feeling slick. When your hands are cold, they may even feel slightly slippery.  By contrast, EnjoyPBT has a fine grain texture and gives off a slightly powdery feel. CRP has a marshmallow-like texture with a coarser grain and even more powdery feel. GMK is lightly textured as well but inherently has a slightly tacky feel due to its ABS construction. The stock PBT keycaps on the HHKB are generally a bit rougher feeling than all of the Cherry-profile options listed. This borderline slick texture will either be a pro or a con depending on personal preference. Apart from the slipperiness, the other potential downside is that they’re a bit more prone to scratches. Personally, I find EnjoyPBT and GMK’s smooth but slightly grainy finish to be the most comfortable for long typing sessions.
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The thickness of the PBT material is listed as 1.5mm. I picked a keycap from each row and measured all four walls. The results are as follows: 1.26-1.41mm for the function row, 1.28-1.38mm for the number row, 1.40-1.58mm for the Q row, 1.38-1.58mm for the A row, 1.40-1.51mm for the Z row, 1.44-1.56mm for the bottom row mods, and 1.27-1.52mm for the spacebar. Essentially, the thinnest surface measured 1.26mm and the thickest measured 1.58mm. Surprisingly, these measurements were consistently thicker than those of the more expensive EnjoyPBT BoW set I had on hand. 
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The dye subbed legends are reasonably crisp to the naked eye. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice a bit of feathering on the edges of the characters. Side-by-side with EnjoyPBT and CRP keycaps, the legends on the Artifact Bloom keycaps seem a little less sharp. This may, in part, be due to the matte surface texture of the keycaps resulting in a hazier look. The 87 keys from a standard ANSI TKL layout weigh 4.5oz, which is exactly the same weight as the corresponding keys in an EnjoyPBT set. 
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Aesthetics and Details The color of the Black on White keycaps is not a pure white as depicted on the Drop website. I wouldn’t necessarily classify the Artifact Bloom white as being overly warm or cool either. Instead, it has a bit of a dull magenta tint to it. In most cases, this won’t be a complete dealbreaker; however, if you’re planning to match the keycap set to an e-white case, I would definitely look elsewhere.  According to the product team at Drop, “The vendor chose the color based on the Pantones of the keycaps that the Drop community likes. Sometimes to achieve these Pantones there needs to be some mixing of plastics. Also the white as produced was a better contrast with the black than a pure white color."
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To use GMK standard colors as a reference, WS2 is a cool white with a slightly green tint (EnjoyPBT x GOK BoW, GMK Monochrome, GMK Bleached). WS1 is a warmer white (GMK Minimal, GMK Hennessy). CP is a warmer and creamer white, often compared to old school beige (GMK Olivia alphas). For an e-white board, I would go with WS2 colored keycaps. Above, you’ll find some side-by-side photos with various white keycaps. The coolest white on the far left is from EnjoyPBT x GOK BoW (WS2), the second keycap is from Artifact Bloom BoW, and the third is from GMK Bingsu (GMK CP). I have also thrown in a CRP keycap (beige) on the far right for reference. As you can tell from the darker regions of the keycap, Artifact Bloom’s white is quite different from WS2 and CP due to its slight magenta tint.
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The Futures set, on the other hand, is a replica of the historic 9009 colorway (first seen in keyboards made for Reuters). I don’t have GMK 9009 or EnjoyPBT 9009 on hand to compare the exact colors. However, I would’ve liked to see non-accented keys included or an optional kit with the standard beige modifier keys. The simple inclusion of these four keys would make the set infinitely more versatile as with most other 9009 sets. Currently, the Esc key, spacebar, Enter key, and Insert key are all accented with no alternatives if you don’t want green/red on your board.
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The legends Artifact uses are classic Cherry legends in the classic rounded sans serif typeface. The modifiers are icon-only and all left center-aligned, with the caps lock key using an inverted V shape rather than the inverted hollow arrow commonly found on GMK sets. The arrow keys are a mix of top left-aligned and center left-aligned. The bottom row modifiers use the standard Code legend for the Windows/Command key. Insert, Home, Delete, and End are all spelled out. Page Up and Page Down are abbreviated to Pg Up and Pg Dn. Print Screen is abbreviated to PrtSc on one line while Scroll Lock is spelled out on two lines. There are no side legends. 
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If I were to nitpick, I would’ve liked to see cleaned up legends such as “Print” and “Scroll” instead of the original Cherry labels for these keys. At the end of the day, it is a huge plus that these even use OG Cherry-style legends instead of the odd typefaces found on many other budget PBT sets. 
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Build Quality Warped spacebars are often an issue with PBT keycap sets, but I’m happy to report that all four spacebars in my two Artifact Bloom sets are straight. The stems for all of the keys are also pretty tight out of the box and reasonably straight as well. When mounted on a keyboard with per-key RGB, there is no notable backlight bleed, indicating that the top surface of the keycap is sufficiently thick.  One odd thing I noticed is that all of the 1U keys in the QWERTY row have a slight grittiness in texture when compared to the rest of the set. I don’t think this is a one-off manufacturing defect, since it occurs consistently among the 1U keycaps in that row profile. I reached out to Drop, and they said this is “within the error bound of manufacturing using the molds … taking into account old cherry keyboards.” Regardless, it would be nice to see a new mold for the QWERTY row that matches the surface texture of the other keys.  There are also no exterior sprue marks on the top side like with many keycap sets. Although this doesn’t necessarily have any tangible benefits, it is a neat distinction from even higher-end keycap sets with these external manufacturing marks.
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Typing Sound The Artifact Bloom keycaps have a simultaneously more muted and high-pitched sound signature when compared to other premium PBT sets. Relatively speaking, EnjoyPBT and CRP keycaps both sound a bit bassier to me than the Artifact Bloom ones. The Artifact Bloom spacebar in particular felt a bit denser and heavier than its EnjoyPBT counterpart. This seemed to result in a more muted spacebar sound as well. I do have to say I prefer the sound signature of EnjoyPBT and CRP over Artifact Bloom, but the difference will be negligible unless you’ve tried a significant amount of keycaps.
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Compatibility  129 keycaps are included in the base kit, meaning the keycaps will be compatible with most of the standard ANSI layouts up to a full size keyboard (60%, 65%, 75%, 1800, TKL, full size). There is an ISO compatibility kit for $7 and a WKL kit for $4.  By comparison, EnjoyPBT’s BoW comes with 146 keys (and GMK WoB comes with 140 keys). These additional keys boil down to support for more obscure layouts, including extra spacebar sizes (6U and split), shift key sizes, additional modifier options on each row, stepped caps lock, additional B for Alice layout, ISO support, and WKL support.  Odds are, if you have a keyboard with an obscure enough layout, you’ll know which keys you need. Otherwise, your keyboard should be fully covered by Artifact Bloom’s 129 keys. 
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Final Thoughts The Artifact Bloom Series keycaps from Drop are a great budget set of dyesub PBT keycaps in the Cherry-profile. While they won’t replace EnjoyPBT and CRP sets for most enthusiasts (those obsessed with color matching, modifier legends, texture, and sound signature), they do offer a substantial value with decent thickness, dyesubbing, and quality control — at half the cost of the typical set. The only two scenarios in which I would not recommend the Artifact Bloom keycaps are if you know you prefer a grainy texture on your keycaps or if you plan to mount the Black-on-White set on an e-white keyboard. In terms of improvements, I would also like to see Drop look into the strange coarseness in all of the R2 1U keycaps.
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