Anyone familiar with mechanical keyboards or PC gaming peripherals has certainly heard of the term custom keyboard. These are supposedly more high-end versions of the keyboards that are already available. However, most consumers are quite unsure if it is worth spending tons of cash on these luxury keyboards.
Custom keyboards offer an experience that cannot be replicated by any keyboard from retail stores. They have a superior typing experience, better acoustics, and an overall more premium build quality thanks to materials such as aluminum and brass. The fact that they offer an experience like no other is enough reason to get them.
In this article, we will be convincing buyers who are on the fence to finally purchase a custom keyboard kit. We’ll be going over all the major reasons why so many have gone deep into the mechanical keyboard rabbit hole. Keep on scrolling to learn everything you need about custom keyboards.
Reasons For Buying a Custom Keyboard
Higher Quality Components and Custom Configurations
To be able to understand custom keyboards better, let us compare them to custom-built PCs. The biggest reason why most enthusiasts opt for custom-built PCs is that they can handpick certain parts to achieve their desired performance. In addition, they can select custom cooling options to further push their hardware and reach clock speeds not possible with prebuilt PCs.
Also, the components inside custom-built PCs are usually of higher quality since they are manufactured by brands that are not working under a strict budget. Prebuilt PCs, on the other hand, have to make sure that the entirety of the costs falls under a specific budget, which means they usually have to cut costs on certain components.
All of these points can be applied with custom-built mechanical keyboards. With these kinds of keyboards, users can dig deep into the interior components of their keyboards and set them up to perform specifically to how they want them.
Custom keyboards can give a soft and bouncy typing experience with lots of flex on the alphas. They can also be more stiff and rigid. This all depends on the way the user has set up their keyboard.
In addition, users get access to high-quality stabilizers and mechanical switches that significantly improve the typing experience. Users can also select materials such as dampening and plate material to better synergize with the rest of the components.
And getting back to the point of having higher-quality components, most custom keyboard kits are heftier and more premium than prebuilt custom keyboards. They usually have a chassis that is made of aluminum and polycarbonate (PC) cases and can include additional features such as brass weights. The end result of most custom builds is not only significantly higher quality than anything that can be bought in stores but also something that the users can call their own.
Some keyboards, such as the Mode65, even allow users to have different mounting styles. This is perfect for beginners as it allows them to truly find out how soft or stiff their preferred typing experience is as well as what sound profile they want with their keyboard.
In addition to the internal customization that can be made with custom keyboards, users can also freely customize the exterior of their keyboards. They can choose the color of their case, the colorway, and the aesthetics of their keycaps, and even add badges to certain keyboards.
Of course, users can also do these kinds of cosmetic changes to prebuilt keyboards. However, with custom keyboards, keycap compatibility is a lot higher. Cherry profile interference, for instance, can be avoided since most custom keyboards feature south-facing switches or no LEDs.
In addition, the chassis/case of most custom keyboards looks a lot cleaner than most prebuilt keyboards. This gives users more room to express themselves.
Also, custom keyboard manufacturers are more daring and more willing to explore design elements that are usually impractical for keyboards under $200. Some examples are Gray Studio’s and Owl Lab’s offerings.
Customizable Layouts and Programmability
Another perk of custom keyboards is their customizable layouts. Most solderable PCBs allow alternate layouts such as HHKB, Split Backspace, Split Space Bar, 60% “?” layout, and many more. These not only change up the experience but can also potentially make your keyboard experience more efficient.
And whenever your change the layout, you can fine-tune them thanks to the software that comes with most custom keyboards. Most PCBs such as the KBDFans DZ60 are compatible with VIA and QMK which allow users to remap their keys to reflect the physical changes in the layout.
Users can even go deeper by implementing secondary layers and assigning shortcuts that can lunch programs or do specific commands via MACROs. Of course, all of these can be done with popular keyboard software such as Razer Synapse. However, with VIA and QMK, users can go even deeper and do things that cannot be easily done with consumer gaming keyboards.
Superior Typing Experience
Another big reason to buy custom keyboards is their superior typing experience. Of course, most people are probably wondering what’s so special about custom keyboards. After all, you can pretty much slap the same switches on any keyboard and they should feel the same.
However, this is far from the case. It isn’t just about the switches. It is also how the switches interact with the rest of the keyboard.
For instance, some switches play well with certain plate materials, while others won’t. Also, some switches can sound more naturally on a certain keyboard kit and those same switches can sound muted or choked on others. It is all about how the user sets up and chooses the parts that go inside his/her custom keyboard kit.
In addition, most custom keyboard kits feature a hot-swap PCB. This means that users can easily replace switches without needing to desolder. This gives them plenty of room to experiment and find out which switch combinations are the best.
There are also other factors such as the mounting style of the plate that affect how soft or how stiff the typing experience can be. Some mounting styles, such as gasket mount, can offer a bouncy typing experience.
Other mounting styles can be a bit stiffer but not necessarily worse. All of these will highly depend on the user’s personal preference.
But overall, a well-built keyboard that has parts that synergize well with each other will produce a typing experience that cannot be rivaled by pre-built keyboards. This is regardless of the price of the custom keyboard kit.
Better Sound Profile
Aside from giving a better typing experience, custom keyboards can also potentially give the user better acoustics or a better sound profile. This may initially boggle the mind of users who have never heard a great-sounding keyboard.
After all, why should the sound of your keyboard matter? However, once you have heard a great-sounding keyboard, there is no turning back.
The acoustics of the keyboard complement the typing experience. Nothing is better than having a keyboard that not only types great but also gives pleasant auditory feedback.
In addition, users can tune how they want their keyboard to sound. They can either make it sound deeper (thockier) or higher-pitched (clackier).
There are several ways how to achieve these sounds, which we have discussed in our dedicated keyboard Sound Profile article. But the bottom line here is that most custom keyboards can easily sound better than their pre-built counterparts.
Easier to Maintain
Since custom mechanical keyboards can be easily dismantled, they can also be cleaned easier. Users can opt to just remove the keycaps to clear out dust, dirt, or debris. They can also take out the switches for a deeper clean or take off all the components if needed.
Some components, specifically brass plates, weights, and badges, are known to need some maintenance. Having the ability to easily take them off makes the cleaning process a lot easier. In contrast, most pre-built keyboards that encounter rusting in their components cannot be easily cleaned.
In addition, If anything goes wrong, the user can easily identify the faulty component and replace it. These include faulty switches, stabilizers, or even the PCB.
Most electronic components, such as the PCB, have ESD protection making them less likely to break. However, in the event that they do, most can be swapped out with a new PCB which can be purchased separately or replaced by the manufacturer.
Different Keyboard Sizes and Layouts
Lastly, custom keyboard kits come in different sizes and layouts that are normally not available with prebuilt keyboards. Some of the most popular ones include 60%, 65%, and 75%.
These shapes not only offer a unique twist to the standard keyboard design but also appeal to users who are looking for a more efficient keyboard for their desks.
If you are looking for non-standard sizes such as 75% keyboards, then you will mostly only find them with custom kits. Some brands such as Glorious and Keychron are slowly adapting and are offering non-standard layouts. However, the implementation would most likely be better on higher-end keyboards.
The KBE team is dedicated to sharing our knowledge and creating useful resources about computer keyboards. This article was written as a team collaboration, combining our knowledge and years of experience using, building and modding keyboards. Meet the team here.