Ever glance down at your workspace and think: This is boring, how do I make it look better?
Or maybe your keyboard is showing some wear and tear and could do with a face-lift.
Well, if you own a mechanical keyboard you’re in luck. Mechanical keyboards are highly customisable and anyone can create a look that’s unique to them. The opportunities are boundless, with more people adding content and products every day!
You’ll be amazed with how many keyboard customisation options exist! Initial experiences can be very overwhelming. First experiences into black hole that is the world of mechanical keyboards can leave people more lost than when they started, loaded with a multitude of questions. Sometimes the information is in the comments, sometimes it’s not.
That’s why I’ve put together this guide on how to customise your mechanical keyboard. A small bit of info and also some stable ideas that can help your wallet take a beating and leave your keyboard looking better than before. Some of these ideas are relatively cheap, while others might break the bank.
Where to start?
Let’s get some information out for the beginners. Knowing what kind of kit or mechanical keyboard you’re using is important. It’s the switch details we’re trying to find out here.
Given the popularity of Cherry MX switches and their clones, its highly likely that you’re using a “+” stem switch. Here’s some photos of Cherry MX, Gaterons, and Zealios stems.
Note how they’re all essentially the same in shape. Kailh (Razer), Greetech, and Outemu are all Cherry MX clones.
Majority of keysets are made to fit + stems, but that doesn’t mean Topre users are going to miss out. Topre keysets do exist they just tend to cost quite a bit of money. Alternatively sliders can be used to change the shape of the stem to be MX compatible, opening up customisation options for Topre fans.
They look like this.
If your mechanical keyboard doesn’t have a plus stem you might be out of luck. Logitech has Romer-G switches and these are made by Logitech. This means that after market parts don’t exist and this can be a problem for those of you wanting to replace the keycaps. My advice, work out what switches you have and google search them with the word keycaps after it.
Just make sure you have a standard layout for your mechanical keyboard. It’s worth considering if your keyboard has a standard layout when purchasing if you intend to customise your keyboard. Times are changing and more keycap manufacturers are catering for irregularities in layouts but not all are doing it.
This is what a standard keysize layout looks like.
Most commonly problems do tend to arise when it comes to the bottom row, though, this isn’t always the case. I’m looking at you Vortex Race 3.
Here’s what I’m talking about. This is a non-standard bottom row and non-standard top row.
The 1u keys on the bottom row may be harder to replace. However, the real trouble with replacing keys lies with the top row. The Esc and Delete keys are oddly larger than usual.
1. Change Keyset
You can change out your keyset or add on different keycaps.
Changing keyset might get you a different plastic and may also change how your keyboard feels due to different keycap textures or profile. Here’s some more info about keycap profiles from Deskthority.
Here’s a few sets from different manufacturers worth checking out:
If you are thinking about changing your keyset consider if you have LEDs and if you’re fine with them not shining through the keycap. Here’s an example of a keyboard with the LEDs on and without shine-through keycaps.
ABS and POM smoother, while PBT is rougher or sandier.
2. Add keycaps and artisans
Or you could just add on one or a few keycaps to give your keyboard some subtle character. A keycap here or there or an artisan can really make your setup shine.
Mods are generally the best for individual colour as it won’t wreck the uniformity of the rest of the keyboard. However, clusters of keys can look equally as stunning.
If you amass quite the collection you can always make unicorn vomit in one way or another.
3. Paint your keycaps
This one is only limited by your imagination. You can add your own character to your keyboard by painting your own keycaps. Painting the entire keycap is the most common choice but that doesn’t have to be the case for your keyboard.
Use your creativity to paint your keycaps for a very unique look.
4. Strip paint from your keycaps
Alternatively you can strip paint from an unwanted keyset. Why would you want to do this? Because of the LEDs you have underneath the keycaps.
Removing paint from various sides of the keycap will allow greater light to shine through different parts of your keycaps.
Make sure the underside of your keycap is white or translucent.
Our friend TaeKeyboard’s has performed this process already, so you can see his experiences. (It’s a lot of work!)
This process can be done in a variety of ways. Sanding the entire keycap will make the light emit from all of the keycap. The top will cause a fade off effect which I think looks better than an entirely sanded keycap. Even just sanding the top edges can have a cool effect. What your imagination can think of you can try.
5. Dye-sub your own keycaps
Why not just make your own? You may need a few hours to do this but it’s about being patient, and persistence. Dye-sublimation is the process of heating up ink until it becomes a vapour so that it can enter the pores of the plastic keycaps.
You will need new, white, PBT keycaps as they won’t melt nor warp when under the required heat. iDye Poly is the recommended dye to use.
You can follow TaeKeyboards’ process and experiences with dye-subbing keycaps.
6. Sticker bomb your case
Somehow I am always finding stickers from things I’ve bought. I lose them and when I finally think to sticker bomb my keyboard, they’re lost to the abyss of the storage drawer. Still, sticker bombs are awesome!
If you don’t have enough stickers they’re easily acquired online and are inexpensive. And that’s the best part of stick bombing. It doesn’t take much money to change the look of your mechanical keyboard.
7. Hydro dip your case
This one is a little advanced but hydro dipping can be quite the transformation.
This is the process of adding an image to water, then using seals and applicators before submerging your case through the image. Here’s TaeKeyboard’s again hydro dipping iKBC’s F87 mechanical keyboard.
Hydro dipping a keyboard case will require separating the PCB and switches from the case. For those keen to try it yourselves, here’s a tutorial from Fred Yen:
8. Paint your case
I’ve mentioned painting your keycaps but why not paint your keyboard case? For those of you thinking there’s too much of a process for hydro dipping, you can simply sand and add paint to your keyboard.
Again, how you paint your case is entirely up to you and your creativity. A simple all over paint can look great, or markings or lines can be used for a unique effect. Then there’s the type of pain you use, be it a matte, gloss, or whatever else you can get your hands on.
9. Vinyl wrap your case
Similar to the beginning of the school year, you can wrap your keyboard just like your text books. A little more complex yet better looking, you can add colour, patterns, or pieces of art to your keyboard.
This can be done to your case, or even your plate if you’re assembling your keyboard. While the latter option will require a bit more work, you’ll still need to measure and cut out the correct holes to make this mod fit your keyboard.
10. Or, get an entirely new case
Not all keyboards are going to allow you to get a new case but quite a few 60% keyboards can be changed with ease. Keyboards such as the GH60, the Pok3r, and the Winkeyless are examples that can be change cases between each other.
You will need to do some research but there’s options available for other sized keyboards. Alternatively you could always build one yourself if you have the know how.
11. Get a new cable
A smaller change but one that can improve your setup nonetheless. Big manufacturers do produce cables but they’re not as nice as the smaller more niche creators. A variety of connection types are available as well as designs.
Just be sure you’ve got the right connections for your keyboard!
12. Add LEDs
Why not take your keyboard to the next level of customisation with backlighting? While single colour LEDs are still about, RGB is currently what’s hot but this is up to personal preference. LEDs can be a bit tricky so do your research before adding them to your keyboard.
If you know what you’re doing you can add SIP sockets to your switches. SIP sockets will enable the ability to hot-swap LEDs without having to de-solder and solder LEDs with each change.
13. Give your keyboard underglow
If you thought adding LEDs was the final frontier of customisation you haven’t seen keyboard underglow. This is when LEDs are added to the underside of the keyboard, sometimes simultaneously with LEDs for each key.
Enabling a lightshow on your keyboard is now more possible with the Ws2812 LED strip. While slightly more advanced than switch LEDs, underglow will require translucent or transparent components to enable the shine through. But it can be worth it!
14. (Bonus!) Silence your keyboard
Other mods you can do is silence your keyboard. While this won’t give your keyboard much of a face lift, it may give you peace of mind knowing that you’re turned down the noise level of your keyboard. To dampen the sound of your mechanical keyboard you can outfit in two ways. There’s O-rings and Zealencios.
O-rings, these go on the stem part of your keycap.
Zealencios, these become part of the housing of your switch.