Choosing the right custom keyboard kit for yourself can get quite overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what to look out for. In this article, we’ll help you decide on which keyboard layout to go for – this really should be the first thing you consider when making your decision.
Four major layouts found in the custom keyboard scene will be covered in this article. Depending on what keys you need, you’ll definitely find one layout more appealing than the other. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
If you want the absolute smallest keyboard without sacrificing too much on practicality, a 60% layout is just for you. This layout offers most of the keys that you need for a functional keyboard, including alphas, modifiers, and the number row. For most folks, a 60% layout will do the job just fine.
Well, unless you need arrow keys. I personally love the compact, portable nature of a 60% keyboard, but most keyboards with this layout does not have arrow keys. Some PCBs, such as the DZ60 RGB V2, does have arrow keys, but that particular PCB sacrifices the question mark key to fit in the arrow cluster. That’s not exactly ideal.
Anyway, if you want a compact keyboard – and you don’t need arrow keys – go for a 60% keyboard. It’s a relatively popular layout too, so you won’t have much trouble looking for a 60% keyboard. My personal favourite board with such a layout is the Wilba.tech Salvation.
While 60% keyboards are quite aplenty, I’d argue the 65% layout is even more popular. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least five custom keyboards with such a layout. These include the KBDfans KBD67 Lite, NovelKeys NK65 – both the Entry and Aluminium Editions – the Mode Sixtyfive, and of course, the ever popular Vega.
Compared to a 60% keyboard, a 65% layout has an additional column on the right side of the keyboard to accommodate the arrow keys and some navigation keys. Thanks to the addition of these keys, a 65% keyboard arguably the best balance between portability and practicality. This is why it is my personal favourite layout.
One size up is the 75% layout, which is essentially a 65% keyboard with the addition of the function row. While not quite as popular as the aforementioned layouts, we are actually seeing quite a number of new 75% keyboards. We have the Jelly Epoch, the GMMK Pro, and even the upcoming Keychron Q1.
But because it has the same layout as a 65% keyboard with the F-row added to the top of the board, a 75% keyboard may look…well, disproportionate. Though it also depends on how a keyboard implements the layout, a 75% keyboard usually looks too tall. If you don’t quite like this aesthetic, consider the next layout.
80% / TKL
Last but certainly not least is the 80% layout, or more commonly known as TKL. That stands for tenkeyless, because an 80% keyboard is essentially a full-size keyboard without the numpad. Out of all the layouts mentioned here, an 80% keyboard is the least prevalent layout, though sometimes there are new keyboards with this layout, such as the Mode Eighty.
Compared to a 75% layout, an 80% keyboard adds on full navigation keys right above the arrow cluster. This effectively widens the board, giving it a more balanced, proportionate look. It does increase the overall footprint of the keyboard, but practically speaking, the size difference between a 75% and 80% keyboard isn’t that substantial.
Wait, There’s No Full-Size Custom Keyboard?
Unfortunately, it’s not very common to find a full-size custom keyboard. I personally have not come across a custom keyboard with such a layout yet, though it’s definitely not impossible by any means – so long as someone is willing to design such a keyboard.
Plus, if you really need a numpad, you can just get a dedicated macropad. In fact, it’s much easier to find a macropad – such as Space Cables’ Stellar12 – than a full-size keyboard in the custom keyboard scene.
Do note that as you go up in size, so does the price of the keyboard. After all, more raw material is required to manufacture a larger keyboard. This could be the reason why compact keyboards are more popular in this hobby, but this is just an educated guess on my part.
So there you have it: four common keyboard sizes that you can find in the custom keyboard scene. Now, this is by no means an exhaustive list, as there are quite a bit more layouts in the market. These include 40% – it’s just like a 60% keyboard, but with the number row removed – ortho, and even split layouts.