Custom Keyboard Buyer’s Guide – Where to Start?

Believe it or not, building your own custom mechanical keyboard can actually be quite easy; you don’t even need to know how to solder to really get into the hobby. If you’re looking to upgrade your typing experience, read on – here’s what you need to know to get started.

Where to Buy Parts?

We actually wrote a guide for this catered to those who are residing here in Malaysia. Noteworthy keyboard vendors include based here in Malaysia, iLumkb from Singapore, and of course, KBDfans, which operates out of China.

If you’re just starting out, KBDfans is a fantastic option no matter where you’re located. It has quite a number of budget-friendly keyboard kits to get you started on your custom keyboard journey, which brings us to the next point..

Find a Keyboard Kit You Like

One of the most popular custom keyboard kits to get you started is KBDfans’ very own Tofu. Not only is it affordable – it starts at $159, which comes up to about RM660 – it’s also quite a decent keyboard with an aluminium case. You can even do an o-ring mod to the Tofu to improve its typing experience and sound profile.

Alternatively, if you want more options and don’t mind waiting, consider joining a pre-order for a keyboard kit that suits your preference. The currently running Mode SixtyFive is a good kit that’s also very customisable. MechGroupBuys is a great website as well to check on what pre-orders are currently running.

Once you’ve narrowed down the kit that catches your fancy, check if the keyboard comes with the proper stabilisers or not. If they don’t – most premium keyboard kits don’t come with them – we highly recommend Durock V2 screw-in or plate-mounted stabilisers, depending on which type the keyboard uses. Generally, most folks prefer screw-in stabilisers.

Oh, if you don’t want do any soldering, make sure that the keyboard kit you’re getting has a hotswap PCB. It allows you to install switches to the PCB without a soldering iron, and you can easily swap out to different types of switches as well, so it’s an excellent choice for those who are new to the hobby to try out different switches.

Speaking of which, let’s move on to the next part: switches.

Choose a Switch

This is really one of the most personal parts of a custom keyboard. Depending on which switch you get, your typing experience will be drastically different. We have outlined the four main types of switches in our previous writeup, which include linear, tactile, clicky, and silent switches.

Do you like a smooth typing experience without any tactile feedback? Get a linear switch. Want the quietest keyboard possible? Silent switches are the way to go. It’s a very personal choice, so you may want to get a switch sampler pack to figure out which one is the right one for you. Consider learning how to lube your switches too for an even better typing experience.

Still not sure which switch to get? Then check out our switch reviews!

Start With More Affordable (But Not Too Affordable) Keycap Sets

Last but definitely not least is figuring out which keycap set to get. There are a wide variety of keycaps in the market, but the general rule of thumb is to get a set that isn’t too affordable. After all, it’s the part of the keyboard that you touch the most, so it will impact your typing experience quite a bit.

Some good, readily available options that don’t cost too much money are keycap sets from ePBT, though some colourways are priced higher. There are also a number of different keycap profiles, including Cherry, KAT, SA, and even MT3. Watch the video below for our comparison between GMK – arguably the gold standard of keycap sets – and MT3 keycaps.

Unfortunately, keycap sets (especially ones from GMK) are usually only offered on a pre-order basis, so you do have to wait quite a bit to get your hands on them. Alternatively, Drop does have a number of relatively good keycap sets in stock, though your options are definitely more limited.

Once you have purchased a keyboard kit, switches, and a keycap set, all you need to do now is to..

Wait for the Parts to Arrive!

In this hobby, you’ll have to do a lot of waiting. In fact, we’re currently waiting on as many as five different keyboard kits and three keycap sets that were purchased over the course of a year. This is just how the custom keyboard scene operates, though some vendors are offering more in stock sales in recent times to address long waiting times.

But once you do get the parts, it will be worth it once you’ve built the keyboard. Trust us, it’s a very rewarding hobby, and if your job requires you to do a lot of typing, we implore you to build a custom mechanical keyboard – you won’t regret it!

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