How To Build Your Own Gaming Keyboard – A Complete Guide
What if we told you that you could modify every aspect of a keyboard? This goes beyond the aesthetics of adding the most recent keyset or swapping a braided wire. Pre-built boards don’t allow you to customize the size or layout. You may want a customizable keyboard in a 60 percent design with specialized arrow keys, which is not the norm. This means you would have to compromise and prioritize the essential features, or, as this article will show you, you could simply build your own gaming keyboard. But remember that building a custom keyboard requires some technical skills such as soldering and programming.
To build your own gaming keyboard, collect electronic components such as a microcontroller, key switches, a circuit board, and LED lighting. Tools needed to build the keyboard include soldering iron, pliers, screwdrivers, and wire cutters. The first step is to design the layout of the keyboard and gather all necessary parts and tools.
This is a general overview of the process, but the specifics will vary depending on the materials and components you choose to use.
Can You Build Your Own Keyboard?
Building your custom keyboard is possible and even has its advantages. Because custom-built keyboards have to be assembled, it’s significantly easier to adjust and change many parts of the keyboards to your preferences. Essentially, building your own custom keyboard means you get to achieve the best sound profile and typing comfort for your gaming needs.
It’s possible to build a custom keyboard. Building a custom keyboard has several advantages such as the ability to choose a custom layout, custom switches, personalization options, cost-effectiveness, and a unique user experience.
Additionally, building your own gaming keyboard can be a fun and educational experience, and you can even customize the firmware of the keyboard to add more functionalities. This video tutorial by Hipyo Tech explains exactly how you can build your own mechanical gaming keyboard on a budget. When it comes to customizing your keyboard, our gaming keyboard recommendations may have some handy tips to help you with that. And furthermore, our article explaining how to use the function keys on your keyboard will also provide you with loads of additional information.
Is It Cheaper To Build Your Own Keyboard?
The prices of custom mechanical keyboards vary greatly depending on the manufacturer and the model. If you already have some of the tools or components needed, such as a soldering iron or key switches, the cost of building your own keyboard will be lower. However, if you need to purchase all of the components and tools needed, the cost may be higher than buying a pre-built keyboard.
It’s usually not cheaper to make a custom keyboard. This is because the parts aren’t readily available and have to be of high quality.
The majority of custom-built keyboards like this are mechanical keyboards. Mechanical keyboards serve a much smaller market and don’t always have standard dimensions on small-batch builds. Another reason custom keyboards are costly is because of their high-quality production standards. Brands conduct quality tests and inspections on components to ensure they create a high-quality product.
Reasons Why It Is Worth It To Build Your Own Keyboard
There are many variables to creating a customized keyboard that can often put inexperienced first-timers off. As mentioned earlier, building your keyboard can be expensive, and many people may find it challenging to spend a lot on a keyboard.
It may be worth it to build a custom keyboard if a gamer values a specific layout or type of key switch that they cannot find in pre-built keyboards, or if they want to personalize their keyboard with custom keycaps or lighting. On the other hand, a gamer may not find it worth it to build their own keyboard if they don't have the technical skills or time to complete the project, or if the cost of the components and tools needed is higher than buying a pre-built keyboard with the same features.
Custom keyboards like this give you complete control over a keyboard's most essential components. These components include the layout, tactile sound, how quickly the keys will respond with every stroke, and casing material. Building a customized mechanical keyboard is worthwhile as long as you know what you're looking for.
Consider the reasons that make building your own gaming keyboard worth it (and no, comparing USB cables used for gaming devices isn't one of them):
Reason 1. Custom Layout
Building a custom keyboard allows you to choose the layout that works best for you. This includes the size and position of the keys, and the inclusion of additional features like macro keys and a display. Customization extends beyond (but does include) changing your keycaps for something more personal like this.
You can customize the sound of your keyboard and gain control over your typing and gaming prowess. Aside from the sound, you can change the number of keys on your keyboard and even how hard you press them to get them to respond.
Reason 2. Custom Switches
Building a custom keyboard allows you to choose the type of key switches you prefer, such as linear, tactile, or clicky switches. Read our article about the various types of gaming keyboard switches to learn more about their differences.
The keycaps and switches, like these, are responsive, making it simple to press a key. Depending on the type of switch, a custom keyboard may increase your typing speed since the keys detect strokes faster - less force is required for each stroke. On the other hand, you can utilize hefty switches should you prefer them.
Reason 3. Personalization
Building your own gaming keyboard allows you to personalize it with custom keycaps, lighting, or even a custom-made enclosure.
You can also remap the entire keyboard by changing the default functionality of keys and assigning new commands to them. You may customize the appearance of the keyboard, the function of each key, and, most crucially, the clicking sound when typing or gaming, depending on the level of your personalization. If you’d like to reduce the noise on your keyboard, you can check out our article on how to make a mechanical keyboard quieter.
Reason 4. A Unique User Experience
Custom keyboards provide an enhanced user experience. They’re specifically intended to make typing and gaming easier for people who use them. In fact, you can have a higher quality keyboard than pre-built ones because you select components and test everything.
Building your own keyboard can also be a fun and educational experience, allowing you to learn about electronics, soldering, and programming. Additionally, you will have a unique keyboard that no one else has, as well as a higher quality keyboard than pre-built ones because you select components and test everything.
What Components Do You Need To Make Your Own Gaming Keyboard?
You'll need a few crucial components and accessories to build your own mechanical keyboard. It’s pretty easy to find these as many stores offer them. When beginning any custom building project, you must determine the required items. The last thing you want to do is sit down with your soldering iron only to discover that you're missing a vital component.
The components needed to make a custom gaming keyboard include a keyboard case, a PCB, switches, a mounting plate, stabilizers, and keycaps.
Select the following components carefully before building your own gaming keyboard:
Component 1. Keyboard Case
You must first decide on the keyboard size you want to build before selecting a case. Although the size you choose will limit your case selections, you have several options like these to pick from for each size or layout.
After deciding on the size of your keyboard, you must choose the material that your case is made from. This is usually a matter of cost and has little bearing on the keyboard's functioning. Cases are typically offered in one of four materials; aluminum, plastic, wood, and acrylic as explained in this post from Click and Switch.
There are various casings for you to choose from:
Type 1. Plastic Case
Plastic cases like these are the most cost-effective option. The increased strength provided by cases like aluminum options may seem better, but it’s rarely required. Plastic casings are sturdy and less prone to scratches. They’re also incredibly cheap, lowering the overall cost of your keyboard.
You have fewer color options, with most cases being available in black or white. Many of the striking finishes that cases like the anodized metal casings offer aren’t available.
Type 2. Aluminum Case
Aluminum cases like these are the most costly option, but they provide the most durable base for your keyboard. The extra weight might assist in holding your keyboard in place through extended periods of work or play. They also have a quality appearance and texture that plastic options don’t have.
Aside from the expense, the most significant disadvantage is the influence on acoustics. Typing on an aluminum-cased keyboard may be substantially louder and produce a more metallic and hollow sound. Some people prefer it this way, but it's something to consider.
Type 3. Acrylic Case
The last and recently popular choice is an acrylic casing like this. These cases have all of the benefits of a plastic casing, but they allow light to pass through, which gives a pretty cool look if your PCB has RGB lights.
Component 2. Keyboard Plate
When you insert your mechanical switches into the PCB, they should fit into the mounting plate as you don't want switches to lose connection because they're moving around in hot-swap sockets. Switch plates are available in several materials, ranging from polycarbonate to aluminum, brass, copper, and even carbon fiber, on the more costly end of the spectrum.
Harder materials, such as brass, are rigid to type on and provide a higher-pitched sound profile. When choosing a keyboard plate from a selection like this, consider whether you want your typing experience to be firm or flexible, as well as the style of sound you prefer.
The following types of keyboard plates are available:
Type 1. Rigid Plate
Rigid keyboard plates are typically made from brass and aluminum. Brass plates can oxidize over time if left untreated. Aluminum plates offer sturdiness and are easy to cut. They feature no flex whatsoever.
Type 2. Flexible Plate
Flexible plates are made from carbon fiber and polycarbonate. Polycarbonate plates are made of plastic materials that allow for flex and might be bouncy. On the other hand, users said this plate had a bassy sound. Carbon fiber plates are highly durable, lightweight and allow for flexibility when typing. As a result, carbon fiber plates have a bouncy sensation to them.
Component 3. Printed Circuit Board (PCB)
Your keyboard's PCB is its beating heart. It allows your computer to receive input from you and regulates which switches do which tasks. Choosing a suitable PCB from a selection like this may appear complicated, but it offers some of the most exciting customization choices for your keyboard.
While you've already decided on the size of your keyboard, the layout possibilities provided by your PCB are. For example, if you have a 60% case, you may determine that separate arrow keys are still required. Many PCBs enable you to adjust the arrangement of your switches in this manner.
The PCB is the driving force of your gaming keyboard and must be carefully selected from the following types:
Type 1. Standard PCB
Type 2. Hot-Swappable PCB
A hot-swappable PCB like this enables you to add and remove switches without desoldering, saving you time and money on soldering hardware.
It’s perfect for individuals who desire a quick assembly after receiving the components, or that don't want to learn how to solder.
Type 3. Through-Hole PCB
A through-hole PCB has drilled holes to insert the pins of the switches which are soldered to the PCB as discussed in this thread on reddit
Component 4. Stabilizers
Stabilizers like these are frequently disregarded when designing a keyboard. They're not intriguing or adjustable, but you'll immediately notice when they're missing. As mentioned in this YouTube video tutorial, they do precisely what their name implies - they protect specific keys, such as your shift and space bar, from wiggling around when you push them.
They’re typically sold as a standard set compatible with most keyboard layouts. The brand you use doesn't matter as long as you grease them before installing them as discussed in this thread on Reddit, as some less expensive alternatives might be extremely noisy.
Check out the different types of stabilizers before choosing the ones for your keyboard:
Type 1. Plate-Mounted Stabilizers
Plate-mounted stabilizers are the most popular mounting style and can be found on virtually all pre-built mechanical keyboards. These stabilizers are attached to the metal plate inside the keyboard rather than the printed circuit board (PCB).
Type 2. Screw-In Stabilizers
Screw-in stabilizers like this fit into the PCB and are secured with screws. This mounting approach is preferred since the stabilizers are more stable and shake less.
Type 3. Snap-In Stabilizers
Snap-in stabilizers like these are another sort of PCB-mounted stabilizer. They outperform plate-mounted stabilizers but fall short of screw-in stabilizers in terms of effectiveness.
Component 5. Switches
As mentioned in this article by Intel, one thing the best mechanical and gaming keyboards have in common is mechanical switches. All mechanical keyboards require switches, and all mechanical switches perform the same fundamental function; each switch type merely accomplishes it in a slightly different way. Every switch, whether from Cherry, Gateron, or Khail, is color-coded to show these distinctions. The actuation point, release point, spring weight, and whether or not the switch is linear or tactile influence how different two switches feel when pressed.
Most pre-built keyboards include a limited number of switch possibilities, but none of them have all of them. When building your own keyboard, your switch selection is completely independent of any other selected components. Because switch selection is personal, you must understand how each switch feels to pick the best option for yourself.
Have a look at our article on how to replace keyboard switches to find out more about them.
Be sure to check out the features of each type of mechanical switch before selecting switches for your custom gaming keyboard:
Type 1. Linear Switches
Linear switches like this aren’t the same as tactile or clicky switches. These are good for gaming because they’re light to press and don't provide any tactile response, although this is a matter of personal choice. There is no bump sensation before the activation point.
Type 2. Tactile Switches
Tactile switches like this are the most common type of switch on the market. They're recognized for providing a nice balance between typing and gaming since they provide strong tactile feedback and aren't too hefty to push, depending on the manufacturer.
Type 3. Clicky Switches
Clicky switches like these offer the same tactile sensation as tactile switches and emit an auditory click, making them particularly popular for typing. This might be especially troublesome if you work in an open-office setting, as the loud noise may irritate those around you.
Component 6. Keycaps
Keycaps are the most obvious way to give your keyboard a distinctive appearance, whether pre or custom-built. When it comes to picking keycaps for DIY builds, there are some points to consider.
Finding keycaps with the proper legends/labels is simple as long as you keep to a common pattern for the specified size. Any standard keyset like this will work with your keyboard, and many companies will even sell the same set with the precise number of keys that you need for some of the smaller layouts, to save you money.
The keycaps for your new gaming keyboard can be selected according to the following features:
Feature 1. Material
Plastic is primarily the material used for making keycaps, but they’re generally divided into two: ABS and PBT. High-quality ABS keycaps are more costly but provide more vibrant colors than the other common option (PBT). PBT is a denser plastic that doesn’t shine after lengthy usages, like ABS keycaps, but the colors are duller, and larger-sized keys are more likely to deform.
Feature 2. Profile & Shape
Your choice of profile and shape can impact your keycaps. Compact layouts sometimes use non-standard key sizes, making matching keycaps more difficult or expensive to find. The layouts with the most difficult keycaps to find are 65% and 96%. This study on Engineering and Technology International Journal of Electrical and Computer Engineering looks into the best sizes of keycaps to maximize typing efficiency.
Feature 3. Design
Depending on how you prioritize the aesthetics of your keyboard, the design of the keycaps like these ones, will determine which to go for. The range of designs can go from a variety of colors to little sculptures on certain keys.
Component 7. Lighting
The majority of PCBs also have RGB lighting choices or the ability to solder in switch-mounted backlights. A board with pre-soldered RGB LEDs like this will produce a pleasant under-glow appearance, which may be enhanced with a transparent or frosted acrylic casing.
This thread on Reddit discusses RGB lighting options in greater detail.
Also, if your keycaps are transparent they will allow the light from the LED on the PCB to be more noticeable.
Component 8. Firmware and Software
A keyboard's firmware is what relays commands executed on the PCB's microcontroller, through pressed keys, to the computer. The LEDs on a backlit keyboard are often controlled by the firmware as well.
The types of firmware that are available are:
Type 1. QMK Firmware
This is a keyboard firmware based on the TMK keyboard firmware that has evolved into a community effort that supports over 40 different keyboards, including numerous hand-wired ones. It’s the default firmware for all OLKB boards, the Clueboard series, and the Ergodox EZ, and it’s always striving to expand the list.
Type 2. Custom Firmware
Custom-built keyboards built with a Teensy, Pro Micro, or other microcontroller are completely customizable. Customizing the firmware on your keyboard will offer you more control over what each key can accomplish.
Summary of Components Needed To Build Your Own Gaming Keyboard
|Components Needed To Build Your Own Gaming Keyboard||Options||Advantage||Product Example|
|Keyboard Case||Plastic||Cost-effective||Mini Keyboard Gh60 Plastic Case|
|Keyboard Case||Aluminum||Very durable||Gh60 Anodizing Aluminum Cnc Case|
|Keyboard Case||Acrylic||Transparent enough for lighting||Drop Carina Mechanical Keyboard Frosted Acrylic Case|
|Plate||Rigid||Very sturdy||Drop Carina Mechanical Keyboard Copper Plate|
|Plate||Flexible||Lightweight and provides a bouncy sensation||Ansi Costar Stabilizers Keyboard Plate|
|Circuit Board (PCB)||Standard||Cost-effective||Apuode 68 Key Mechanical Keyboard Diy Pcb|
|Circuit Board (PCB)||Hot-Swappable||Easy and quick assembly||Epomaker Gk61x Rgb Hotswap Pcb|
|Circuit Board (PCB)||Through-Hole||Very durable||Skyloong 64 Gk64 Gk64x Rgb Pcb|
|Stabilizers||Plate-Mounted||Easy to find||ZugGear Piano Plate Mount Stabilizers|
|Stabilizers||Screw-In||More stable||Durock V2 Pcb Mount Screw in Stabilizers|
|Stabilizers||Snap-In||Better than plate-mounted||Genuine Cherry Pcb Snap-in Stabilizers|
|Switches||Linear||Light to press and no tactile response||Akko Cs Switches, 3 Pin 43gf Linear Switch|
|Switches||Tactile||Strong tactile feedback||Durock T1 Tactile Keyboard Switches|
|Switches||Clicky||Has an audible click with tactile feedback||Epomaker Ajazz Kiwi Clicky Switch|
|Keycaps||Standard||Changeable according to personal preference||HyperX Pudding Double Shot Pbt Keycap Set with Translucent Layer|
|Lighting (Optional)||Standard||Improves the aesthetics of the keyboard||Chanzon (5 Colors) 0805 Smd Led Diode Lights|
|Firmware/Software (Optional)||QMK Firmware||Supported by numerous keyboard manufacturers||Qmk Firmware Download|
|Firmware/Software (Optional)||Custom Firmware||Offers more control||Corsair Firmware Download|
Where To Find Custom Keyboard Parts
Before you can decide to start building a custom keyboard, you have to know and understand the parts that you would need. Your preferences and what you want out of a keyboard will affect the kind of parts you want and how you will get them.
A gamer can find custom keyboard parts through online retailers or by participating in group buys. It’s faster to get in-stock parts from online retailers, but the downside is that there are fewer customization options. For really customized parts, take part in a group buy. This will take much more time than purchasing in-stock parts, but group buys are fun and offer many unique options.
These are the two methods that you can shop for the parts of your custom gaming keyboard:
Shopping Method 1. In-Stock Parts
This is a fast but more expensive method of purchasing parts for a custom keyboard, from an online or local retail store like kbdfans.com. You simply log on to the website or walk into the store, pick the part you want and then pay up. This is the most common method and is recommended if you’re using regular parts.
Shopping Method 2. Group Buys
A group buy is a type of crowdfunding, similar to Kickstarter. When you join a group buy, you pre-order the keyboard components you desire, generally at a significantly cheaper price than the retail price. The parts for a group buy have not yet been manufactured; just the concept designs are presented. The product is only manufactured if a sufficient number of individuals pay and join the group. If there are too few persons who join the group buy, their money is finally reimbursed.
Tools You’ll Need To Assemble Your Custom Gaming Keyboard
As with every project, a few tools are necessary to do the task correctly. You don't need to spend a lot of money for the most part. This is especially true if you intend to utilize them for only one or two projects. That being said, the old phrase "you get what you paid for" still applies here.
The tools needed to assemble a custom gaming keyboard include a soldering iron, solder, a solder sucker, and a filtration system.
Summary of Tools Needed To Build Your Own Gaming Keyboard
|Tools Needed To Build Your Own Gaming Keyboard||Why You Need It||Product Example From Amazon|
|Soldering Iron||To melt the solder||Hakko Fx888d-23by Digital Soldering Station|
|Solder||To join components to the PCB||Maiyum 63-37 Tin Lead Rosin Core Solder Wire|
|Solder Sucker||To remove solder from the board||Vampire Tools Vt-001-Ss World's Best Solder Sucker|
|Fume Extractor||To remove solder fumes||Muin 3 Stage Filtration Solder Smoke Absorber|
These are the tools that you will need to build your custom keyboard:
Tool 1. Soldering Iron
Any basic soldering iron will do the job as long as it’s not battery-operated. However, it’s worth investing more for a unit with variable speed and a stand like this kit has. You will need a “helping hand” to not burn holes in household surfaces.
Tool 2. Solder
This project may be made very easy or quite difficult depending on the solder you choose. While lead-free solder is less toxic than leaded solder, it has a greater melting temperature, making good bonding considerably more difficult. It’s also critical to choose the appropriate size for the work. 63/37 rosin core solder is highly recommended for soldering switches. Ensure you select the suitable size; often, any solder with a diameter of between 0.03 and 0.06 inches like this would suffice.
Tool 3. Solder Sucker
There will be mistakes, and without a solder sucker like this, there will be no way to remove old solder to repair them. This is a pretty simple tool, and any model will suffice.
Tool 4. Fume Extractor
Solder smoke is dangerous to inhale, especially when using leaded solder. Make sure you have a solder fume extractor like this. They’re reasonably priced and will keep you safe.
How To Build a Custom Gaming Keyboard
After getting all the above-mentioned tools and parts, you can go ahead with the actual building of the keyboard. You should also make sure you’ve set up a clean workspace free of flammable objects before commencing with the project.
To build a custom gaming keyboard, start by installing the stabilizers on the PCB. Then, align the plate and solder in the switches. Next, insert the whole assembly into the casing and install the keycaps.
Follow these steps to build your custom gaming keyboard:
Step 1. Install the Stabilizers on the PCB As Needed.
Installing your stabilizers is a breeze. Align the prongs with the PCB's corresponding holes and just push them straight in. The orientation, on the other hand, is essential.
The plain ends of the stabilizers should go into the bigger PCB holes, while the clips should go into the smaller holes. They will not stay in if you install them the other way. Install the stabilizers into the larger holes first, then press the opposite side into the smaller holes. You may need to use some force to get the clips to close together.
Before proceeding with the soldering, keep in mind that stabilizers are not greased by the manufacturer. As a result, they can be a little loud, although this can be reduced by putting a tiny bit of lubricant like this on the contact points.
Step 2. Align the Plate and Solder in the Switches.
As specified in this Epomaker user manual, you should check that all the switch metallic pins are perfectly straight and clean. Install and solder the four corner switches first for precise alignment and to maintain the plate level on all sides. Install the bottom row and then test fit your keycaps. To accommodate different space bars and modifier setups, the bottom row usually offers numerous switch placement possibilities. It is preferable to verify the fitting now and solder once rather than desolder a full row.
Before you solder anything, ensure your soldering iron is hot and that the tip is clean and tinned. Applying a tiny quantity of solder to the tip boosts conductivity and speeds up soldering, protecting your PCB.
Each solder junction should only take a few seconds to complete. Do not push the tip against the pad for longer than that. This can cause the pad to pull away from the PCB. Instead, use a moist sponge to wipe off the tip before tinning the clean surface.
Step 3. Insert the Whole Assembly into the Casing.
If you've ever used a screwdriver before, the final step in the assembling procedure should be rather simple. Hopefully, you've saved the small screws used to fasten the PCB to the casing, as they can easily be misplaced.
Simply place the assembled board into the case and secure the screws. Most cases will have 5 mounting points but your PCB may only have four. This is just fine, four screws will still hold the board securely.
Step 4. Install the Keycaps.
After you’ve placed the entire board assembly into the casing and you’ve tightened the screws, the last thing to do is to install your keycaps. Press each one firmly onto the stems of all your switches to complete the task. When you're through, you'll have a keyboard that is completely unique, produced for you, according to your specifications and preferences.
You should also check the keyboard to make sure everything is working properly. If it’s not, you can check out our article about what to do when a gaming keyboard is not working for more tips to fix a gaming keyboard.
Additionally, you may want to look into flat key keyboards to see if this is something worth putting together or not. Be sure to read our related article for more information. Additionally, we've written an article explaining how to disable the windows key on the gaming keyboard too.
Should I Buy a DIY Gaming Keyboard Kit?
Building your own gaming keyboard has tons of advantages as shown in this article. Instead of searching for parts from various sources, you also have the choice of sourcing them in one handy kit.
If you have experience building and soldering electronics and are comfortable working with small components, it may be better to try putting together a custom keyboard from scratch instead of using a kit.
If you’re someone who doesn’t want to go through the hassle of looking from store to store for different keyboard parts, you might want to settle for a keyboard kit. This custom keyboard is a great example of a build-your-own gaming keyboard kit. However, if you’re into building your dream custom keyboard, the parts you need may not be sold together in a kit and you might have to do it all by yourself.