A keyboard is the most important device you’ll use on your computer. The quality of your keyboard can affect the speed and accuracy of typing. If you’re looking for a new keyboard, there are lots of options out there. You can find mechanical keyboards for as low as $80 but if you want something even better then expect to spend over $150.
But what are the different types of keyboards?
- There are membrane keyboards, which use a grid of rubber domes to create a keystroke. These are often found in laptop computers and typically have a lower actuation force than mechanical switches.
- Then there are traditional mechanical switches, which have been used since the first IBM Model M keyboard debuted back in 1984 (and continue to be used today). There are two main types: dome-based or tactile/clicky. The former feels mushy when pressed down; but with the latter, you can feel an audible click as your finger strikes each switch and hear it return to its original position when released.
But how much does it cost to build a keyboard from scratch? And what options do you have when choosing between different types of switches?
Let’s start with what it costs to build a keyboard. The main components are the PCB (printed circuit board), switches, keycaps, and a case. All told, you can expect to spend around $100 on these parts plus shipping fees if you buy them individually, or as little as $50 if you buy from an established manufacturer like Massdrop or WASD Keyboards.
The size of your keyboard will depend on the kind of user you are. If you want a full-size keyboard, that’s what we’ll describe in this guide. If you’re looking for something smaller, check out our guides on tenkeyless keyboards and compact or TKL mechanical keyboards.
In general, full-size boards are larger than their TKL counterparts because they include all keys from the home row to the number pad on both sides of the keyboard, as well as two thumb clusters per side. These keyboards have more space between keycaps and can accommodate larger keycaps (such as those with legends). They also often come with more features such as macro support or media keys embedded into some extra buttons along one side.
The Case, PCB, and Plate
The case protects the internal components from outside elements such as dust and water. The PCB sends a signal to the computer after each keystroke logging. The metal plate is an optional component, but it basically holds the switches in place better and adds overall structure to the build.
You typically purchase all three components together as you need to make sure they are compatible. When picking these parts out, you are deciding what features you want on your keyboard, the overall size needed, and what sort of mounting system is preferred.
You can buy each part separately or together in a kit. If you want a more common layout such as 60%, you can buy the parts separately and mix/match. If you want a more unique build, such as 65%, you’ll need to pick up a kit.
The cost of electronic components depends on the keyboard design. If you are going to use the switches and LEDs from a kit, then the price of each switch and LED won’t change too much. But if you want to use your own switches and LEDs, then it will be more expensive because you’ll have to buy them separately.
The price also increases with the number of keys in your keyboard (i.e., how many keys do you want your keyboard to have?). The same goes for switches; more types mean higher costs because there are more parts involved in building an entire keycap set instead of just one or two keys like most kits provide as part of their package deal.
You will need to buy the following materials:
- Solder wire (a spool of solder is easiest)
- Soldering iron or soldering station. If you’re planning on doing a lot of soldering, it’s worth investing in a good one. I personally use a Hakko FX-888 temperature-controlled model and love it.
- Desoldering braid (also known as “solder wick”) for removing excess solder from joints after they’ve been made.
Switches are the most expensive part of building a keyboard. They can be priced anywhere from $0.50 to $10, so you can see why it’s important to know what kind of switches you want before you start your keyboard project. The price of switches varies depending on their quality and availability in different parts of the world. Switches are also irreplaceable: once installed, they stay in place until they break or wear out completely, even if that takes decades. With this in mind, when purchasing switches for your project (or if you’re buying someone else’s), make sure that there’s an ample supply available for purchase at all times so that there will always be replacements if needed down the road.
The stabilizers on a keyboard are what allow you to rest your fingers on the keys and know they’ll stay put while you type. They’re used in many different types of keyboards, including mechanical ones like the one we’ll be building today.
The most common type of stabilizer is called a leaf spring, which is made up of two parts: one stationary piece that stays affixed to the back of your keyboard and an attached part that bends when pressed down (usually with some kind of pliant plastic). When you press down lightly on a keycap in order to depress it into its switch, this bendable portion will pop back into place once released from pressure thanks to springs inside each stabilizer unit. This allows for consistent tactile feedback between presses regardless of how hard or softly you push down; if there were no such mechanism present then pressing hard would result in far fewer successful presses per sentence.
This design works because it does not require any additional materials beyond those used for standard keycaps, meaning this cost comes entirely at installation time during construction rather than being baked right into our budget right off the bat.
Stabilizers are an essential component that many forget about. Don’t cheap out on the stabilizers if you can help it, they make or break the typing experience. We have an entire write-up on stabilizers to help you pick out the perfect ones.
Basically, most prebuilt keyboards come with plate-mounted stabilizers that get the job decently well, but since you’re building a custom keyboard, you’re going to want PCB screw-in stabilizers.
The screw-in style is extremely secure and feels great to type on. You’ll need to pick out a PCB that supports this style of mounting or else you’ll be stuck with the typical plate-mounted style.
With stabilizers you want them to be super smooth, and secure, and keep your larger keys from wobbling.
Keycaps are the plastic or metal things you press to make a key work. They’re what you see when you look at a keyboard, and they can be either colored or plain. Keycaps are usually printed in 3D with PLA, which is made from cornstarch and has a low melting point of around 140ºC (284ºF). It’s also biodegradable so it’s good for the environment.
You can purchase a USB cable at any computer supply store or online, and it will cost around $5. A USB cable is used to connect your keyboard to a computer.
If you want to build a keyboard from scratch, you’ll need a soldering kit. A soldering kit includes the following tools:
- Soldering iron
- Flux (optional)
- Solder sucker or “solder wick” (a tool used to remove excess solder and prevent bridges)
- Wire stripper/strippers (strip away the protective plastic coating on wires before you solder them together)
Cost To Build A Keyboard
When you’re building a keyboard, there are a lot of moving parts. You have to consider how much your tools will cost, what the shipping costs are going to be like, and whether you can even afford all of this in the first place.
In order for us to get an idea of what we needed in terms of materials and tools, we did some research on the average cost per part. We found that most people spend anywhere between $100-$500 on their single keyboards (most don’t go over $1000). That doesn’t include shipping costs since they vary depending on where you live and whether or not it’s included with your order or not.
How much does it cost to build a custom keyboard? It is not as expensive as you might think, ranging between $80 and $150.
How much does it cost to build a custom keyboard? It is not as expensive as you might think, ranging between $80 and $150. In this guide, we’ll cover the different costs associated with building your own keyboard and offer some tips on how to save money while doing so.
The first step in building your own custom mechanical keyboard is determining what type of switch you want. Different switches have different actuation forces that make them feel different when typing or gaming. For example, Cherry MX Red switches have an actuation force of 45-55 grams while Cherry MX Blue switches have an actuation force of 60-70 grams.
There are many ways to build a custom keyboard. If you know what you want and have the money for it, then go for it. But if not, there are cheaper alternatives like using existing parts from other keyboards or buying premade kits that are available online.