When it comes to must haves for me concerning mechanical keyboards I always recommend the MKC Zinc Gold Tone Keyset. While the set can be a bit pricy at $50 for the set of just 37 keys to me it was well worth the investment. The first benefit you get from the keys is simply the look of them. Because they arrive individually wrapped they have no scratches or blemishes on the keys. Then when you contrast the keys to the plastic ones on your keyboard these shine and reflect all the light making them look very beautiful. Then the feel of the keys is much more superior to any plastic counterpart. Although they can be a bit cold at first touch it’s never an uncomfortable temperature. The smoothness of the keys also feels much nicer than plastic keys that usually are slightly textured. Even with the lack of texture your fingers don’t slide all over the keys and it’s still easy to use. These keys also provide a physical benefit along with an aesthetic one. Because the weight of the keys is a bit heavier than plastic keys it makes the spring in the switch easier to compress which makes it easier to type. While the effect is very minimal, it is still noticeable. It is also useful to note that I have had these keys for over a year and have never noticed any corrosion in the metal. Before buying I had read that heavy use caused some of the coating to wear off and hurt the look of the keys but this turned out to only be the case for older versions and has been much improved in newer sets which I can attest to. While metal keycaps can be a bit hard to find they tend to have a reliable supply of them available here.
Multiple times I have made mention of the customization that mechanical keyboards offer but have never gotten too specific with what you can actually do. While a very popular option is to buy complete key sets which give the whole board a matching design or theme a growing area of customization is in artisan keycaps. There are many artists that are very active in creating custom keycaps that are often one or two keys instead of whole sets. Because these keys are hand crafted and often made in small batches the value of them can be very high. Some of these single keycaps have sold for over $200 on eBay. While they aren’t all such a high price the average starting price for a single key is still $25. Although the price of a single artisan key can be very close to the cost of a whole set the popularity of these keys is growing. The designs are getting more and more intricate as the artists gain more experience. In the beginning of artisan keys they were almost all just single color sculpted keys. Now many artisan keys are multiple colors in the same key and now it is common for the keys to be multiple parts and can even have moving parts. An interesting artist that is rapidly gaining popularity works under the name of “Jelly Keys” and creates unique and interesting keys by imbedding gems or plants into the resin when casting the key. Although artisan keys can be a bit expensive the offer an interesting way to spice up your keyboard with only having to change one keycap.
I’ve talked before on custom boards and boards that are smaller than you may ever expect to be possible. One of the most popular custom “miniature” mechanical keyboards is the Planck. Its size is what you would call a 40% keyboard. What this means is that it has no number pad, arrow keys, function keys, or even the top row of number keys. While this may sound like a keyboard lacking usability since it is “missing” keys it is actually very easy to use. It has 3 separate layers of keys that can be accessed by either holding down no special key, the upper key, or the lower key. This allows for each key to have 3 different options assigned to it. An example would be holding down the upper key then pressing “q” to get the number “1.” While it can take some getting used to once you get the hang of it you can type just as fast as a regular keyboard while taking up 60% less space on your desk. Another advantage of this keyboard is that it is ortholinear which means that instead of the keys being offset from each other from one row to the next they all are in a straight line. While this aspect does also take a bit getting used to it can actually improve typing speed once you become accustomed to it. Because of its small size it is actually a reasonably priced custom board starting around $120. While most of the time it is sold as a “kit” where you are expected to assemble it yourself it can also be purchased pre-assembled.