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Keyboard PCBs: How to Build Custom Mechanical Keyboards

keyboard PCB
pcbonline PCBONLINE Team Thur, May 13, 2021
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keyboard PCB

If you are a gamer or a computer enthusiast, you may already be familiar with mechanical keyboards. The key difference in a mechanical keyboard is that there are mechanical switches under the key-caps, rather than the rubber membranes widely used in economical keyboards. Mechanical keyboards differ from normal keyboards because of their PCBs, and if you want to make a custom keyboard, create your custom keyboard PCB first.

If you are an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or business maker from the medical, industrial, or consumer electronics industries, you may need key panel PCBs whose PCB pads are buttons or keys that are wear-resistant.

What is a Mechanical Keyboard PCB

The keyboard PCB, the heart of the keyboard, is a printed circuit board where switches and everything else fit. There is no soldering to the mechanical keyboard PCB and any switch can be replaced or customized. The following things have to be considered when selecting your keyboard PCB.

Compatibility with mechanical switches

There are two leg types for mechanical switches, which are the 3-leg type and the 5-leg type. It's better to design or select a keyboard PCB compatible with both of these types.

Keyboard layout and size

Keyboard PCBs come in different sizes. Some are compact and support 84 keys. And some have full keyboard layouts. It’s up to you to choose which one is suitable for you.

Software compatibility

Most keyboard PCBs come with programmable RGB lighting. Make sure they have good software support to access these functions.

PCB quality

The quality of the PCB or the electronic circuit board of the keyboard depends on the manufacturer of the product. So always pick the products from PCB, a high-quality PCB manufacturer.

How to Build Your Keyboard PCB?

If you are planning to design your custom keyboard PCB, there are three main things you should do.

  • Design PCB circuit.
  • Write keyboard firmware.
  • Write suitable PC drivers for your keyboard.

These steps are not discrete. These have to be worked with a total design in mind. The firmware of the keyboard must be compatible with your drivers and should be able to work with your selected microcontroller. The microcontroller you choose must have sufficient I/O pins to support the keyboard matrix and RGB lights in any.

Fortunately, you don't have to start from scratch. There are a few open-source mechanical keyboard designs available that you can use.

G60 open-source programmable mechanical keyboard PCB design

G60 keyboard PCB schematics

G60 mechanical keyboard PCB layout

Pocket Keyboard

pocket keyboard PCB

pocket keyboard PCB layout

Manufacturing the Custom Keyboard PCB

After selecting your keyboard PCB design, you can send the schematic design or Gerber files to a one-stop custom PCB manufacturer. Then you get your keyboard PCB manufactured.

PCB fabrication

How to Build Custom Mechanical Keyboards

In today's market, every component in a keyboard can be customized. The components are plug and play and the user can select brand, type, color, and even program every key to get a fully customized unique keyboard.

Switches

Mechanical switches provide precise consistent feedback to fingers and a unique click depending on the switch type you use. There are mainly 3 mechanical switch types in the market.

1. Linear Switches – There is no tactile feedback or sound of these switches at the actuation point.

2. Tactile Switches – Provide tactile feedback on the actuation point.

3. Clicky Switches – Provide a unique click feedback sound and tactile feedback on the actuation point.

keyboard switches

These main types are subdivided by several legs and each switch manufacturer has its sub-categories depending on the actuation force, and actuation distance. These subcategories should be selected by the feel of the user.

Key-Caps

key caps

Custom keycaps add artistic value to the keyboard. There are plenty of the-shelf custom keycaps available to purchase. These are available in various colors. You only have to look out for whether they are compatible with the mechanical switch that you have selected. It’s also good to look out for the height of the keycaps.

Building your key-caps?

It’s possible to create your key-cap styles with the technique of dye sublimation. In this process, you design and print the key-cap design you want on a dye-sublimation paper with an ink-jet printer with dye sublimation ink. The printed designs can be put into blank keycaps by applying pressure and heat.

key cap

Another method is to create the key cap from Resin. This way 3D art can be integrated into the key cap. Resin key-caps and custom print key-caps are also available on the market.

Frame and Mounting

The frame of the keyboard is usually manufactured by the keyboard PCB manufacturer to match the design parameters. So you can ask PCBONLINE to mount your keyboards when the keyboard PCBs are done. Then you can receive your custom mechanical keyboards.

Key Panel PCBs for OEMs and Business Makers

If you are an OEM or business maker, what you need may be key panel PCBs. Key panel PCBs are used for circuit controls.

Key panels used for industrial, medical, and consumer electronics can be one-stop manufactured from PCBONLINE, including PCB fabrication, PCB assembly, and component sourcing.

Key panel PCBs are usually FR4 PCBs or aluminum PCBs because they are cost-effective.

The buttons of key panels should be wear-resistant, and the PCB surface finishes can be selective. For example, the key panel manufactured by PCBONLINE used for medical metal domes uses hard gold plating for buttons pressed frequently and immersion gold for buttons used less frequently.

selective surface finish PCB for medical key panel

Every PCB pad of the above key panel PCB has a via in the center. When the metal dome is pressed, the circuit is connected, and the airflow exhausts through the via.

In regards to key panel PCBs used for industrial applications, you can check out the below PCBs manufactured by PCBONLINE.

selective hard gold plating PCBs for industrial control

These key panel PCBs use the selective hard gold plating surface finish, and the gold thickness is 10 microns. PCBONLINE provides one-stop electronic contract manufacturing for the client from PCB fabrication to component mounting.

The surface finish for key panel PCBs can be immersion gold, hard gold plating (ENIG), and carbon ink. ENIG has the best wear resistance. Immersion gold is softer than ENIG. Carbon ink PCBs are used for low-end applications such as remote controls.

If you need key panel PCBs for medical, industrial, and consumer electronics, you can send your inquiry to PCBONLINE by email at info@pcbonline.com, where you can have key panels designed and manufactured to be box builds certified with ISO, IATF, REACH, RoHS, and UL.

The PCB source factory manufacturer PCBONLINE provides one-on-one engineering support and considerate customer services throughout your project. You can have cost-effective and high-quality key panel PCBs manufactured from prototypes to bulk orders.

Conclusion

This article introduces how to select keyboard PCBs and some open-source designs of keyboard PCBs, and also introduces how to build your custom keyboard. Besides, you've got some insights into key panel PCBs used for medical, industrial, and consumer electronics. Ask PCBONLINE to manufacture your key panel PCBs, and enjoy impressive services now.


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