Mechanical Keyboard collecting and customization has been a hobby of mine for years. Sometimes it is too easy to forget how jargon heavy and confusing entering a new hobby can be. This mechanical keyboard glossary contains collected terms and definitions that should help newcomers get a better understanding of the vocabulary used throughout the other mechanical keyboard reviews and guides. As the hobby continues to grow and adapt, new vocabulary will appear within the mechanical keyboard glossary when necessary.
Mechanical Keyboard Glossary
When referring to a percentage of a keyboard form factor, it is expressing the percent remaining of a standard full size mechanical keyboard form factor
An extremely minimalist mechanical keyboard form factor that is similar to the 60% without a number row
A keyboard form factor consisting of just the main cluster without the numpad, function row, arrow cluster and navigation cluster.
Ability to register two key presses and up to two modifiers at any given time. This is not a good trait, and is only typically found on older mechanical keyboards.
The amount of keys that can be registered at the same time. Extremely important for users looking for a mechanical keyboard for playing video games. 6KRO indicates the ability to register up to six letter keys and four modifiers at any given time. 6-key rollover is common over modern USB connected mechanical keyboards. Many older keyboards are limited to 2KRO
A compressed keyboard form factor without a numberpad. Usually has one more row and one more column in comparison to a 60%.
Another term for tenkeyless form factor
Abbreviation for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a common type of plastic used for keycaps. Often viewed as inferior to PBT keycaps
Amount of downward force required for the key to register as being pressed. Can also refer to the force needed to bottom out the key or initial force at the top of a key press. Characteristic that differentiates switches.
The moment during key travel when the switch is actuated, sends a signal to the connected device and registers the key press.
A programming language that uses special symbols in its syntax.
The illumination of keycaps by installing LED’s on the pcb board of the mechanical keyboard. Comes in many different colors and configurations. Often viewed as a sought after cosmetic feature.
Most mechanical keyboards have a backplate made from aluminum mounted between the PCB and the switches. This provides strength and stops the PCB from flexing while the mechanical keyboard is in use. Plate mounted mechanical keyboards requiring soldering in order to replace each individual switch so are often not favored for someone that wants to customize their switches.
Buckling Spring (Switch Type)
A classic style switch found on the first popularized mechanical keyboard, the IBM Model M. This switch is extremely loud but has a satisfying type writer-esque feel
The entire programmed layer activated by holding down the function key for smaller form factor mechanical keyboards.
The familiar sound of typing on a mechanical keyboard. Term popularized by the loud noise of Cherry MX Blue switches.
CHERRY (Switch Type)
One of the most common switch type companies. Cherry MX switches are dependable, long lasting, and are used by a majority of the mechanical keyboard companies.
Clicky (Switch Type)
Switch type that makes an audible “click” noise when the switch is pushed to the actuation point. Most common clicky switches are Cherry MX Blues. Clicky switches give mechanical keyboards the stigma that they are too loud for public use.
Electrical switch located on the bottom of the keyboard. The switch is programmed to enable/disable certain configurations on the mechanical keyboard. Common setting include altering the keyboard layout, disabling the windows key, and changing which key activates the function layers.
Keycap creation method where the legends are infused into the plastic of the keycap instead of being printed/engraved on the top of the keycap. This method is generally preferred when purchasing keycaps because it avoids the legends from fading as the key wears down.
Gaming reference of quickly registering two keystrokes back-to-back. Often an error.
Keyboard form factor used to reduce strain on the hands as much as possible. The ergonomic mechanical keyboard form factor is unique and can be made in a multitude of different ways. The Ergodox has become the most sought after ergonomic mechanical keyboard.
Common Ergonomic form factor mechanical keyboard. Generally bought as a kit that is assembled and designed for mechanical keyboard hobbyist in mind. The keyboard has two separate pieces for each hand, and allows for every key to be individually placed and programmed on the keyboard.
Ergo-Clear (Switch Type)
Custom switch type that involves lubing the stab and slider of a Cherry MX Clear switch and replacing the stock spring with a lighter spring (typing 62g spring is the sweet spot) Creates a similar typing experience to typing on Cherry MX Blues without the noise.
Refers to the size, number of keys, and shape of the keyboard. One of the key decisions to begin narrowing down when searching for a mechanical keyboard to purchase.
Full Size (Form Factor)
Standard common keyboard form factor including the number pad. Typically comes with 104 keys, including the function row and dedicated key clusters.
A key that when held down will activate any hidden function layers. Function keys are typically found on the smaller form factor keyboards and required on anything 60% and smaller. By programming keys to multiple uses, the smaller form factors are possible. For example, holding down the fn key while pressing any number typically activates the F variation of the number.
Ghetto (Switch Type)
Common term used for advanced mechanical keyboard hobbyist. When someone creates a switch that is not a switch that is able to be purchased from retail, such as using the springs from Cherry MX Reds in the housing of Cherry MX Blues. This is referred to as a ghetto switch.
When a key is registered when it should not have been. Most current mechanical keyboards are designed with anti-ghosting features and typically only occurs on boards with 2KRO.
HHKB (Happy Hacking Keyboard)
Extremely popular mechanical keyboard manufacturing company that uses the magnetic topre switches in a clearn 60% keyboard form factor. Extremely pricey, but often argued as one of the better mechanical keyboards on the market.
The row of keys that most QWERTY layout individuals rest their hands on. The keys include ASDFGHJK;’. Blinders are typically placed on the F and J key so typist can easily re-position their fingers in the correct spot on the home row.
When the release point is higher than the actuation point of the switch. Often an issue that comes up when trying to create custom switches and not using enough force to create the perfect actuation point.
Most common keyboard layout used in countries outside of the United States. Most common difference from ANSI layout is the large enter key, and the shorter left shift key. Layout is extremely important to consider if you plan on customizing keycaps. It is harder to find certain keycap sets in less used layouts.
Trace routing system installed by being soldered between two points on the PCB of a mechanical keyboard. Jumper wires allow traces to tunnel under the PCB so they can cross over other traces.
Kaihua (Switch Type)
Often referred to as the knock-off Cherry MX Switch. It is only commonly found on Razer keyboards, manufactured for Razer by Kaihua. The general public was outraged with Razer for switching over to these switches instead of using Cherry MX Switches to cut costs.
When a keyboard has exceeded the amount of key presses it can register at a given time and refuses to register any additional presses
When a key is actuated twice by mistake. Often shows an issue with the switch of the key and will probably need repairs.
Plastic covering that goes over the switch housing. The piece that actually makes contact with the users fingers and gives them a means of activating the switches below. Keycaps can be easily removed with a keycap puller for cleaning or replacement.
A tool that is used to remove keycaps. Two most common types are metal wire keycap pullers and plastic key cap pullers. You can also make a homemade keycap puller out of paper clips.
Key Travel Distance
The distance measured in mm of how far a key can be pressed down before it is bottomed out. Typically used in the decision process of which switches to buy.
The less desirable method of keycap creation. A laser is used to create legends on the keycap. This process is limited in the color combinations it can produce, and is prone to fading of the legends as the keys are used.
Layout is often confused with form factor. Layout refers to the physical location of the keys on the keyboard, and options such as winkeyless. The most common layout types are ANSI and ISO.
The characters printed on the keycaps to indicate the switches purpose.
Linear (Switch Type)
Switch type that is often preferred by gamers. There is no tactile feedback bump or clicking noise. The keypress is a linear motion with an actuation point and a point the key can be bottomed out. MX Red switches have light springs giving them really fast actuation points (typically used by pro PC gamers).
A key that is commonly found on gaming mechanical keyboards. A macro key can be programmed to preform multiple different functions depending on what the user desires. It can be programmed to control media, initiate certain actions while a game is running, or to count as pressing multiple keys at once.
Matias (Switch Type)
Most common alps clone production company
N-key Rollover allows every single key on the mechanical keyboard to be pressed at the same time, registering every keystroke. Often desirable for gamers
Rubber gaskets that can be placed over the stem of a keycap (requires the keys to be removed to install). O-rings are a cheap, effective method of dampening noise from the press of a switch. It also reduces to the travel time required for a switch to bottom out. O-rings come in a wide variety of thickness to alter the amount of key travel time, and the amount of dampening offered.
The original manufacturing company. OEM companies often produce keyboards for other keyboards to market. OEM Mechanical keyboards are cheaper, and do not have the branding that you would find on the end consumer company.
Least sought after method of keycap creation. It’s an affordable process of directly printing the legends on the keycaps. Prone to fading.
Superior plastic used for mechanical keyboard keycap creation. The higher quality plastic is durable, and has a smooth feel. The keys wear evenly and the color does not fade over time. ABS keycaps are more common because of the harder process of creating keycaps out of PBT. PBT is also resistant to “shine” (see definition).
Printed Circuit Boards are the brain behind mechanical keyboards. All of the main components of a mechanical keyboard are soldered onto a PCB, allowing it to be programmed and configured to carry out its function.
Important option when deciding on a mechanical keyboard to purchase. PCB mounted mechanical keyboards are more rare and often only found on customized mechanical keyboards. The switches are directly mounted on the PCB. This causes the mechanical keyboard to have more flex during typing. The benefit of PCB mounted switches is it makes customizing the switches extremely easy. No soldering is required to open the switch housing and modify the springs or change the switch.
Most rare plastic type that keycaps can be made out of.
The point during the upward travel of a switch activation where the switch resets. Once the switch has traveled past this point the switch can be activated again.
ABS keycaps are prone to shine. The oils from the keycaps can leave a permanent shiny look to the tops of the keycaps after extended use.
Another term used to describe the stem portion of the mechanical switch.
Often found on mechanical keyboards to support the larger keys (Shift, Enter, Space Bar). The stabilizer is a metal bar that’s purpose is to provide support to the key keeping it level. Often referred to as a Stab in the mechanical keyboard world.
The bottom part of the mechanical keyboard switch.
A mechanical keyboard switch type that has a bump on the downward press of a key. The tactile bump is an indication to the user that the switch has reached it’s activation point and no longer needs to be pressed down. This point is reached before the switch is bottomed out. This is a separate switch characteristic than the “clicky” noise.
Medium sized mechanical keyboard form factor. Further explained in the form factor guide
Topre (Switch Type)
Magnetic switch type popularized by the HHKB company. The mechanical keyboard switch type is extremely smooth and has a distinctly different feel from other popular mechanical keyboard switch types.
The distance a switch can travel before it bottoms out.
The most common type of connector cable type a mechanical keyboard can have. Provides power and recognition from the keyboard to the computer.
Method of keycap printing legends that uses UV light. Said to be more durable and last longer than more traditional methods such as pad printing.
Standard keys used in most video games as the movement keys. Some keycap sets can be purchased that have these keys in separate colors from the rest to be better recognized.
A mechanical keyboard that comes with a windows key next to the left ctrl key.
A mechanical keyboard layout that does not come with a windows key switch next to the left ctrl key. This switch is often viewed as a nuisance for gamers and if pressed while meaning to press the ctrl key can minimize games and cause issues. Some mechanical keyboard companies are leaning towards this layout more often.