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The Guide to GMK Keycaps—Everything You Need to Know

Among die-hard mechanical keyboard fans, GMK is considered the holy grail of keycap manufacturers.  Mechanical keeb connoisseurs on the internet (especially on Reddit) would go above and beyond to praise GMK for the excellent quality and craftsmanship that they put into all their keycap sets. But the name GMK might not mean anything for a novice who has only just dipped their toes into the world of mechanical keyboards.

But fret not! I’m here to guide you through all you need to know about the most well respected and undoubtedly the most popular keycap manufacturer in the world.

What is GMK?

GMK Midnight Rainbow
Photo by Jay Zhang on Unsplash

GMK electronic design GmBH was founded in 1992 in Germany by Manfred Güntner, Jürgen Meinhardt, and Wolfgang Kredler—whose surnames make up the titular acronym. Keycap manufacturing is only a tiny slice of what GMK does. In fact, they only began selling their iconic keycaps in 2011! GMK also makes PCBs (printed circuit boards), keyboards, HMI control panels, IoT devices and many other types of electronic equipment.  

What’s so good about GMK keycaps?

The reason why GMK keycaps have garnered millions of loyal fans around the world is because of multiple reasons. They are known for their bright and distinct colourways that can be found on all their keycap sets. Unlike a lot of keycap sets, GMK keycaps use ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastics rather than PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) plastics.

 The main advantage that ABS plastics have over PBT is that they’re much softer. This allows manufacturers to easily include a large variety of colours than what is possible on PBT. Since they are able to use double or triple shot processes to integrate colours, ABS keycaps tend to be much brighter and vibrant than PBT keycaps.

The way in which PBT keycaps are made causes its legends to be generally much darker than ABS keycaps. In a nutshell, ABS keycaps offer much higher customization options as they offer a larger variety of colours.

However, there are some disadvantages to using ABS keycaps. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastics are considered of being lower in quality than PBT plastics. This is evident in ABS keycaps as they tend to shine after a period of use. PBT keycaps generally resist shining much longer than ABS.

With that said, GMK uses a higher manufacturing standard for their ABS keycaps which makes them higher in quality than your run of the mill ABS sets from eBay. So, if you’re looking for a wide range of high-quality choices, GMK keycaps are definitely the way to go.

Why are GMK keycaps so expensive?

GMK Oblivion
Photo by Jay Zhang on Unsplash

GMK keycaps are notorious for costing upwards of $200 for just a single set. That’s even more than some high-quality mechanical keyboards!

The reason that GMK can charge such exorbitant prices for their sets—and why people keep buying them, is because of the freedom of choice they offer. Moreover, the thicker build means they’re much more robust than average ABS keycaps.

GMK’s manufacturing process prioritises excellent colour reproduction on all their sets, which means that you’ll be hard-pressed to find any of their keycaps with subpar colouring. It only takes a simple glance at any of the GMK sets to see the care and craftsmanship that goes into each keycap. Their handcrafted quality as well as their attention to detail (especially in the designer sets) are the reason why keyboard fans hold them at such a high standard.  

You can find other keycap sets that come close to the level of quality that GMK offers. SP, JTK and Maxkey are some notable examples. But most would agree that none of them really stand out compared to GMK keycaps.

But no matter how expensive they get, ABS keycaps are well, ABS. this means that shine is unavoidable. Even the most well-crafted GMK keycap sets will start to see shine after around six months of regular use. That’s the ultimate price you need to pay for the bright colours and flexibility of customization.

Until dye-sublimated PBT keycaps become much more easily accessible, ABS keycaps are the only way to go. And since GMK offers the best of the bunch, they’re more than happy to charge whatever they want because of the high demand in the market!

Are GMK keycaps worth it?

This is a very personal opinion, going from the demand for these keycaps, the answer seems to be yes! Keyboard enthusiasts are fervently buying multiple sets. Because GMK uses thick ABS plastic, the sound signature of their keycaps is desirable. 

What are the best GMK keycaps?

Believe it or not, this is quite a complicated answer. Because even if I told you what the best GMK keycap sets are, the chances are that you probably will not be able to buy it.

This is because a lot of the popular GMK sets are released as part of limited runs on various mechanical keyboard vendors such as drop.com. This is probably to add a sense of exclusivity to each of their sets, and also to reduce the load on their manufacturing process by limiting the number of orders.

Most new releases of GMK keycap sets are notified months in advance so that fans can get ready to purchase them.

When it comes to talking about what the ‘best’ GMK keycaps are, it’s totally up to personal preference.  All of their keycap sets are made to the same high-quality standards and only differ in their looks, so you won’t need to worry about getting an inferior set just because you went with a certain colourway.

If I were to give a more concrete answer on what the best GMK keycaps are, I can only list out my personal favourites. Some of my favourite GMK sets are the ones that go against the mould, with bright, flashy colours that really make your entire setup pop.

One of my favourite keycap sets of all time is the DROP GMK Redsuns Blue Samurai. Everything about it just works. The beautiful dark, vibrant blue keycaps mixed with the wooden brown ones create a perfect symmetry of colour. Its legend contains sweet illustrations that add a quaint Japanese vibe to your setup without being eye-searingly over the top. The best part is that the Blue Samurai set gets restocked pretty often so keep your eyes peeled if you want them!

Another GMK set that I’m particularly fond of is the DROP+MITO GMK Laser custom keycap set. This unique set uses a combination of bright blue, black and red themes to produce a futuristic neon glow. If you want to have a cool cyberpunk-y build, this keycap set is definitely worth checking out!

What’s more, the DROP+MITO Laser custom keycap set can be often found in stock for a relatively lower price of around $100. That’s an absolute steal for a gorgeous keycap set like this!

The GMK Bento R2 is one of those keycap sets that you need to see to really understand its appeal. Aptly named after the cutesy Japanese meal boxes, the GMK Bento R2 has a subtle muted look, with colours that are almost pastel but not quite. This works in the Bento R2’s favour though, as it’s one of the most popular GMK keycap sets out there.

If you’re a minimalist, the GMK Bleached keycap set might just be what you need to get your entire setup to click. The GMK Bleached set forgoes any bells and whistles and opts for a clean monochrome look, with its black and white keys. This set is especially popular with those who have ‘stormtrooper’ PC setups and wish to maintain clear minimalism throughout their desk space.

Finally, we have the GMK Wavez. This keycap set has been a fan favourite ever since it launched, at it’s quite easy to see why. This bright keycap set utilises the various shades of green to give off a tropical look while striking a stark contrast with the black colour that’s used sparingly. It definitely has a unique look and its novelty is one of the main reasons why it took off so well. This keycap set often sells for around $150, but good luck finding them in stock!

Are GMK keycaps compatible with my keyboard?

When buying GMK keycap sets, it is important to know whether or not they are fully compatible with your key switches.

All GMK keycap sets are made for Cherry style switches and clones, as long as they have a Cherry stem. This means that any keyboard with Cherry MX switches, as well as Gateron, Kailh or any other Cherry clones are fully compatible with every GMK set. Since GMK uses the original Cherry moulds to craft their switches, their keycaps have a great fit and finish on original Cherry switches, meaning you will not notice any discrepancies in their craftsmanship.  

However, if your keyboard uses proprietary key switches such as Razer or Logitech Romer G switches, you’re fresh out of luck. No GMK keycap set will be compatible with first-party switches such as these. So you’ll have to stick to keycap sets made by either the same manufacturer as your switches or other vendors who are verified as being compatible.  

Where to buy GMK keycap sets?

GMK
Photo by Jay Zhang on Unsplash

It may come as a surprise to learn that buying a GMK keycap set is no simple affair. As I mentioned earlier, you cannot just one-click order a GMK set. Since every new keycap set is launched as a limited run, you’ll have to buy them as part of a group buy.

What’s a group buy you ask?

Mechanical keyboards and keycaps are made in various shapes, sizes and colours. They are made by companies or even individuals who wish to add something new to the world of mechanical keebs.  For them, to make just one or two sets is simply not cost-effective, as a lot of money and time go into the design and the allocation of specialised machinery and moulds. Not to mention that many keycap sets are handcrafted to ensure they meet high-quality standards.

This means that many mechanical keyboards, and (especially) keycap sets are given a minimum order quantity or MOQ. A new product will need to meet or exceed its designated MOQ in order to even begin mass production.

This is where the group buys come in to play. Manufacturers and designers pitch their ideas and concepts to the mechanical keyboard community in hopes of garnering a following who will eventually buy the product that they’re advertising. A date will be set months in advance to when the group buy is happening, and fans will collectively buy a specific set and pray it reaches or exceeds the MOQ. Once the group buy period is closed, the keycap set’s run will be over and those who missed out on the group buy will be fresh out of luck.

Although there are some occasions where a fan favourite keycap set will return as part of a group buy, it is not the case for every GMK set.

The Geekhack forum is the place to check in to see upcoming group buys and interest checks, this is where keycap designers gauge initial interest and start collecting group orders. 

To sign up for group buys, or if you’re lucky, snag one that’s already in stock, you can visit these sites:

Why do GMK keycaps take so long to arrive?

If you participate in any of the GMK group buys, you’ll be familiar with how long it takes for them to arrive at your doorstep. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that, since they are part of group buys, every GMK keycap set needs to wait till they reach or exceed their MOQ to even begin to move ahead with production. So, it doesn’t matter how early you cash in on the group buy, you will almost always have to wait months to receive your set of keycaps.

Secondly, these wait times have doubled and tripled recently due to COVID, with production delays colliding with a staggering increase in demand. A lot of group buys that took place last year won’t ship until 2022!

This is the biggest caveat you will have to deal with when you’re in the highly competitive world of mechanical keyboards. Patience is key, and there really is no other way around it if you want the best keycaps on the market.

Conclusion

There you have it! That’s everything you need to know about GMK keycaps if you’re someone who’s just getting into mechanical keyboards.

Clearly, mechanical keyboards are not a cheap hobby. It takes time, money, and a lot of patience to get what you want. But it truly is one of the most exciting hobbies out there, especially if you love typing, and maintaining a clean desk setup.

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