Customising mechanical keyboards is all the rage lately. Spend a minute on Instagram Reels or TikTok, and you’ll see desk setups with peripherals in practically every colour of the rainbow. It’s a beautiful thing, especially after decades of having mostly black-and-tan computer accessories to choose from.
Razer, the company behind many of those black and decidedly masculine gaming peripherals, wants a piece of this nearly $1.4 billion mechanical keyboard industry. The company is now launching a line of colourful keycaps, cables, and wrist rests to start you on the journey toward customisation. The sets are all relatively affordable, too. At $70 for its PBT keycaps and $50 for its Phantom Keycap Upgrade set, Razer’s keycaps are as much as a set of knock-offs from Amazon. The coiled cables come in four colours as part of the PBT box sets. The wrist rests are $30 each and available in three sizes, including mini, tenkeyless, and full size.
There are certainly trade-offs to starting your customisation journey with a mega peripheral maker like Razer. It’s much easier to buy directly from them than find an artisanal keycap set that fits the bill. The enthusiast community can be daunting to approach, not to mention exclusionary. Group buys, which is how artisanal sets are effectively “pre-ordered” before manufacturing, also require long lead times. In contrast, a pre-packaged set from Razer is available immediately off the shelf.
These unique keycap sets can also be prohibitively expensive. A complete set can cost upwards of $270 with shipping. The price is often higher to help subsidise the artist’s hard work designing the keycap set, but not everyone wants to drop that kind of cash for the novelty of a bright pink keyboard.
Razer is definitely on to something debuting its own set of keyboard customisation kits. Though they’re meant for Razer’s family of mechanical keyboards, they’re a way to get initiated into the concept of customising mechanical keyboards without breaking the bank.
Razer Mechanical Keyboard Customisation Kits
WHAT IS IT
A variety of colourful kits for customising your Razer or third-party mechanical keyboard
Ranging from $30to $70
Affordable sets include stabilizers, and the PBT keycaps even come with matching coiled cables
Cables aren't as premium as indie brands, and the PBT keycaps don't fit Razer's 65% keyboard layouts
Razer sent over a pile of pieces from its new customisation lineup, including the black-and-white versions of the Phantom Keycap Upgrade sets and its PBT keycaps with matching coiled cables in four colours: black, Razer green, pink “quartz,” and white “mercury.” For this review, I tested the white set of the Phantom Keycaps on a BlackWidow V3 Mini Hyperspeed Phantom Edition wireless keyboard with Razer’s green switches, which are tactical and clicky.
I also tested the quartz-coloured PBT Keycaps with matching coiled cable on a BlackWidow V3 Mini Hyperspeed wireless with Razer’s yellow switches, which are linear and silent. I used the Tenkeyless (TKL) edition of the Razer wrist rest for this review since it was the only one that fit the width of both Blackwidow keyboards. And I did all this with long nails.
Let’s start with the Razer PBT Keycap and Coiled Upgrade set, which costs $70. The set comes in a box with four plastic trays stacked on top of one another. Each tray is labelled in the order in which you should open and install the keycaps. The set includes 120 keycaps and is compatible with Razer’s 60%, TKL, and full-sized keyboards. Unfortunately, the set doesn’t complete the Razer BlackWidow V3 Mini wireless. I left behind seven of the stock black keycaps, including the four navigation buttons on the last column of the keyboard.
The PBT keycaps are a bit more premium than the Doubleshot ABS keycaps that come standard with the BlackWidow V3 Mini HyperSpeed. PBT stands for Polybutylene Terephthalate, which is a kind of durable plastic used in manufacturing keycaps. It’s also a bit challenging to work with, which is why they’re often pricier than the Doubleshot ABS, which are the cheapest and most common plastic used in the industry. However, ABS keycaps can develop a sheen more quickly, whereas PBT keycaps will last much longer. Both of Razer’s PBT and ABS keycaps have a similar textured feel on top, so you can mix and match as you like.
Razer notes the PBT upgrade kit fits most cross-shaped axis switches and standard U.S. and UK layouts. There is also a keycap puller included in the box (save yourself the trouble and buy this instead) plus a set of black stabilisers, which is a nod to anyone who might be buying this set for use on a third-party keyboard. However, it’s also helpful as you’re taking apart any Razer-made mechanical keyboard. I used too much force yanking out the spacebar, and one of the stabilizing pieces shot out and disappeared into my room. Fortunately, there was a replacement in the box, and you’ll definitely need it as the space bar can be jumpy and inaccurate without stabilisers on either end.
The coiled cable is the last part of the upgrade kit. It’s a 150mm length braided fibre cable with USB-C to USB-A connection. Under direct light, it’s a slightly paler pink than the quartz keycap set. It feels less premium than the custom Zap cable I purchased a few years ago to match my DSA Magic Girl set. The braided thread is already showing signs of wear after only a week of use. But the cable works with any USB-C keyboard, and it’s long enough for most desktop setups.
It’s challenging to test keycaps within a limited frame of time. Unlike a smartphone or computer, the only reliable benchmark is time and how the keycaps hold up against skin oils, food grease, and even sun blasting from the window adjacent to the desk. The installation experience was relatively standard, and it took me about an hour to swap out 68 keys. If you’re using a Razer keyboard, you can invite even more customisation with the Synapse software, which lets you apply custom lighting across varying parts of the board. I also had no problem typing on the keycaps, which are a little taller than what I’m used to with low-profile DSA keycaps. I managed about 102 words per minute in a typing test.
The Phantom keycap upgrade set is meant for a stealthier look. The bottom half of the keycap is see-through, while the top half is matte. The keycaps are blank on top until you shine a line through them. This made them difficult to install, as I had to shine a light through every single keycap before I knew what it was and where I should place it on the board. I still managed to get the BlackWidow V3 Mini wireless kitted out within an hour, but it was tedious.
The Phantom keycaps come bundled with 128 keycaps fit for Razer’s 60%, 65%, TKL, and full-sized keyboards. There are also stabilizers and a keycap removal tool in the box. This set completely fits the BlackWidow V3 Mini wireless keyboard. But I got frustrated trying to find the precise Page Up and Page Down keycaps that work on the right-hand side. So I left that part of the keyboard with its stock offerings.
The Phantom keycaps feel a bit more sturdy than the PBT set. Despite their relative uniformity, you can achieve a neat aesthetic with LED lights. I prefer a solid colour look, though cycling between colours is also a nice touch. There is a starkness to the white keycaps on black chassis, however. The upside is that you can take most of this set to another standard keyboard and get creative pairing it with other colours and keycaps.
Make sure that you install the stabilisers if one of them pops out. I didn’t fix the space bar on the BlackWidow V3 Mini wireless, and I had to go back and add spaces after finishing sentences. Also, I only managed about 95 words per minute in typing tests, but that’s because I tend to type faster on linear switches compared to tactile ones.
An Affordable Starter Pack
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo, In-House Art
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo, In-House Art
Or Phantom white?
The wrist rests are all cushy versions of the ones that already come with most full-size Razer keyboards. They’re super comfortable for long bouts of typing, and I’m pleased there’s finally a size that fits the BlackWidow V3 Mini wireless. There are also grip pads on the bottom that prevent the wrist rest from slipping around.
If you’re already invested in Razer’s vast range of mechanical keyboards, and you’re bored by what you’ve been working with, this is the easiest way to upgrade without throwing a wrench into the matrix. Even if you just wanted to add some colour, sticking within a brand helps ensure that everything fits with what you already have. For instance, you could buy a colourful keycap set that’s readily available on Drop for around the same price as the PBT upgrade kit. But it might clash with the rest of the Razer keyboard, or the keycaps might not have the right feel relative to the rest of the board.
Since the keycaps are standardised, Razer’s pre-packaged customisation kits could also work for a first-time modder with a third-party board. I imagine they’d pair well with an ultra-affordable Qisan Magic Force or even a Ducky One, which is popular with nerdy office workers. Overall, Razer’s off-the-shelf options are a great compromise if you’re not quite sure how committed you are to the hobby.