As the hobbyist world of mechanical keyboards is exploding in popularity, more and more people are interested in purchasing custom keycaps to fit their new keyboards.
Ask anyone in online forums such as Reddit and Geekhack for keycap recommendations and they will point you in the direction of GMK keycaps. Why are GMK keycaps so highly regarded, and are they worth the price?
What is GMK?
GMK is a German company that focuses on the design of luxury keycaps for mechanical keyboards. GMK stands for Gunther, Meinhardt, and Kredler, the last names of the original founders of the company. GMK keycaps are unique with custom and limited-edition designs that can usually only be purchased six months ahead of time through group buys for a steep price. Their keycap profiles are made in a Cherry profile with a uniquely thick ABS plastic that many find sound and look better than other keycaps.
Why Are GMK Keycaps so Expensive?
GMK keycaps will usually fetch a price of around $200 and are often times more expensive than the keyboard itself. Not to mention, if you look for an aftermarket set, you can usually expect to pay an additional $100 or more for the keycaps depending on popularity and availability of that specific set. The question is, why the heck are these keycaps so expensive?
Thick Cherry Keycap Profile
GMK keycaps come in the highly sought-after Cherry profile, which refers to the overall shape and height of the keycaps. The Cherry profile is unique because it is shorter than most common keycap profiles and is more thick as well. The size of the keycaps is ideal for gaming and typing, due to how comfortable the keycap profile feels when compared to other profiles. In addition, the thick plastic creates a nice acoustic sound when typing.
GMK purchased the tooling for the keycaps from Cherry, so they are able to produce the genuine Cherry profile for their keycap. Other keycap manufacturers create their own tools instead of paying for the rights, so their keycaps are just an imitation of the Cherry profile and are not the real deal.
Little to No-Imperfections in Quality
When you purchase a stock keyboard the keycaps are made from a thin, poorly made ABS plastic that wears down and develop a greasy shine to them after use. To improve your keycaps, most people recommend upgrading them to a PBT plastic set instead, as PBT plastic is known to last longer and be more durable (read more about ABS vs. PBT here).
GMK goes in a different direction, they make their high-end keycaps out of a thick ABS instead. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, but there is good reason for using ABS instead of PBT. Thick ABS plastic allows your keyboard to have no warping and few imperfections, along with colors that pop better and improved acoustics.
Most PBT keycaps, especially the larger keys, tend to warp during the manufacturing process which leads to bent spacebars and off-center legends. Since they use ABS plastic, the keycaps are always extremely precise with few imperfections. You will still get a greasy shine after a year or so of heavy usage, so keep that in mind.
Unique Limited-Edition Keycaps
GMK is constantly created new keycaps with unique designs that you can only find for a limited amount of time. If you miss a sale, you can no longer order the keycaps from GMK unless you wait for another sale to roll around or purchase the keycaps from the aftermarket (usually an inflated price). The combination of a limited purchasing window and really special designs allow GMK to charge basically whatever they want for their keycaps.
High Barrier of Entry for Consumers
If you order a set of GMK keycaps through a group buy, you usually need to wait for a solid six months before the keycaps will arrive at your doorstep. Most people can’t even wait for two-day shipping from Amazon. To find the best keycaps from GMK, you also need to be very active in online communities to hear about when the newest group-buys are coming out. Combine these factors and you have a lot of hoops that you need to jump through to get the keycaps, which means GMK can charge a lofty price if customers are willing to do all that work to order keycaps from them.
If you miss out on a group buy and really want a set of GMK keycaps, you can purchase them on aftermarket forums such as /r/mechmarket and geekhack but be prepared to empty out your bank account. There is an entire group of people that sign up for groups buy with the sole purchase of reselling the keycaps for a higher price later. The aftermarket sellers will sign up for group buys they think will fetch a high price in the future. These sellers can make hundreds of dollars of a single sale. In fact, this is not only done with GMK keycaps, but with other group buy products as well.
Are these aftermarket sellers unethical or taking advantage of people? I don’t believe so, considering that keycaps are a consumer product and the sellers are taking a risk when purchasing products that could potentially be worth nothing in the future. Plus they bring value to customers by offering products without a delay.
In my opinion, there isn’t much different between aftermarket sellers and someone who buys and trades action figures or sports cards.
Are GMK Keycaps Worth it?
Now that we’ve looked at why the GMK keycaps are so expensive, can we determine if they are worth the price? At the end of the day, they are just little colored bits of plastic you put on your keyboard.
GMK keycaps are worth it. The value of GMK keycaps comes from the exclusivity of the Cherry profile design, the uniqueness of each group buy, and the fact that people are willing to pay so much for them. Even if you purchase GMK keycaps and don’t like them, you can often resell them for a price that’s equal-to or more expensive the price you bought them at. In my opinion, that makes them better than buying a new car (that loses 30% of value after leaving the dealership). As long as there is a demand for luxury keycaps, the GMK keycaps will be worth the price. The quality is very precise, although they get shiny after heavy use.
There are risks when purchasing anything through group-buy or aftermarket sales. During the sign-up phase of most group buys, the product is still in the concept phase, so the actual product may look different than the rendered image. In addition, it is possible to get scammed if you do not order the set through a reputable site. It’s best to do a little bit of research on the vendor you are ordering from before committing to a sale.
Where to Buy GMK Keycaps
You can keep up to date on the latest group buys through mechgroupbuys, they have all sorts of keyboard/keycap group buys, and not just from GMK. The website will link you to all of the different vendors that sell the specific product.
If you’re looking to purchase a GMK keycap set that is no longer available through group buy, /r/mechmarket is usually your best bet. Just be aware of scammers and be very careful when purchasing.
There are a few GMK keycap sets that are widely available through Amazon. If you want the more unique sets, you’ll have to check out group buys/aftermarket. Here is the GMK Samurai set available on Amazon (affiliate).
We talked all about GMK keycaps, why they are stupidly expensive, if they are worth the price, and where to actually purchase them. Overall, GMK keycaps are super high quality, they can just be difficult to get ahold of and you’ll have to jump through several hoops to purchase them. The Cherry profile with thick ABS plastic is highly regarded as the best material and profile for a keycap, and people are willing to pay a premium for them.
A lot of the value of GMK keycaps comes from the demand and exclusivity of the keycaps themselves, similar to sports cards or action figures, and if you purchase the right set, your keycaps may be worth more than double what you paid for them after a year. Definitely check out GMK keycaps for yourself and see what all the fuss is about.