Custom Keycap Sets
The keycaps that came with your keyboard were probably not designed to be eye-catching. That's why custom keysets have become so popular in the last few years. What once was a small niche for enthusiasts has expanded. Well, it's still a niche, but there are many more people crammed into it now.
Some custom keysets sell thousands of units, but they're available only for limited production runs. That means some of these gorgeous keysets end up becoming incredibly valuable as collector’s items. We’ve gathered a list of some of the best and/or rarest custom keysets, which predictably are also the most expensive to obtain.
Hyperfuse was first run in 2013 by a keyset outfit known as [Ctrl]alt. It was offered in a flat DSA and sculpted DCS profile. DSA has its fans, but DCS isn't very common. Still, people loved the combination of white, purple, and cyan. In 2015, Hyperfuse was rerun in GMK's Cherry profile. These thick, doubleshot ABS caps proved extremely popular. Resale prices for this set went through the roof in early 2016. After commanding $300-400 for a while, the price came back down after keyboard retailer Originative worked with [Ctrl]alt to run GMK Hyperfuse again. In addition to GMK, Originative has shipped the DSA version and a taller, sculpted profile called SA.
A user on the Geekhack forums known as T0mb3ry posted the first renders of his Carbon keyset in 2015. It's essentially an homage to number 6 on the periodic table, with a ton of cool novelty caps. It uses complementary shades of cream, dark gray, and orange. It was a huge hit when it ran on Massdrop a few months later, and it has since become one of the most desirable and valuable sets. The first round was done in the retro-style SA profile by Signature Plastics (SP), but it's also been produced in Cherry profile by GMK. In the recent second round sale of Carbon SA, demand was so high that delivery isn't expected until March 2018 at the earliest. Getting just the base set of Carbon SA or GMK will probably run you $250-300.
Update: 6 on the periodic table, not 12 as was originally written above.
If you're into the retro "outrun" visual style, you'll probably love the Miami keyset. This combo of pink and blue was first produced by [Ctrl]alt in doubleshot ABS. The colorway proved so popular that it's been made in other profiles like SA and Cherry (by GMK). You can even pick it up on the cheap as a Tao-hao PBT plastic set in OEM profile, which is similar in shape to the keycaps that ship on most boards. The legends on Tai-hao sets don't look as crisp as those on the more expensive versions, though.
The historic tech firm Honeywell used to have a division called Micro Switch that made the Honeywell Terminal system. These devices had monochrome displays, Hall Effect switches, and a distinctive keyset. The colorway of that original Honeywell consisted of white, gray, and black with red accents. It's beautiful in an understated way. Now, it's back as a GMK keyset in doubleshot ABS. The set was run by Originative, and there are still some for sale, if you don't mind the exorbitant price.
Not every keyset looks right in the tall, retro-ish SA profile, but Godspeed certainly does. This set is designed to look like a control panel from the Apollo 11 Lunar Module cockpit. It has that classic NASA off-white and blue colorway, which looks slick on the SA keys. These doubleshot ABS keycaps include a ton of fantastic novelty keys from the spacecraft like "cospar," "deploy," "stage," and "transmit." The group buy for this set was run by Massdrop, but major delays at the manufacturer pushed the ship date back by months. It was worth the wait, but it's tough to find Godspeed SA if you missed the drop. We've seen full sets of Godspeed (with the fun novelties and whatnot) re-sold for $250-300. There's another version of this colorway in XDA profile also in the works.
Before you could carry a supercomputer in your backpack, Dolch Computer Systems was making "portable" computers with suitcase-like form factors. They included a distinctive keyboard with dark and light gray keycaps. The elegant, minimalist Dolch colorway has been replicated in many materials and profiles over the years, perhaps most famously by Pimp My Keyboard (a storefront for Signature Plastics). These keycaps are flat DSA profile and produced in doubleshot ABS. There are also versions of Dolch in GMK's Cherry profile. Most Dolch sets also include a few red accent keys.
The Penumbra colorway was designed by [Ctrl]alt to imitate the colors of the famous Solarized palette for terminal and GUI applications. It consists of light yellow alphas and dark blue modifiers with multi-colored legends. It was originally run in SA profile (doubleshot ABS) but eventually came in GMK as well. The original set suffered a delay of several years because of some mismanagement on [Ctrl]alt's end. This pushed the price of the Penumbra base set into the high hundreds of dollars on keycap-selling forums. Things have stabilized now with a second round of SA and more profiles, courtesy of Originative.
You can relive the style of the 1950s with the popular Jukebox SA keyset. It was designed by community member LivingSpeedBump and has been produced twice so far. Jukebox uses light yellow, red, and minty green to recreate the retro aesthetic. The set has plenty of neat novelty caps that you might associate with the era, like a record and an atomic diagram. It was manufactured by Signature Plastics in doubleshot ABS. Jukebox has only ever been produced in SA profile, which fits the style best. The last round of Jukebox sold a ton of units, so supply isn't too limited. A base set of Jukebox will run you under $150, but the novelties will add a bit to the price.
Created by keyset and keyboard designer Matt3o, Granite is one of the most popular keysets, and one of the few you can (sometimes) get without joining a group buy. This is a DSA set produced in PBT plastic with dye-sublimated legends. This plastic is harder than ABS, so it won't wear as quickly. The name comes from the combination of light and dark gray, but you can spice Granite up with colored accent kits if you like. After several group buys proved extremely popular, Granite is now manufactured by Signature Plastics every few months and restocked in the Pimp My Keyboard storefront. It still sells out quickly, though.
You're probably noticing a trend of keysets that evoke feelings of decades past. Well, here's another: The 1976 keyset is unique in the way it uses stripes of color to replicate one of those garish gradient effects that were common design elements back in the 1970s. Most of the keys are brown or blue, but there are vertical stripes of yellow, orange, and red, as well. The profile is SA, which certainly fits the overall aesthetic. Like most SA keycaps, these are doubleshot ABS produced by SP. One interesting quirk is that the 1976 set isn't sculpted. All the keycaps are the same shape—SA row 3, which is the home row. It's rare to see a set of 1976 up for sale or even trade online. People who bought this set tend to hold on to it. When someone does sell one (for at least $300), it goes quickly.