Custom vs Premade Keyboard: Is it Cheaper to Buy or Build?


When the time comes to buying a new keyboard we are faced with a lot of questions that aren’t always immediately easy to answer. A big question we have to ask is what type of keyboard are we looking for? What style, what size, what layout? When we have a general idea what we are looking for the next thing to do is generally to try and identify how much we are willing to pay.

For some people, their budget can price them out of a lot of keyboards so they may need to reconsider their priorities somewhat. Another question that isn’t asked anywhere near as often as it should be, is “custom vs premade keyboard”? Both building and buying are very viable options, yet it’s safe to say almost all consumers immediately write off the first one. Which is rather strange, when you think about it.

Choosing whether or not we want to build or buy our new PC is a very common problem and a huge portion of pc users choose to build their PC themselves. So it’s safe to say that we, especially gamers and programmers, are familiar with this question and often elect to build over buy, then why on earth is that question so far fetched when it comes to keyboards? It’s a shame, but it does put you in a very lucky spot right about now.

It’s still very affordable to build your keyboard yourself, components haven’t yet been marked up en masse thanks to the high demand, meaning you can get some pretty great parts for some pretty low prices. But is it cheaper to build or buy? Is it worth the hassle? If I did want to build instead of buy, where do I even start? As always, we have all the answers right here for you!

Custom vs Premade Keyboard Is it Cheaper to Buy or Build
Custom vs Premade Keyboard Is it Cheaper to Buy or Build

Is it cheaper to buy or build?

This is a very tricky question to answer, which may surprise some of you who are already familiar with building your own keyboard and or PC. Duh, of course, it’s cheaper to buy? But is it? It can/should be but it isn’t always and here’s why:

Building your keyboard is not going to be easy, especially the first time as the whole process will be new to you and you won’t fully understand where everything goes and what everything does, even by the time you’ve finished the build. The chance of you breaking a component or installing it wrong so that it needs to be removed and replaced is pretty high.

Will you be factoring in time?

Now, the cost of said component is going to be dirt cheap so that’s not a major issue – unless you keep repeating your same mistakes over and over again, of course! Patience is the best way to ensure that you don’t waste time and don’t break parts.

But, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to consider the cost of sinking hours into building the keyboard. A lot of this depends on how valuable your time is. All of us value our time differently, a lot of us value it based on how much we make at our jobs.

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If you make something very high like $50/h then spending $200 on a pre-build keyboard is probably much more time-efficient than spending $125 on parts and putting it together yourself. However, the fact that it’s very fun to build a keyboard shouldn’t be ignored though nor should it be factored into the cost – let’s establish that now.

For easy calculations we will remove the value of time

If we remove the value of time and assume that even the first time builder is going to get the job done right, then we can start to draw up some better comparisons for cost. In theory, yes, it should usually be cheaper to build the keyboard yourself rather than buy one that has been pre-made.

The reason being that a lot of the manufacturing, assembly, and advertising costs have been removed as you are getting the major components themselves individually and you yourself are now performing the assembly.

This is similar to how if you want to bake a loaf of bread, the saltwater flour and yeast would only cost $0.50 for a loaf that might cost you 5 bucks at the local bakery. Time is money, and you are providing the time yourself.

There is a predicament that many people find themselves in when it comes to budgeting for a build instead of a buy, I know many people who have spent far too long deliberating over this issue that they ultimately end up choosing to buy instead – just how much value can I get for my money?

Same money = better quality board

Since we have established that building is cheaper than buying that means that someone with, let’s say, a $150 budget has a choice to make. Do they buy a $150 keyboard? Or, do they buy $150 worth of components, assuming that they will ultimately end up with a better quality keyboard? Some people might even decide they want to buy a keyboard equal in quality to that of the $150 model but pay for less for it buy building themself, which is a very smart move.

Conversely, some people do the exact opposite and say to themselves, “look how much better of a keyboard I can buy for the same price, what if I upped my budget slightly?”. And that, my friends, is how people end up with absolutely elite keyboards that would cost thousand if you bought instead of built. So long as you stick to your budget, more or less, it should be cheaper to build rather than buy almost every time.

The benefits of buying

Buying may not always be cheaper (again, sometimes it is) but that doesn’t mean that it is without merit. Sometimes buying is simply the easier choice, the better choice for you, and is very clearly the way to go. Here are some of the biggest benefits of buying.

Finished product with warranty

It’s a safe choice. When you buy the keyboard you are getting a finish, working, product. There is always going to be a chance that you have some problems, but those will be fixed by the manufacturer or the seller. If you were to build, you are fully responsible.

If it for some reason doesn’t work, that’s on you. And you alone will have to pay to make any repairs or replacements. If you are someone who tends to worry, then this is probably the best choice for your peace of mind. It’s far easier, despite getting a little less bang for your buck.

Could be cheaper for some users

It’s also sometimes the cheapest option. This is working on the assumption that you break a piece, lose a piece, install it wrong, or happen to damage the finished product in some way. It may be cheaper to build instead of buy, but not if you have to get the job done twice.

If you are really tight on money, buying over building is guaranteed to be cheaper because you are guaranteed a working keyboard. Depending on where you live, paying shipping for each component may work out to be far more expensive too than simply having the finished product delivered.

It’s alot easier to buy the completed product

If you aren’t confident in your abilities to actually assemble the keyboard, it’s perhaps better if you buy rather than build. Not all of us are good at doing technical fiddly things like soldering, I know I’m sure as heck not!

If you are going to find the whole construction process to be stressful and overwhelming, not fun, and interesting as it should be, it’s better to buy rather than build. Don’t give yourself an unnecessary amount of headaches and frustration just to save a few bucks. There is a reason many people choose a finished product over the parts themselves.

The benefits of building

Just as buying has its benefits, so does building. I would certainly argue in favor of building over buying if you are confident you can get the job done, but it’s perfectly okay if you aren’t. It’s important to note that there are a huge amount of wonderful resources to help you every step of the way – YouTube is a goldmine for this.

I would recommend the following video as a starting off point for any first time builder. Experienced builders might learn a thing or two, too!

Here are the biggest benefits of building your keyboard yourself.

First, let’s start with the big one, the reason we are all here – cost. It often works out to be so much cheaper to just buy the pieces and put them together yourself. It can be a little finicky but with enough research and patience, you’ll be building keyboards like a pro in no time at all.

End product is ussually better

Since you are buying components yourself, you are also going to end up with a far superior end product. Just how custom build PCs are way better than prebuilt ones, yet are often far superior. There is nothing wrong with buying instead of building, but there is no arguing against the fact that build leads to better quality. I hate to use the phrase again but applies so well here, better bang for your buck.

It’s a fun project

It’s fun. Building a keyboard is fun, it’s interesting, it’s a little different, and you get to enjoy the end product. Doing so in of itself is a fun pass time. If you get good at it, making and selling custom keyboards is a pretty good way to make some extra money.

A good way to think about it is like high stakes Lego building, its a little tricky but at the end of the day if you follow the steps correctly you should have no problem. It’s also so massively rewarding to use a keyboard that you built yourself, for yourself. The sense of gratification is a good reason on its own.

You can express yourself

Freedom of expression. We mustn’t get too fixated on the technical aspects of the keyboard, which switches, which keycaps, etc. We also need to consider the style and design of the keyboard, what kind of color scheme are we looking for, do we want a consistent them? Since we are building the keyboard from the ground up there are ample opportunities to focus on design at the base levels.

It’s not uncommon for someone to paint all of their keycaps for a nice design, but that’s about as far as most people go. A large reason is that taking apart the keyboard and putting it back together is tedious and often risky.

But your keyboard is already apart, if you want to paint some of the other components rather than just the keycaps you should feel free to do so. Since you are hand-selecting every single component of your keyboard, you have far more freedom. You don’t have to work around a black frame or aluminum key dividers, you can go into the build process with a coherent final product in mind.

Building a Mechanical Keyboard Total Price With Lists

Building a Mechanical Keyboard Total Price With Lists

I will go over everything you need to purchase for each “tier”, from super cheap, to quite expensive. By the end, you should know exactly what the keyboard total price will be to get it built.

Keep in mind, the total cost to build your own mechanical keyboard will depend on a few factors. There are a few things you need to think about when you are planning your build.

Do you want to build a keyboard relatively cheap that functions well? Then you’re probably going to spend about $55-$100. If you want to go the expensive, highest-quality route you could spend over $275.

That is just for the parts to build the keyboard. There is also the cost of the tools if you don’t already own them.

Overview of Pricing a Keyboard Build

There are a few things to consider when it comes to the total price of a keyboard build. Will you go all-out expensive? Or rather, dirt-cheap? Or maybe you’ll just fall somewhere in between.

In this section, I will go over the pricing for every component needed to build a mechanical keyboard with each of these mindsets. Also, I will show you the total price range to complete a keyboard build for all three scenarios. I will be averaging the price of a few different websites and leave links to each one at the end of the article.

The Essentials

for every build, you will need a few things. These things really shouldn’t be skimped out on. These include the tools to put the item together. You could have this done somewhere but then defeats the purpose of building your own keyboard.

Tools

  • Soldering Iron – $50
  • Solder Sucker – $10
  • Solder – $10
  • Filtration System – $75
  • TOTAL – $145

The tools alone are pretty expensive. This is what usually deters people from building their own keyboards. However, you could use the tools to build as many boards as you want and also rent these tools out to others interested in making boards for a little side income. It’s up to you, but if you can put the money together, and choose to purchase these items, then continue reading for the rest of the cost!

The “Dirt-Cheap” Method

  • Switches – $15
  • Optional Switch Plate – Dirt cheap, we don’t want this!
  • Plastic Case – $10
  • PCB – $15
  • Keycaps – $5
  • Stabilizers – $10
  • Optional RGB lights – Dirt cheap, we don’t want this!

TOTAL: $55

The “In-Between” Method

  • Switches – $35
  • Switch Plate – $15
  • Clear Acrylic Case – $20
  • PCB – $25
  • Keycaps – $15
  • Stabilizers – $10
  • Optional RGB lights – $10

TOTAL: $130

The “All-in” Method

  • Switches – $60
  • Switch Plate – $15
  • Aluminum/Wood Case – $80
  • PCB – $50
  • Keycaps -$30
  • Stabilizers – $10
  • Optional RGB lights – $30

TOTAL: $275

These are the Websites I Used

  • Banggoods
  • Ali Express
  • KBDFans
  • 1UPKeyboards
  • Monoprice
  • Massdrop
  • Originative
  • Amazon

Building a Mechanical Keyboard:

How much does it cost to build a mechanical keyboard?

To build your own mechanical keyboard there are a few fees:

  • The first and sometimes overlooked cost is for the tools to even craft this project. You are looking to spend about $145 minimum on the tools to build a mechanical keyboard. You may find a cheaper way to do it, but it won’t be as efficient or you may sacrifice safety (which isn’t recommended).
  • After you’ve figured out the tools situation, it’s time to build the keyboard. For a low-quality mechanical keyboard, you are looking to spend about $55. It will look okay and should perform pretty well.
  • If you want a slightly better-looking keyboard, that has a few more functionalities, you will spend about $130.
  • If you want to go all-in on your mechanical keyboard, and money is no issue, you could easily spend over $275.

Total Price for Custom Build

So, how much does it cost to build a mechanical keyboard? The total price range to build a mechanical keyboard from scratch, tools included, is anywhere from $200-$420. If you already have the tools or plan to build a hot-swappable keyboard, you could easily build a high-quality mechanical keyboard for $100-$200.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has given you a lot to think about regarding building vs buying. While, yes, it’s usually a lot more cost-effective to build rather than buy that isn’t always the case so make sure you price up all of your components including delivery before you make the comparison to a pre-built keyboard you might order or pick up at the store.

There is a lot to consider when choosing to build vs buy, not all of it is to do with price. The best way to decide which method is better is to consider how much value you put on different aspects of the keyboard. How much does the price matter? The quality? The design? How personalized do you need your keyboard to be?

I cannot stress enough how important it is to watch several videos and follow them carefully before you begin attempting to build the keyboard. You shouldn’t expect to just stumble your way through the process. Nor should you be surprised if your finished product doesn’t work if you decided to just wing it.

Whatever you decide, good luck with your new keyboard! Remember, time and patience are key. Slow and steady really does win the race here.

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