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The Razer Keycap Upgrade Kit hands-on: Keyboard upgrades for the masses

Colors for Razer's keycap upgrades.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Customized mechanical keyboards are taking the world by storm, whether it’s easy keycaps swaps or building your board from the ground-up. Razer is already a leader in the keyboard space, and today, the company has announced the Razer Keycap Upgrade kit. It’s a simple way to customize and upgrade your keyboard without needing expensive tools or extensive knowledge.

I got a chance to play with the upgrade kit and keycaps myself to see how successful they are at bringing keyboard upgrades to the masses.

The Razer Keycap Upgrade kit experience

Inside the Razer Keycap Upgrade Kit box.
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Depending on the solution you choose, the keycap upgrade kit comes with a number of items inside the box. Our pink keycap upgrade includes a keycap removal tool to pry out your existing keycap, a color-matched coiled USB-C to USB-A cable, optical and mechanical keyboard stabilizers, and an assortment of keycaps to fit U.S. and U.K. keyboard layouts. The beauty of this upgrade is you can swap out as many keys as you want to create a custom keyboard with colored keycaps.

If pink isn’t to your liking, the new PBT keycaps are also available in other colors — black, white, and green. Minimalists can choose a more covert look with a Phantom keycap kit, available in either black or white, where the caps appear to be blank when the Razer Chroma RGB backlighting on your keyboard is turned off. When the RGB keyboard lighting is turned on, you’ll see the individual letters, numbers, or characters on each key. This black- or white-out look, depending on the keyboard option you choose, can add a level of stealth and minimalism to your desk setup.

The company said that to achieve this look, it laser-etched the keycaps from the bottom, rather than the top.

“Unlike regular keycaps which are layered from the top, this method ensures legends won’t wear off and features brighter shine-through legends thanks to a thinner layer between the keycap and light source,” the company said of the process.

Razer's phantom keycaps are etched from the bottom.
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Razer’s other keycap upgrades have the keycaps inscribed and visible whether the Chroma RGB lighting is turned on or off. The standard PBT Keycap Upgrade Set, priced at $29, comes with 120 keycaps. Razer also offers an upgraded PBT Keycap and Coiled Cable Upgrade Set, priced at $49, which comes with a coiled USB-C to USB-A cable that matches the Quartz Pink, Mercury White, Razer Green, or Classic Black caps. The stealthy Razer Phantom Keycap Upgrade Set, priced at $34, is only available in black or white tones and comes with 128 keycaps.

Razer claims that the company’s keycap upgrade is compatible with most cross-shaped axis switches on standard bottom row U.S. and U.K. keyboard layouts. In terms of Razer’s own keyboards, these PBT Keycap Upgrade kits work with 60%, 65%, tenkeyless, and full-sized keyboards, Razer stated.

I tested the upgraded keycaps on Razer’s Blackwidow v3 Mini Hyperspeed, which is a wireless mechanical keyboard that features a 65% key design, meaning you won’t find a 1o-digit keypad on the right side of this keyboard nor a dedicated row of function keys.

Our Blackwidow already shipped with the Phantom keycaps in black, meaning the keycaps are stealth when the Chroma LED lighting is off, so if you’re looking for phantom keys, you won’t need an upgrade kit. Some of the symbols, however, are printed discretely on the front-side of the keyboard, like the symbols for the Function keys and those to adjust keyboard backlighting, for example.

Razer keycap removal tool in place.
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How to use the Razer Keycap Upgrade kit

To remove the cap, use the keycap removal tool inside the box. You’ll want to just insert the tool directly onto the keys on the keyboard so that the clamp attaches to the top and bottom sides of the key. The tool acts as a set of pliers or tweezers, and then you just gently pull upward and the keycap will pop out.

If you’re replacing keycaps on a Razer-made keyboard, you may not need to use the mechanical or optical stabilizers, though these can come in handy if you’re trying to retrofit keyboards from other brands.

Pulling the Razer keycap off.
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Once the keycaps are off, find the matching keycap from the upgrade set and press the new keycap firmly down in place — you don’t need the removal tool for this step. We recommend you do the replacement one key at a time to ensure you’re putting the proper keycap upgrade in place.

Upgrading the number row.
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Since the keycaps contain U.K. and U.S. key layouts, be sure to find the appropriate replacement key. For example, the alternate character on the “3” key for U.S. keyboard layouts is the hashtag, or #, sign, while the corresponding alternate character for U.K. layouts is the British pound sign.

The process is fairly simple and really requires no technical knowledge whatsoever. The hardest part is finding the corresponding key in the plastic packs. Razer did a great job making the keycap replacement process easy. Combining sets together could add multiple pops of color if that’s your style.

One thing to note with our particular keyboard setup is that since the keys on the number rows can also be used as Function keys, the replacement keycaps don’t include the corresponding function key — like the “F1” — marker on the front side, as the original keycap on the keyboard did. Razer stated that the kit with the coiled cable isn’t intended for 65% keyboards, like ours, as evident with the lack of function key markers. That said, the keys fit and functionality isn’t impacted. The Phantom kits would be a more suitable upgrade in this case.

Razer keycap upgrade kit for the number row.
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Given how great of a job Razer had done with the keycap upgrade, I do hope the company eventually branches out from its gaming roots and into adjacent segments with a similar upgrade kit for creators. A keycap upgrade set for Adobe shortcuts for Photoshop and for Premiere would be wonderful to have for photo or video editing.

If you opt for the Keycap Upgrade kit with the coiled cable, it’s worth noting that the cable inside is a USB-C to USB-A. The USB-C end connects directly to the keyboard, while the USB-A end hooks up to your laptop or PC. I do wish Razer would offer a future-proof solution and deliver a kit with a USB-C to USB-C coiled cable as an option.

Razer ergonomic wrist rest.
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In addition to the keycap kits, Razer also launched its ergonomic wrist rests that fit a number of its keyboards. The wrist rests are wrapped in a supple leatherette material and come with memory foam padding for comfort, and, in use, I like the way that the leatherette feels — it doesn’t get as warm compared to leather, so your wrist doesn’t get sweaty after prolonged use. The memory foam padding could be a bit thicker, but the overall experience with the wrist rest is very comfortable.

The wrist rest costs $19 and is available in different sizes to fit mini, tenkeyless, and full-sized keyboards. Razer also sells an upgraded full-sized wrist rest with heat transfer fabric for $34. That model comes with cooling gel-infused memory foam to keep your wrists cool during long gaming sessions.

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Chuong Nguyen
Silicon Valley-based technology reporter and Giants baseball fan who splits his time between Northern California and Southern…
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