As the demand for custom mechanical keyboards grows, newcomers to the hobby may be confused by some terms that constantly get thrown around. Spending 5 minutes in a mechanical keyboard community may leave you wondering, “What are these GMK keycaps everyone is talking about?” Below, we will give a brief overview of what GMK means, how their keycaps helped shape the hobby, and important things to consider before ordering them.
What Are GMK Keycaps?
April 30, 2021
What Does GMK Mean?
In 1992, Manfred Güntner and Wolfgang Kredler founded GMK electronic design GmbH in Wernberg-Köblitz, Germany. The company manufactured surface mounted diodes and other microcomputer components.
It was not until 2011, over 19 years later, that GMK began manufacturing double-shot ABS plastic keycaps. However, their method for creating keycaps is incredibly unique to those who are not familiar.
What Makes These ABS Plastic Keycaps Unique?
Typically, ABS plastic is viewed as a less durable keycap material compared to alternatives like PBT. So, why does GMK use it? One of the main reasons, and something the manufacturer takes full advantage of, is versatility. ABS plastic allows GMK to create a wide variety of keycap sets in what seems like a near limitless amount of colorways.
This is important, because the German manufacturer is well-renowned in the keyboard enthusiast community for its ability to fulfill very specific design requests submitted via a "group buy" process.
What are "Interest Checks" and "Group Buys?"
Scrolling through mechanical keyboard forums, you may see some users hosting an interest check. These posts mean they are gauging community interest in their keycap design and renders. If they garner enough buzz, the artist(s) will approach a manufacturer of their choice to receive a quote.
After going through the quote process with the manufacturer, the artist typically creates a group buy campaign to help fund the production of these caps. Once enough people buy into the keycap set, it can then be queued for production, and all steps associated with that, by GMK at its German facility.
Note: This process is not exclusive to just GMK-produced sets, but they are a prominent figure for the process within the community.
Shaping the Hobby
GMK, and other manufacturers that allow artists to realize their designs, are integral to the mechanical keyboard hobby's growth and a showcase of the community's impressive creativity.
Inspirations for these designs include classic keyboards from the past, popular culture, or pretty much anything you can imagine. GMK keycaps allow owners to express themselves using their custom mechanical keyboard setups.
Things to Consider
Two important drawbacks to note about GMK is their manufacturing time and ABS plastic composition. It can be easy to get excited about a brand new set that will complement your keyboard perfectly, but it can come as a shock when you see an estimated delivery date of the following year.
Some popular GMK sets are available as in-stock items online, but most are still subject to a lengthy production time. And with more and more sets rapidly queing up as the hobby continues to expand, wait times will remain quite long for the foreseeable future.
Compared to the average ABS set, GMK keycaps are generally thicker due to their more substantial construction. However, the material does objectively lose texture over time quicker than PBT, creating a slick, glossy surface on frequently used keycaps.
Despite these considerations, there is no denying the impact manufacturers like GMK have had on the community. It's a unique platform that allows designers to not only see their beloved creations realized, but use them every single day. Many of the iconic sets we see would not have come into the spotlight without them.