Axol and blank Recently I have had no luck at winning any of the cap raffles. However, it seems my luck has turned. I have just received my KatzenKinder keycaps from the 4.0 sale.

I received two keycaps, both of which were my primary choice. The sale was in the form of a raffle. Given the choice of 5 and only receiving 2, you don’t know which you will get.

I was drawn to the caps for different reasons. The pink and white Axol appealed mainly because of the Axol design. This is wholly unique and I can’t think of another maker who does a similar thing, but the colours of this one were the major draw. Pink and white make a great combination on any light coloured board. As it turned out, the colours work really well on my white POK3R. POK3R axol The other keycap I received was the two colour Topre blank, that is orange and translucent. With the difficulty that comes with getting any coloured caps on a Topre board, I was happy to receive any Topre one. I was surprised with how well this fits on my HHKB. The small change of colour works nicely on the Esc key and leaves nothing to be desired. Again I was drawn to these colours. They are not as strikingly contrasting as the other, but I still think it works extremely well.

both


Axol

Axol :)

I will preface this by saying it is my favourite keycap design I have seen. I am a fan of Brobots but I see something special in the Axol design. Colour is very important and I think this is a brilliant combination. The design and craft of the keycap is where there is room for discussion.

As you can see from the photo the cast is not perfect. There are some visible bubbles, mainly on the back of the keycap that cuts out the corners. Some imperfection can also be seen on the Axol design itself. This is not something I consider bad with this type of keycap. I see this as an artisan keycap. Although Katzen might not have envisioned the keycap with these defects, I like it no less for having these blemishes. If it were to be perfectly casted, I wouldn’t see myself liking it any more. The Axol design is extremely characterful and the small defects only add to this.

Although I say this I have shown appreciation in the past for the clean cast that Brocaps is able to achieve, I really like how unique my Axol is.

The weight of this keycap is a little different. It feels chunkier and this can be heard in the sound of the clack. It is a much deeper sound than the stock POK3R keycaps and is a nice sound. But I have been using it on escape so it only gets a lot of use when I use Vim. Nevertheless when using it I appreciate the sound. You can see the difference in the stems as the keycap is more filled in. mk. This gives it the weight and the thickness but I also believe this will give stability to the stem. The stem fits fine and I have had no trouble with the fit. The pink stem is also very pretty, despite it not being in view whenever it’s in use. comparison of MX stems


Topre Blank

Topre Blank As this is my first Topre artisan I do not have a whole lot to compare to. However, a common complaint I have heard of Topre artisans is the complication of the stem. It seems recreating the Topre stem is not that easy. It is made up of quite thin walls and would be hard to mold and cast. When comparing this stem to a stock HHKB keycap you will instantly notice the difference. It is much thicker, and is filled in through the centre. I have not found this to fit anything different from the stock. If anything I have found this to fit a little better. There is no sliding and I have no complaints for the fit.

Topre stems The cast of this cap seems to be a perfect shape. Although, there is a little roughness around the bottom edge. From what I can tell this is a direct cast from an F row key of an existing Topre keycap. Comparing it again to a stock keycap, it seems like quite a perfect mould. The shape has been perfectly replicated. I am also impressed with the texture that was achieved on top.

The colour is a nice orange, it is not bright but subdued. It sits atop a translucent base and there is a clash in the middle where you can see a bit of white where the colours have joined. I think this is just the nature of using translucent plastic. The orange portion is also not entirely solid. It seems to contain flecks of red or a slightly deeper orange. I am not sure If I was able to capture this in the photos. I do like this effect, and it adds slight variance into having a solid colour.


Conclusion

I am content with the keycaps I received. The reason I am drawn to artisan keycaps is the creativity and the interesting designs. Whilst one was just a coloured blank I still see it as a very nice keycap. My favourite, however, is the Axol. It is a unique design, and I hope this is not the last. Overall the quality is quite high. The casting is not perfect but I don’t see this as something I am really looking for, as the casting is not a detriment to the design. Regardless, I assume Katzen strives for the best quality possible and will improve on the casting aspects in continued keycap creation.

KatzenKinder is currently AFK link to sale thread

The keycaps also came with some nice customised packaging. I thought this was a really nice touch. </a>

Brocaps

Quite excitingly Brocaps has been very active recently. Straight into April Brocaps introduced his new line of keycaps “Precision Gaming”.

Precision Gaming

red precision gaming The current release of keycaps are the “Topre Gamers Set”. The current offering is: Esc row key, WASD keys and Fn keys. This of course draws similarities to the previously ongoing announcement of the previous Topre Gamer Set. However one difference is the Esc row key.
I think this announcement is more representative of what he may be offering and the previous thread was just more of a showcase. However, these keycaps are looking incredibly nice. Brocaps standards are impeccable and these are some stunning looking keycaps. The texture on them looks amazing and the colour is very deep and almost entrancing. These are certainly holding a high standard for artisan keycaps. It is fair to say that the reception has been great for these keycaps. But this is a common theme with Brocaps.

Easter Keycaps

pink easter keycaps Initially this was only a tease. The keycaps shown were pastel coloured Topre in Esc row, WASD and Fn. There are both textured caps which I believe to be the gamer keycaps and Brobots v2 for the Esc row. The sale eventually happened on the 15th of April. While this was not quite Easter, the sale was good. It did include Brobots V2, Bronads and the Topre Gamer set’s. Again Brocaps set’s quite a high quality and these keycaps lived up to his designs.

Kush 420 Sale

This was another almost surprise sale. It featured mainly green and purple keycaps. The full list of what was included is here it is quite a long list. Nothing much to say about these. I’m not a huge fan of the colours but his impeccable quality can still be seen in these caps.

MFGT

mfgt over This was a small giveaway following the previous sale. It featured quite a nice range of different keycaps including some nice pink Topres. The frequency of the current Brocaps sales is quite refreshing as it gives more people opportunities to get the keycaps they want, and for new people to enter the market.

KatzenKinder

katzen sale Had a 4.0 sale. The sale included:

  • 8 x Topre blanks
  • 6 x MX blanks
  • 9 x MX Axols
  • 6 x MX Beardboys

I think KatzenKinder is a great keycap maker and I really like the colour combinations used in most of their keycaps. The Axol design is also a very nice signature keycap.

Girldc

stormtrooper Girldc is someone who I was not aware of until recently. I had seen their caps before, but I didn’t know who made them. Recently there has been a resurgence in production or so it seems. As I understand it they may or may not be banned at geekhack.
I was drawn to this information by this thread. From my perspective they make some very nice keycaps and the metal keycaps are quite a niche that when done well, work well. I would like to see a return of Girldc to the geekhack marketplace but who knows what will happen.

YM_Industries

I’m not sure is there is any collaboration between v0idtek and YM_Industries. Nevertheless, v0idteks post on /r/MK drew my attention to these 3d printed keycaps. They are quite unlike anything you may have seen a lot of. It is certainly nice to see some new keycaps that aren’t just fancy designs. This really mixes things up. Whether or not it will work, remains to be seen.

Hotkeys

Raven

HKP photo. Links to sales thread.
The Hotkeys Project has also been quite active this month. Most notably is the sales through https://mechanicalkeyboards.com. This is quite interesting and a step up from forum selling. It is a sign of the times when an artisan keycap maker is able to sell through these channels and nice to see some evolution in the market. The demand is for the product is clearly shown by how selling methods have been adapted. Also, note that the caps being sold through mechanicalkeyboards.com include exclusive to the store keycaps. The April sale began on the 29th and ended on the 1st of May.
This sale featured:

  • Ravens
  • Warmasters
  • Gasmasks

I think the ravens are the best of Hotkeys designs and it seems to be the most sought after or at least in league with the gasmasks.
This sale was also accompanied by a giveaway that ended on the 30th. It seems customary now for any sale to end with some form of giveaway. This seems like a nice tradition as it again gives people a chance go get more caps. The giveaways also take quite a creative form where answers have to be thought out. So I think this is one of the fairer systems.

Krytone

Krytone had a recent sale titled MetalliKrap. I recommend checking the thread to see some pictures of the recent keycaps. I am not a huge fan of their designs, but I do appreciate the talent. They all appear to be very well made with no visible defects. The colour combinations are also quite different. Krytone is doing something a little different to everyone else. Although Krytone seems to be a smaller seller their quality is still up there with the rest, I am sure you have seen their work elsewhere before.

Buckling

buck storm Buckling is still around and with another storm trooper iteration. It’s certainly not perfect but is an improvement on the previous versions. They are worth keeping an eye on as there is some definite improvement. Keep going and you never know what could happen.

igke

keycap A potential keycap maker. Only with one design of a polaroid keycap, the design seems very popular. It might only be launching in a semi private groupbuy at this stage. But I expect it will be available at some point. Quite rightly there are worries over the durability of 3d printed caps with smaller parts.

WinterWinds/Defect

beer beer Quite a late addition to this months edition is WinterWinds. Last month they created the watermelon keycap which I only gave an honourable mention to. This month they have created a beer cap. This may have some controversy surrounding it as has some obvious similarities to the clack of the similar nature. However I think this edition is fine, whilst it is quite a fine line, it does have some differences. Most obviously the addition of bubbles to the base, but most interestingly the fact it is an alps cap. I don’t think Clack Factory has produced this particular design in alps form. From a design perspective it appears to be well made. It looks smooth all around, with no visible blemishes. This is all quite impressive from someone who doesn’t appear to have made a lot.

Non Artisan Keycap News

There has been an update on the JTKeycaps and [CTRL]ALT. Initially the groupbuy was going to start on the 1st of May however that seems to have changed to the 5th. From the photos that have been released so far they seem of high quality. There is nothing to say that is not speculation at this point. But I will say it anyway, this will probably bring good things to the community.
As well as this development a ‘JT Keycaps’ account has been created on geekhack. If you had any doubt that this was going to involve integration and communication with the community, this should be evidence enough to suggest otherwise. Already they seem to be skipping one of Signature Plastics biggest criticisms.

Future of Keycap Roundup

As I was writing this, I noticed a lot of the content may have been a bit useless. There have been a lot of sales recently and listing past sales is not really beneficial to anybody. But what I was trying to create with these posts, was a comprehensive goings on in the artisan keycap world. So I think I will include this stuff for now. But I may change up the format in the future. The main goal was to shed light on some smaller makers who might not be getting the attention they deserve. I would like to share their artwork to those who might have missed it. But then again I might also miss it, so if I miss anything I am sorry.

Full poker shot Vortex were kind enough to give this item to review.

Many people are excited for this keyboard. The Poker II has been a staple in the community for a long time now. It is seen as a great starting point for an enthusiast. As well as being customisable and functional. Overall it seemed to do everything that you wanted in a 60% board. This was mostly the case despite some minor gripes such as the programmability and the extended layout. The POK3R is an improvement on this or it tries to be.

The first thing you will notice when picking up this keyboard is its weight. This is the major difference between having an aluminium case and what could be considered the standard abs plastic case. Here it is a nice weight, it certainly feels sturdy in the hand. Although it has some considerable weight, I have never found the weight of a keyboard to be a major problem. One keyboard to compare it to is the HHKB. The weights are incredibly different and to some extent this effects how I use them. When using the HHKB, I might be more aware of it moving around on the desk. My HHKB has additional rubber feet to stop it from moving round on my desk, so this really ends the weight dispute for me, since it doesn’t move I don’t find weight a factor. Then again this is different for a lot of people, when purchasing my HHKB I was cautioned of the weight and how light it was.
I do not want to discredit the POK3R at this point because of its weight. Combining its incredible weight and its rubber pads it does not move from my desk, and really this is all I ask.
Box Includes:

  • POK3R
  • Mini USB Cable

Firmware

Dip switches are the first thing that I was drawn to when unboxing the keyboard. It is rather unusual to get a keyboard that comes with dip switches. Once more I find the POK3R’s dip switch configuration to be interesting because of its inclusion of alternative keyboard layouts.
dip switch shot It is only unusual because it has become the norm to just support qwerty. But this is the way it should be done. With the dip switches you can change between colemak, dvorak and qwerty. As a colemak typist I like the ability to take a colemak keyboard wherever I go. Overall this just gives you more options. Even if you don’t use an alternative to qwerty this give the layouts some exposure and easily try out a new layout. This is a welcome change as support for these layouts is often hard to come by, unless the keyboard is custom built. Having these options is a step in the right direction, and I hope to see more of this in the future. An interesting thing to note is the fact it is true colemak. This is a pompous term I am coining but what I mean is that the capslock acts as backspace. Although this is good, it also means you don’t get to see the nice capslock light. capslock light

The other options the dip switches give you are relating to the Fn position and capslock. I don’t think this is a particularly useful switch. I would have preferred the ability to turn it into ctrl. With the inclusion of layouts such as colemak I had hoped for a more creative use of the capslock position. It takes up a valuable space on the keyboard that could be put to much better use. Then again I think having it as Fn is a much better choice for general use.


Programming

Programming on the POK3R can be a little complicated and intimidating, this is mostly because it is all blind, well mostly blind. At this point I have to say I did not take well to this method of programming. With practice it may become easier but I have not found it entirely intuitive. Indication that you are in programming mode is given through a series of LED’s. 3 different coloured LED’s indicate which custom layer you are on (default does not have one) and another indicator LED is on the right of the spacebar. When this is lit you are in programming mode, when you select a key to program it will flash. One thing I found is that the colour of the flashing indicator does not change with the layer changing LED. It remains the same colour no matter what.
Layer 2 Indicator Light Layer 2 indicator light is blue Layer 3 Indicator light Layer 3 Indicator light is red Layer 4 Indicator light Layer 4 Indicator light is purple Programming Mode both sides of led on spacebar

If you are programming complicated things, you are able to see the currently programmed output by using the Pn key. There is no visual representation of what you are programming. Programming is only done on specified layers. Whilst this is OK it is not the full programmability that was once promised. There are 3 programmable layers bar the dip switch changes. But these layers are truly programmable however there is an exception:

  • Fn
  • R_ctrl
  • M
  • <
  • ?

These layers are not programmable. This is because they are the dedicated layer and programmability keys. The Fn layer is however programmable, what this means is you could potentially ‘fix’ the placement of the arrow keys.

The programming process goes as follows. Select a programmable layout. Press Fn combined with right control. This will activate programming mode. Then press the key you desire to program. Enter your desired function of previously pressed key. Press Pn or Fn + Right control to exit the process.


Layout

qwertim image Image taken from QWERtim at geekhack.
This image is almost exactly the layout I have, but the right alt on mine is just alt, and not altgr.

The layout is of course standard iso, the Fn layers are where things are different. If the POK3R is to fall, this is the ledge of where it falls. It is hard to critique entirely because it is quite programmable, so whilst I may have problems with these layers, you can change them. fn overview Arrow keys seem to be the most blatant change. They are no longer in wasd positions but ijkl. For a lot of people wasd positioning is desired, but I do not see it as ideal at all. It is quite hard to reach the positions to naturally use the arrow keys. Whenever I need to use a simple down arrow I always have to look, as I have undoubtedly missed the key the first time. It is not entirely bad and don’t mistake it as one of the worst changes. All you have to do differently is just drop your right hand pinkie (if using standard Fn position) and don’t move the rest of your hand. Actually using the capslock as Fn is a much better choice for using the arrow keys in this position. This means you only have to move one hand and the right hand can stay in the position.
With the new arrow keys position everything seems to be modelled around it. I think this was a better direction to go with the Fn layer. It is designed for one handed use. But what I think is with the default Fn position it is no good. Using all the Fn functions with the default Fn is incredibly awkward. Pressing the Fn layer delete with the default Fn key is extremely difficult.

Layer changing keys are located at M, <, >, and ? This gives you 4 layers, 3 of which are programmable. Layer usage is often quite specific. You will have one layer containing a layout for one specific purpose. What I find most useful is momentary layers like the Fn key provides. And the POK3R does deliver in this area, slightly. You are able to customise the Fn layer but you of course only have one.

Whilst these are my thoughts on the layout you have to decide whether you like the layout or not. The programmability does remove a lot of the worries that anyone may have so this becomes less of an issue. There is not much point on reviewing a customisable layout.


Case

Another draw of the POK3R is the aluminium case. This is quite a step up from the poker II and is often something that owners of Poker II’s would upgrade too. Of course starting out with an aluminium case is a big jump up. Another aspect about the case is how heavy it feels, it is chunky and has a nice texture, really there is no where I can critique the case. The texture is to my liking it is a chalky texture that suits aluminium and keyboards well. The feet are very nice and I have had no issues with it moving around. I expect this is both due to combination of weight and the pads.
Six hex screws secure the case. To unscrew them I you need a 1.5mm hex bit or screwdriver.
case with plastic insert not that visible insert beside case Inside the case, you will find a plastic insert. Whilst I don’t know for definite I believe the function is to both protect the PCB from the rough texture of the case and also stop any cross conductivity. case without insert

One thing that slightly irks me, is the PCB seems to sit slightly to the right in the case. Leaving a small gap on the left side. This cannot be adjusted because of the mini USB hole in the case. The dip switches also have their own cut-out on the bottom so this also limits how much it can move. But the USB cut-out is where the problem lies. I don’t believe this to be a major problem and is probably just a slight variance in manufacturing.

![left side](https://i.imgur.com/E4EO6Pz.jpg) ![right side](https://i.imgur.com/qngA5r3.jpg)

bottom cutout Another thing I have noticed is the shape of the USB cut-out. Although the port cut-out is fine, (more than fine, it fits perfectly) the outlying hole is a little small. This somewhat restrict you to using the stock cable that you will get with your POK3R. The problem is not that bad though, I tested the stock HHKB cable and it fit inside of the case cut-out, but it was a tight fit. It will not restrict cable usage a lot. Although it is possible, you are unlikely to run into a cable that is too big. usb cutout in case stock usb cable  has rounded edges


PCB

With the PCB there are not a huge lot of things to talk about. It is red, but it has a white plate covering it, it has a nice vortex logo, but this is on the back. One thing to note is I believe that at least the ansi and iso plate seem to be the same. There are positions on the PCB to make an iso board ansi and vice versa. Whilst this might not be the intended use and most probably voids your warranty, it is good to have options. If you are to perform this mod, you will have to do it without a plate. To add any switches you will have to de solder everything and remove the plate as the plate is cross layout compatible. pcb options e.g. ansi conversion


Keycaps

profile Another boon of the POK3R is the inclusion of PBT keycaps. There seems to be a lot of elitism in keycap territory of only using PBT. But the existence of GMK shows how good ABS keycaps are not just trash. That said people like PBT keycaps and these are a nice example of PBT. They aren’t the thickest but no where near the thinnest. The texture is chalky, it feels like a finer texture than other PBT keycaps such as SP DSA. Typing on them is quite a nice experience but I can envision that not everyone will like the texture of the keycaps. The chalky fine nature of the texture is departure from what I normally think of new PBT keycap texture to feel like. I do quite like the sound of typing on clears and the keycaps contribute to the overall sound. The only complaint is the typeface used, it’s not the nicest and looks rather gaudy. I prefer blanks but since I don’t actually read the keycaps so I see this as a minor issue. But I know for certain appearance issues like this are often not well received. thickness

  • Some concerns were raised over the thickness of keycaps. Vortex has confirmed that the keycaps will be thicker than pictured here. Vortex confirmed that the thickness on the caps here are just for the engineering sample. For a photo of the real size see the pictures in rhinofeeds review *

stabs backspace, and enter Cherry plate mounted stabilisers are used. There isn’t a lot to say that hasn’t been said here, but they are quite noisy. When comparing the sounds of stabilisers, it is apparent of the difference. The worst offender is backspace, it sounds quite hollow with the additional sound of the stabiliser. With the combination of sounds it sounds rather ‘pingy’.


Conclusion

I am happy with this as the next iteration of the Poker. Aluminium cases are nice and the POK3R has one, programmability is also nice and the POK3R features programmability, even if it’s not total control it is better than a lot of other keyboard offerings. The layout is OK but since it is programmable this is irrelevant. If you don’t like what you see, you can work around it with the programmability. That said, when you buy a keyboard you don’t want to work around it you want it to work for you. I can see in some aspects people not liking the default layout. DIP switches are also a nice inclusion, that takes another layer of complexity out of layout switching. For people like myself who use alternative layouts this is what I look for. Keycaps are solid and I have no gripes bar the typeface. One thing I did not mention is the price, for the price of around $120 it is great. From my opinion it supersedes the Poker II. You might pay the same amount for an aluminium case for the Poker II and the POK3R includes this as standard. This alone is reason enough to go for the POK3R.
Good job Vortex. What I hope for in the future is absolute full programmability but I do not expect this and maybe bluetooth. There is not a lot that I dislike about this keyboard. For a guide on how to customise your layout I recommend just reading the manual and trying to understand it as best you can. Also, for an alternative review I recommend Rhinofeeds.