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Does your keyboard need a fancy cable? Well, let me answer that question with another question.
Does your keyboard deserve a fancy cable? …
The answer is yes – to BOTH of those questions. If you’ve put in the effort to pick out a nice desk mat, cool keycaps, and maybe even a custom mouse to match, it only makes sense to complete the look. BUT, custom cables don’t have to be a purely aesthetic choice. As I will explain in the later sections, they can provide a lot of utility and organization to your setup.
In this article, I will not only cover the basics (i.e. cost, different types, sellers) but I will also explain to you exactly why custom cables are NOT purely aesthetic and how you can utilize them to build a flexible and modular work station, perfect for working from home or just being more organized.
What exactly is a “custom keyboard cable”?
Simply put, “custom keyboard cable” refers to any customized or handmade USB cables. These cables may be built to order based on the buyer’s request and have many different features that can be customized such as color, connector types, and length.
Typically, these are made-to-order where the buyer get’s full control of the cable connectors, color combinations, and length. Due to their highly customizable nature, they gained popularity when being launched alongside highly anticipated keycap group buys. Enthusiasts quickly found that a boring black cable was not enough – a custom keyboard cable to match the colorway or theme of their entire setup just feels complete. Naturally, they will be more expensive but depending on your needs they may be well worth the extra cost.
An Explanation of the Different Customization Options for Custom Cables
Much like the rest of the mechanical keyboard hobby, cables are highly customizable for one major purpose – to perfectly suit the user’s need. That is to say that not everyone will agree on what the best type of custom cable is because it all comes down to personal preference and utility. Here, we will discuss customization options based on aesthetic purposes or functionality.
Eye Candy: Cable Thickness, Sleeving, Heatshrink, Coiled vs Retractable
In this section we will discuss the customization options available for aesthetic purposes. Your favorite custom cable maker will typically offer a wide variety of color options for your cable sleeving and heatshrink. You may also have the option to select the thickness of the cable and whether or not you want a cable coil.
Note: IDK who your favorite custom cable maker is but mine is, without a doubt, Mechcables. As mentioned in earlier articles, I have experience using many other generic and custom cable makers and found that Mechcables is the most consistent and has the best service. Check them out!
Cable Thickness – Typically, you will be offered two options: the standard 550 OR Jumbo sized. 550 is the standard for most generic cables while JUMBO is typically 22 AWG. For reference, the outer diameter for a standard 550 cable is about 4-5 mm (approx. 0.197”). For a 22AWG Jumbo cable with Techflex the outer diameter is around 7-8 mm (approx. 0.315”) – nearly twice as thick.
Cable thickness is NOT purely for looks. If you are concerned about power delivery or data transfer capabilities, read on or jump to the section Size Matters: Cable Thickness and Length.
IMO if you are being extra and getting a custom cable, you may as well go big or go home – Jumbo is my personal preference.
Sleeving – Custom cable makers will typically offer a wide variety of color options for your sleeving. Cable sleeving just refers to the thin layer of fabric that encases the internal metals of your cable, protecting it and providing an aesthetic choice for the user. You will usually have the option of Paracord Sleeving OR Paracord Sleeving PLUS Techflex.
Techflex can be used to add some color complexity and overall thickness and durability to your custom cable. Techflex is typically offered in solid colors or two color combinations while Paracord sleevings have many more designs. Here are some examples– offered by Mechcables.com:
Heatshrink – This refers to the think thermoplastic material that encases and protects the connection between the cable and the connecter head. Most cable makers use this method to secure connections and offer different color options as an added customization option.
Cable Coil – A very popular feature of custom keyboard cables. These coils are added as an aesthetic statement piece and usually make a keyboard setup pop. Cable makers may offer additional options to customize your coil such as length, direction, size, and orientation. It is important to be mindful of where the USB slot is located on your device when selecting options for your coil. This is mostly an issue for keyboards without a USB-C connection where the orientation matters. Here is an example of why:
IMPORTANT NOTE on Coiled Cables vs Retractable Cables
It is VERY important to make the distinction between coiled cables and retractable cables. Coiled cables are NOT intended to be extended and retracted often because they are made from harder metals that can be bent. If a standard coiled cable is pulled and extended often, it may lose its form. If you need a cable that can be extended, look specifically for retractable cables as they are made of the proper materials for extension. Mechcables offers this as well; see Mechcables retractable cables.
Utility: Host/Device USB Connectivity and Detachable Connectors (Aviator, Lemo, etc.)
Here we will talk about the custom keyboard cable options that can bring flexibility and modularity to your work station setup. While the custom cable itself does not primarily serve to improve your device functionality, these customization options can help you upgrade your workstation to be more versatile and organized.
Host/Device USB Connectivity – This is fairly straightforward; What type of connection does your input device use and what connection does your host device take? In combination with detachable connectors, it can be useful to purchase multiple cables with different USB connections options. This will be further explained in later sections where we discuss the versatility of custom cables.
You will usually have the option of selecting USB Type A, Micro, Mini, and USB Type-C options for your custom cable.
Detachable Connectors – This feature is what makes custom cables so versatile as you will see in later sections. Detachable connectors can be a nice accent to any themed keyboard setup but more importantly can add modularity and organization to your workspace. If you have multiple keyboards or devices using different USB connector types, you can keep host side cables connected and plug in your devices on a needs-basis. In short, the biggest benefit of these connectors is that you don’t have to reach behind your desktop tower or USB hub everytime you need to plug in a new device.
IMPORTANT NOTE on Detachable Connectors
There are tons of different vendors/makers offering custom aviator cables. It is extremely important to NOT mix and match detachable connectors between vendors. This is because each vendor/maker tests their products specifically to be compatible with their own device and host side connectors. Mixing can cause permanent damage to your devices and cables.
Neato! So what’s the point of custom keyboard cables?
I could tell you that there is no point – that custom cables are exactly the same as any other USB cable. After all, a cable is a cable is a cable. As a matter of fact, it is 100% fair to say that most enthusiasts buy custom cables purely because they look cool.
HOWEVER in this hobby, there’s always just a little bit more to it. And that little bit can make a big difference. The worst thing you could do is purchase a cable purely based on its looks and realize that you won’t get the most out of your keyboard. In the following sections, I will share how custom cables might actually be better or worse for your intended use and how to select the best configuration for your purposes.
Size Matters: Cable Thickness and Length
Too often overlooked, cable thickness does in fact alter the performance of the devices you connect to it from a power delivery standpoint. This is due to a little something called attenuation which basically means that cables lose power over longer distances. Unless you plan on using the same cable for charging devices or using high power LED keyboards like the Drop CTRL, this will mostly not impact the day-to-day use of your keyboard but it does become important when you are building a modular work station.
There are custom keyboards with high power requirements like the DROP CTRL, DROP ALT, and DROP SHIFT that have some of the most beautiful LED available in the hobby. I have personal experience with ordering a longer custom cable only to find out it was incompatible with my DROP CTRL (No one likes dim, flickering LED!). Also ask: Will you be plugging different devices using the same cable? Do these devices require any power delivery or fast data transfer? If the answer is yes then certainly, you would want to keep your cable length as short as possible – consider omitting the coil as well.
Here is a crude drawing to show you what I mean:
Using Custom Keyboard Cables for a Flexible and Modular Workstation
Since the pandemic, a lot of office workers have started working from home (me being one of them). For my home setup (See: What’s On My Desk?), I have my personal PC as well as my work laptop connected to the same input devices and monitors. This is set up in a way that I can seamlessly and quickly switch between the two – or have both on simultaneously using different displays.
While my main input devices (keyboard and mouse) stay the same between both work and personal systems, for my purposes it is important to have readily available and easily accessible inputs at all times. For example, during my workday I may need to attach a drawing tablet for presentations and mathematical demonstrations. When the workday is done I may want a quick way to plug in my Trezor Hard Wallet to transact and store cryptocurrency. I also plug in additional input devices from time to time for troubleshooting and testing purposes.
Especially if you tend to switch devices often, this is where keeping host-side connections may come in handy. You won’t have to reach under the desk or behind your PC chassis to find a USB port every time you switch. Under my desk shelf, I always have two connectors ready:
That in combination with this handy USB Hub Switch, I can easily transition my input devices between my work PC and personal desktop:
- USB 3.0 Switch Selector: UGREEN USB 3.0 switch allows up to 2 users to share 4 USB 3.0 peripheral devices, such as printer, scanner, mouse, keyboard, USB disk, etc. Without constantly swapping cables...
- Increased Work Efficiency: The keyboard mouse switch supports ultra-fast USB 3.0 data transfer rates of up to 5Gb/s (10 times faster than USB 2.0), to work flawlessly with high-bandwidth USB 3.0...
There are also times where I need to leave the house and take my work with me. In these cases, I always bring two host-side connectors and one each USB C, Mini, and Micro with me so I am ready for anything. These usually stay in my backpack so I can rest assured I will always have the right connector. LOOK AT ALL MY DEVICE SIDE CABLES:
Having these connectors readily available for my workstation is important for me because I am very anti-clutter and absolutely hate the sight of loose cables. This allows me to have everything I need, when I need it, and overall keeps my workplace a lot more organized.
Fantastic Cables and Where to Find Them
Great, so now you are ready to take the dive and go shopping for your own custom keyboard cable. I could spam this section with a bunch of rando Amazon links and shops you could search for yourself but that would be a huge disservice to you and the rest of the hobby. In all of my years in this hobby I have tried several vendors and the one that I always go back to is Mechcables. By now I own a few dozen cables from them and can personally attest to their quality and service. I think that with my hands on experience in the hobby and from using these cables first-hand, I should be somewhat qualified to recommend them over other vendors.
Mechcables offers a wide variety of customization options and is well-known and respected in the hobby for providing the best custom cables. They also offer ready-made cables that you can purchase or browse for inspiration.
What’s super exciting is that they are currently working on bringing in premium 2B push-pull connectors that will look amazing with the Jumbo cables. For reference, most companies use 1B connectors which are much thinner. The 2B connectors will be extra thicc and will definitely make your set up POP.
If you decide to go custom cable shopping, I would highly recommend you pay them a visit through my affiliate link 🙂
Many of our pre-made designs are inspired by customers ordering the “custom cable builder”. We thoroughly enjoy checking out the awesome combinations people come up with daily. Some of the stuff is extremely creative and surprises us regularly!Fun Fact from Joe @ Mechcables
Last update on 2023-01-31 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API