Best Backlit Mechanical Keyboard: What’s it all About?
Backlit keyboards are often used in offices, schools, libraries and other places where reading is essential. They provide easy access to words and characters without having to look at the screen or the keyboard. However, they do not offer the same level of comfort as a normal keyboard does. Some users prefer backlit keyboards because they are easier to read from a distance. Others like them because they make typing faster and more efficient.
There are several types of backlighting systems available today, including LED, DLP (digital light processing), RGBW (red, green and blue) and so forth. All these different lighting technologies have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, LEDs produce less heat than DLP screens while still offering good color reproduction performance. DLP screens tend to burn out sooner than LEDs.
The main problem with any type of backlight is its effect on your eyes. If you stare at a bright screen too long, your pupils dilate and you start burning up. This will cause fatigue and headaches later in the day. On the other hand, if you use a backlit keyboard for extended periods of time, your eyes may suffer damage due to the intense brightness levels. You could even develop cataracts!
The other major concern is eye strain, which is a result of staring at a screen while not allowing your eyes to rest periodically. Eye strain can lead to blurred vision, headaches, redness and even a dry itchy or sticky sensation in your eyes. This can be combated with regular breaks from the screen every 20 to 30 minutes.
In addition to backlighting, there are other helpful tools that can help prevent eye strain and make working on the computer much more convenient. These include larger screens, more space between the screen and the keyboard, adjustable angle screens, anti-glare coating and more.
What makes up a Backlit Keyboard?
A backlit keyboard is one that is illuminated from the front, usually by an internal light source. Most commonly a Light Emitting Diode (LED) is used as the light source, but other technologies such as Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) and gas discharge lamps are also used.
The most common implementation of backlighting is to place light emitting diodes (LEDs) behind each key. Most keyboards use a single LED with a “light pipe” to distribute the light towards the front. These are commonly placed in either the top-center or the bottom-center of the key. Another implementation is to place a linear neon tube behind each key. This provides better illumination but is less common due to cost.
Some keyboards use an off-centre lighting scheme where LEDs are placed in a pattern along the left, right or center of the keyboard.
A third implementation is to use a combination of backlighting schemes. For example, backlit keys can be made to glow with an inner light, which is then magnified by a surrounding circle of LEDs.
Another form of backlighting is done by placing an array of LEDs behind the entire keyboard and activating different portions as needed. The disadvantage of this approach is that it requires complex circuitry and drains more power. This approach is more common on laptop computers due to space limitations.
Finally, some manufacturers choose to illuminate the keys using fiber optic cables. This allows for an even distribution of light and doesn’t suffer from the same issues as LEDs. However, it is also the most expensive technology and can be difficult to repair.
The first step in manufacturing a backlit keyboard is designing the layout. The pattern used to illuminate the keys can vary but there are two main types. The first is an even distribution of LEDs behind the entire key. The second is where each ‘row’ of keys (going from left to right) has a set of LEDs dedicated to it.
These two layouts work best when using a linear lighting scheme but can be adapted to other layouts. For example, if you’re using a chevron pattern then the entire keyboard can be evenly lit. The software that controls the backlighting will be different depending on the hardware used. If the keyboard uses an array of LEDs behind each key then specific control lines must be used to enable or disable certain keys.
Once the design is finalized, the manufacturer must choose the hardware to be used. The most common method is to place LEDs behind each key and distribute light using light pipes and a diffuser. For larger keyboards, LED strips may be used instead to reduce the cost of the project.
Assembling the backlit keyboard is relatively easy. The manufacturer must first add the necessary diodes, light pipes, diffusers and other hardware components. Once this is done, they must add small wires to each key that become connected to the underlying hardware when it has been pressed.
Finally, a controller board must be added that enables the keys to be programmed and the correct keys to illuminate depending on what is being typed.
Here is an example of a modern backlit keyboard:
Before choosing this design, extensive testing must be done to ensure it’s comfortable to use. Many factors such as the size of the keys, positioning of the wrist rests and the user’s ability to see what they’re typing in a variety of lighting conditions are assessed.
In addition, ergonomic studies are conducted that analyze the likely physical impact of using a new design.
Once these factors are considered and the design is finalized, manufacturing can begin. Depending on the size of the order and the number of different components in use, assembly may be done individually by hand or on a mass scale with the help of robots or other automated machinery.
Finally, before the product can be used, it must be tested for quality. Each keys response to pressure must be tested to ensure that it registers correctly with the controller board.
Sources & references used in this article:
Apparatus for selective backlighting of keys of a keyboard by WG Shumate – US Patent 4,772,769, 1988 – Google Patents
Creation of a Mechanical Gaming Keyboard by R Vardam, D Pawar, K Umakkar, T Bhosale – 2019 – academia.edu
Keyboard housing with channels for draining spilled liquid by HH Liang – US Patent 5,421,659, 1995 – Google Patents
Keyboard assembly incorporating multiple lighting modes for improved user feedback by AM Mikula-Curtis, RW Henderson… – US Patent …, 1998 – Google Patents
Backlit full travel key assembly by JT Clark, AD Johnson – US Patent 6,743,993, 2004 – Google Patents