Anyone who’s ventured into the world of mechanical keyboards — for work or gaming — knows the rabbit hole runs deep. What may have started out for you as a simple search for a better typing experience or faster gaming performance can quickly turn into an unquenchable thirst to create your ideal keyboard layout with the perfect mechanical switch and custom keycaps.
Building your own custom mechanical keyboard from scratch may be a step too far for people just looking to move beyond the world of prebuilt keyboards, though. That’s where The Key Dot Company (TKC) Portico mechanical keyboard kit comes in. Available as a group buy for $119, which is essentially a limited preorder, the Portico is the perfect entry point for seeing how a mechanical keyboard comes together — no custom printed circuit board (PCB) or soldering required. TKC is based in the US but will ship worldwide. In the UK and Australia, that price converts to approximately £90 and AU$155.
The Portico is the Lego set of custom mechanical keyboards. You get the basic building blocks for a compact 65% keyboard: a hot-swappable PCB with RGB lighting, silicone and felt dampening mats, a top plate and a polycarbonate case. Case color options currently include clear, smoke, terminal green, mint and purple. Assembling the keyboard is pretty straightforward and requires little more than the ability to use a small screwdriver. The site has a step-by-step tutorial for first-time builders.
Once the board is together, you’ll just need to put in switches and push on some keycaps — neither of which are included in the Portico kit, however. This is where the customization fun comes in because you can pick exactly what you want for your board. The company will sell you switches and keycaps, too, or you can pick those up elsewhere. The keyboard uses 67 MX-style switches and is compatible with most custom keycap sets.
Traditionally, you’d have to solder the switches to the PCB, but the Portico’s hot-swappable PCB makes it so you can just push the switches onto the board like putting a plug in an outlet. Then you just push on your keycaps and you’re essentially ready to start typing. This makes it incredibly easy to test out a variety of switches and find the right one for you.
When the keyboard is fully assembled, all that’s left is to plug it in with the included black coil USB-C-to-USB-A cable and start typing. Well, almost. Because the keyboard is so compact, the keyboard uses layers that are toggled with modifier keys. For example, pressing the right Alt key with the up or down arrows controls volume. To see the Portico’s layers as well as remap keys and create macros for your needs, you can download the free Via configuration software. You can also use Via to test your switches as you place them in the PCB; the pin connectors on the switches can easily bend when you push them in.
The Portico mechanical keyboard kit offers the right amount of a custom experience for beginners. From here you could dive deeper into building your own board from scratch or just keep experimenting with key switches and caps to get the feel and sound you’re after. The build kit group buy is open until Jan. 22 for $119 and is expected to ship in March. If you miss the group buy, TKC says extras will be available after preorders are filled and it’s currently planning another Portico group buy for April. You can sign up for its newsletter to stay on top of things.