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Keyboard layouts, and how not to get lost in them [Keyboard layout guide]

There are many different keyboard users, and probably just as many different possible keyboard layouts. How can you differentiate them and pick the right one for you?

 

Quite often people who pick up interest in mechanical keyboards find the sheer selection quite overwhelming and have a hard time finding comprehensive information in one place. Building upon our own experiences and experiences of others we have decided to write one of the most comprehensive guides on modern keyboard layouts. We will gradually go through most of the keyboard layouts, mentioning their pros and cons, as well as, other bits of important information. Starting from the most common layouts and little-by-little explore the more niche ones as we go.

While nowadays most computer users are used to the keyboard on their laptop, nevertheless, almost everyone has seen a regular desktop PC keyboard with arrows, numpad, function keys, and others. This layout is also known as a full-size or 100% and can generally be split into 6 sectors or clusters of keys.

 

Key clusters

Alphas - the base alphanumeric keys with letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. Most often come in a staggered (horizontally shifted) layout as opposed to a perfect grid. Nevertheless, gridded keyboards can be quite common in the enthusiast community. These are referred to as ortholinear and come in many different grid sizes such as 5×12 keys, 5×15 keys, as well as, many others, however, more on this later.

Modifiers - sometimes grouped with the alphanumeric cluster, modifiers are the keys around the Alphas such as Tab, Shift, Command, Control, Space, Enter, Backspace, and others.

Function keys - while being quite self-explanatory, function keys sit on top of the Alphas and are used for various OS actions depending on your system or applications. Different manufacturers often equip these keys with secondary functions such as media or brightness control. The most common number of function keys is twelve, separated into three clusters by four. However, some of the early keyboards introduced function keys in two columns to the left of Alphas and Modifiers.

Navigation keys - The keys to the right of Alphas and Modifiers usually consist of around three to nine keys that help you navigate the page or OS. These are keys such as Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down. (keys such as Print Screen, Scroll lock, and Pause Break might be considered a part of either navigation or function keys)

Arrow keys - Up, Down, Right, Left. No more, no less.

Number keys (Tenkey) - Usually consisting of around 17 keys with numbers and mathematical signs. While numbers can also be entered via the top row of Alpha keys, many users prefer a numpad as it might be easier for their muscle memory to remember the key positions without looking at the keyboard and only requires one hand to operate. Separate numpads became fairly popular since they bring modularity and flexibility to their users.

 

Mentioning the 100% (full-size) layout first is a great starting point for exploration of other common alternative layouts since most of the other keyboard layouts either subtract or add keys/sectors to satisfy the user's needs. While some might need a full keyboard to properly operate on their work/play station, others find the full keyboard layout overwhelming or taking up too much space on their desks. Users might look for portability or ergonomics and make that their deciding factors. Others look for a large feature set or design elements. See for yourself which keyboard layout might be right for you:

Explore layouts:

 

Thank you for showing interest in our keyboard layout guide and we look forward to finding you here again. Let us know if you think we should add something to our guides as we strive to always improve.