Author Topic: Varmilo - questions about premium customization  (Read 749 times)

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Offline MXTopre

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Varmilo - questions about premium customization
« on: Tue, 24 August 2021, 12:35:09 »
Hi all!

I am interested in the Varmilo TKL ISO-UK and it looks like there are not available in Europe at the moment, so I thought about a custom one. I'm generally new to MK so not everything is clear to me but at the same time, I would like to get max from the customization. There is also some confusion with Varmilo on Mac. So here I come hoping to get some answers ;)

For clarity, I use Varmilo configuration option names as bullet names.

1. Positioning Plate and Stabilizers

Are the plate or stabilizers visible at all? Does the color of the stabilizer make any difference like a different type?

2. Backlit

It looks like the Mac (Dual) version is in conflict with the RGB LEDs and the pre-built boards come with the white led only. I think full white is really fine and I could go along with it.
However, I am considering using dedicated colored LEDs for specific keys like Esc, Enter, hjkl. Does it make sense for more than a day? I don't look at the keyboard while typing, and when that happens it is for some rarely used keys, definitely nothing like Esc or Enter, so maybe highlighting the most critical keys can district from finding others in the dark? :)

What keys are commonly highlighted? Esc, Enter, wasd, hjkl, anything else?
Also, can I control each LED independently? I guess it only works in the full RGB mode.

3. Keycaps

What's the standard? If I would like to look for a good alternative, what should I look for? What profile? In Varmilo's description for additional keycaps they are described as "slightly lower than OEM". Does this apply to the keycaps on the VA87/88?

In general, I would like to understand how easy it is to buy new keycaps for Varmilo keyboards. Can I mix them with the original ones? Or maybe the originals have a unique profile and I would need to replace all of them? Will all profiles work as long as they are "cherry" compatible?

I also read that Varmilo places the keycaps in opposite directions (north vs south). What does it matter when buying new keycaps?

4. Switches

I want to use MX Blue switches, but I'm thinking about tweaking some keys. Like using MX Green for Enter and Spacebar. I am also considering using MX Reds for mods since they are used in pairs with other keys and are held for a few secs. But I'm not really sure if this makes sense and gives any actual benefits.

What are common patterns for Blue alphas?
Does Varmilo mix switches in stock keyboards (like using Green for Enter for Blue keyboards)?
Can the switches be replaced on others later?

5. Dual mode - mac compatibility

This topic is really confusing. Depending on the location (website, user manual, description), Varmilo says different things. I am not sure if I need to select the Dual version (instead of the RGB) to be able to use the keyboard on Mac. I tested the VA111M and it worked great on Mac. I was able to activate Mac mode (Fn+a for 3-5 secs) and it worked even better. The keyboard was with white LEDs, so maybe it was the dual mode version but keycaps were designed for Windows and there was no description for Mac mode.
Does anyone know what is the current state of this? Based on the user manual, it looks like 80%+ is fully compatible with Mac now (even the RGB version). I don't understand why 65% is not on the list and why if 80% is compatible, I am still able to select the dual mode when building the custom.

Maybe all current models are fully compatible and the only difference is USB port (mini for standard, usb-c for the dual mode).


Thanks for reading and hope to get some answers! :)

Offline _rubik

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Re: Varmilo - questions about premium customization
« Reply #1 on: Tue, 24 August 2021, 13:33:38 »
1. Positioning Plate and Stabilizers

Are the plate or stabilizers visible at all? Does the color of the stabilizer make any difference like a different type?

Plates (in some cases) can be seen between keycaps. Stabilizers are hidden below all keycaps, so no the color doesn't make any difference. People do have preference on type (screw in stabs are typically preferred), but you're limited by what the Varmilo pcb supports.

2. Backlit

It looks like the Mac (Dual) version is in conflict with the RGB LEDs and the pre-built boards come with the white led only. I think full white is really fine and I could go along with it.
However, I am considering using dedicated colored LEDs for specific keys like Esc, Enter, hjkl. Does it make sense for more than a day? I don't look at the keyboard while typing, and when that happens it is for some rarely used keys, definitely nothing like Esc or Enter, so maybe highlighting the most critical keys can district from finding others in the dark? :)

What keys are commonly highlighted? Esc, Enter, wasd, hjkl, anything else?
Also, can I control each LED independently? I guess it only works in the full RGB mode.

It doesn't sound like your PCB support independent LEDs, so no that's not something you'll be able to add after-the-fact.

You can probably swap out the LEDs themselves, but that's entirely preference based. Personally, I don't put LEDs on any of my boards (and I think you'll find pretty common for more bespoke boards), but maybe you want mods and alphas to be different. Up to you!

3. Keycaps

What's the standard? If I would like to look for a good alternative, what should I look for? What profile? In Varmilo's description for additional keycaps they are described as "slightly lower than OEM". Does this apply to the keycaps on the VA87/88?

In general, I would like to understand how easy it is to buy new keycaps for Varmilo keyboards. Can I mix them with the original ones? Or maybe the originals have a unique profile and I would need to replace all of them? Will all profiles work as long as they are "cherry" compatible?

I also read that Varmilo places the keycaps in opposite directions (north vs south). What does it matter when buying new keycaps?

Profile is again personal preference. Popular types are GMK and DCS (similar to OEM) but there are tons of sculpted profiles. Personally I stick to OEM-clones like GMK and DCS.

The most important thing to highlight is the stem. Yes, generally all profiles will work as long as they are cherry-stem compatible. Of course, if you do mix profiles you'll have an uneven typing surface. Again, all preference.

As for north/south switches, that indicates if the LED is positioned on the top of bottom of the switch. Some lower-profile oem style keycaps will bottom out against a north-facing LED. South facing switches are generally preferred for that reason.

4. Switches

I want to use MX Blue switches, but I'm thinking about tweaking some keys. Like using MX Green for Enter and Spacebar. I am also considering using MX Reds for mods since they are used in pairs with other keys and are held for a few secs. But I'm not really sure if this makes sense and gives any actual benefits.

What are common patterns for Blue alphas?
Does Varmilo mix switches in stock keyboards (like using Green for Enter for Blue keyboards)?
Can the switches be replaced on others later?

You'd have to desolder existing switches and solder the new ones in, but yes this is possible. I personally wouldn't recommend it (again, inconsistent typing surface) but it's all preference. All Cherry clones can be mixed / matched.

I don't think there's a common pattern aside from "using the same switches for the entire board". In some cases, folks might put a heavier switch under the space bar, but that's pretty much it.
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Offline Riverman

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Re: Varmilo - questions about premium customization
« Reply #2 on: Tue, 24 August 2021, 22:47:42 »
You can use any Varmilo keyboard on a Mac.  I've had both the Mac version and a couple of PC versions, and they all work.  The great thing about the Mac version is that when it's in Mac mode, the command and option keys are in the correct position, and the F keys all operate like they would on an Apple keyboard.  All of the shortcuts, like the media and brightness keys work without any drivers or other pieces of software.  Varmilo's keycaps are more or less Cherry profile, which like they say, is slightly lower than OEM profile.  Varmilo's keycaps are some of the nicest dye subbed PBT keycaps out there, and if you're buying the Mac version, a good part of the reason to buy that is just for the keycaps.  There are no others like them, except on the Topre Realforce for Mac.  There are plenty of far cheaper keyboards out there if you plan on replacing the keycaps. 

Offline LASERman Projects

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Re: Varmilo - questions about premium customization
« Reply #3 on: Wed, 25 August 2021, 07:16:21 »
Quote
2. Backlit

It looks like the Mac (Dual) version is in conflict with the RGB LEDs and the pre-built boards come with the white led only. I think full white is really fine and I could go along with it.
However, I am considering using dedicated colored LEDs for specific keys like Esc, Enter, hjkl. Does it make sense for more than a day? I don't look at the keyboard while typing, and when that happens it is for some rarely used keys, definitely nothing like Esc or Enter, so maybe highlighting the most critical keys can district from finding others in the dark? :)

What keys are commonly highlighted? Esc, Enter, wasd, hjkl, anything else?
Also, can I control each LED independently? I guess it only works in the full RGB mode.

Is seems that this specific keyboard variant has LEDs ONLY on Caps-Lock and Scrol-Lock for indication only with no factory option for customization.. This was the case of wireless variant I bought.

Quote
3. Keycaps

What's the standard? If I would like to look for a good alternative, what should I look for? What profile? In Varmilo's description for additional keycaps they are described as "slightly lower than OEM". Does this apply to the keycaps on the VA87/88?

In general, I would like to understand how easy it is to buy new keycaps for Varmilo keyboards. Can I mix them with the original ones? Or maybe the originals have a unique profile and I would need to replace all of them? Will all profiles work as long as they are "cherry" compatible?

I also read that Varmilo places the keycaps in opposite directions (north vs south). What does it matter when buying new keycaps?

I can confirm that Varmilo customizable keycaps are actually tiny lower that other aftermarket Cherry keycaps and it is obvious when they mixed together.
Therefore I do not mix them but it was totally fine to put full alternative keycap set on Varmilo keyboard.

It is not that Varmilo "places the keycaps in opposite directions" but the switches on (most RGB keyboards) are north-facing and therefore switch is turned around and may cause conflict. But this is universal issue not specific to Varmilo. Basically people wants their legends shine through (placed at the north edge of the keycap) and LEDs collide with Cherry profile keycaps when bottoming out (designed for LED placed at the south edge). Issue is not always present, not applicable to OEM keycaps and many do not notice the effect. You can search Cherry keycaps conflict to find out more.

Please note that Varmilo keyboard variants with only few LEDs for indication have them on the south side and therefore not causing any conflicts while they seem to do the opposite on RGB variants.

Quote
4. Switches

...
Can the switches be replaced on others later?

I did replaced switches on Varmilo keyboard several times with no problems. This of course requires taking apart the keyboard and desoldering them.

Offline MXTopre

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Re: Varmilo - questions about premium customization
« Reply #4 on: Fri, 27 August 2021, 14:19:49 »
Hi all!

Thanks for all comments, I appreciate it! I think most of the issues are already clear for me. I am leaving some comments below.

Is seems that this specific keyboard variant has LEDs ONLY on Caps-Lock and Scrol-Lock for indication only with no factory option for customization.. This was the case of wireless variant I bought.

Yeah, but I think the LED backlight is all I need. The LED indicator is good for toggle keys (like Caps Lock) but I don't think it's useful for say hjkl ;)


It is not that Varmilo "places the keycaps in opposite directions" but the switches on (most RGB keyboards) are north-facing and therefore switch is turned around and may cause conflict. But this is universal issue not specific to Varmilo. Basically people wants their legends shine through (placed at the north edge of the keycap) and LEDs collide with Cherry profile keycaps when bottoming out (designed for LED placed at the south edge). Issue is not always present, not applicable to OEM keycaps and many do not notice the effect. You can search Cherry keycaps conflict to find out more.

Does this limit the market of keysets for Varmilo? Only looking for south-facing keycaps if legends are printed? I have not seen this information in the sales description of keysets.

Offline HungerMechanic

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Re: Varmilo - questions about premium customization
« Reply #5 on: Sun, 29 August 2021, 15:39:22 »
I bought a custom Varmilo VA87M TKL from the custom store back at the end of 2018.

The stabilizers are not visible in regular operation if the keycaps are installed. Well, maybe the spacebar and the undersides of the other modifiers depending on the angle you're looking at it [because the TKL is low-profile, so the case doesn't completely envelop the switches.] They're mostly non-visible from above.

I sometimes colour-match stabilizers to other builds for fun, but it's not really important while typing.

I purchased the keyboard with a custom-pattern of LEDs of my making. It wasn't full RGB LED that you could change, it's fixed colours. They work really well, but I don't have experience with the more complex options. They're mostly white on my build, and are excellent.

Varmilo keycaps are a custom design that is different from OEM or Cherry. But you can consider it a 'modified-Cherry' profile. They are known as "SS2" profile, and very similar to Leopold keycaps.

You will not be able to interchange Varmilo keycaps with other brands, because they are at a different angle and use a different font. But Varmilo keycaps in SS2 profile are all compatible with each other on Varmilo boards.

I purchased the VA87M with a custom keycap design [I just chose the base colours] and replaced the entire set with a different Varmilo set. I used the ones that came with it to augment another Varmilo set that I have.

I know I said that you cannot mix Varmilo keycaps with others on the same board [you can but it's a bad idea]. But you can replace your entire Varmilo set with any other MX-compatible keycap set. All those crazy keycaps you see on Reddit or whatever, they can go on a Varmilo no problem. It uses MX mounts and Cherry-style stabilizers. This is extremely easy to deal with.

Varmilo does not place keycaps in weird N-S directions. What you are thinking of is actually the position of the LED lighting. Varmilo puts the LEDs in a south-facing position, which is the correct one. That means you can properly use Cherry-profile keycaps like GMK as well as Varmilo's SS2 profile with them. If the lights are north-facing, then it conflicts with those types of keycaps somewhat. So Varmilo is actually the better way, although some people hate it because the LED lights are more visible when you are looking at the keyboard from a low angle. [North-facing is sometimes better for lighting, especially transparent keycaps.]

Varmilo basically uses a typists' profile [SS2] and a typists' lighting arrangement [South-facing] rather than some stock OEM or gamer keycaps and gamer lighting.

As for switches, I don't know if they still let you customize individual switches, but they have had that option before. So you can put MX reds in the spacebar or whatever. It shouldn't be a big deal and if the computer doesn't let you do it, just e-mail Varmilo. I know they have this capability.

Varmilo does not mix switch types in stock keyboards that you buy at a store, never seen that, but their custom store has provided that option. You cannot replace the switches later without desoldering, Varmilo does not usually sell hotswap that makes that possible.

Unfortunately, I don't know anything about Mac compatibility, but I do know that Varmilo keyboards usually have some slightly different options regarding key function that you can set via function keys, and that probably includes some Mac specific keys or shortcuts.

Offline HungerMechanic

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Re: Varmilo - questions about premium customization
« Reply #6 on: Sun, 29 August 2021, 16:09:09 »
Hi all!

Thanks for all comments, I appreciate it! I think most of the issues are already clear for me. I am leaving some comments below.


It is not that Varmilo "places the keycaps in opposite directions" but the switches on (most RGB keyboards) are north-facing and therefore switch is turned around and may cause conflict. But this is universal issue not specific to Varmilo. Basically people wants their legends shine through (placed at the north edge of the keycap) and LEDs collide with Cherry profile keycaps when bottoming out (designed for LED placed at the south edge). Issue is not always present, not applicable to OEM keycaps and many do not notice the effect. You can search Cherry keycaps conflict to find out more.

Does this limit the market of keysets for Varmilo? Only looking for south-facing keycaps if legends are printed? I have not seen this information in the sales description of keysets.

Again, there's no such thing as North-facing or South-facing keycaps. They all have text that is right-side up, aligned to the bottom of the keycap [unless it's some kind of gimmick set].

What you are referring to is the orientation of the LEDs. A 'North-facing' LED is positioned towards the top of the switch/keycap, whereas a South-facing LED is positioned towards the bottom of the switch/keycap.

The issue is that, on a North-facing LED, short Cherry-profile keycaps may slam into the LED area, since they were not originally designed with a North-facing LED in mind.

On a South-facing LED, there shouldn't be any conflicts with mainstream keycaps. Varmilo uses a South-facing LED, usually, which is fully compatible with its own keycaps, and probably all other keycaps as well. So there should be no compatibility issues with keycaps on a Varmilo board.

Varmilo boards are compatible with just about any MX-stem keycaps you can buy. They are rarely, if ever hotswap, so the switches that come with it are soldered-in permanently. You can change that by desoldering them and resoldering new ones, but that is an invasive option. So you want to buy the keyboard you want from Varmilo, and not change it [except maybe the keycaps]. This is common for most factory-style keyboards. Hotswap is cool, especially for testing switches and everyone should have one, but it won't last as long as a soldered board like Varmilo.

Offline MXTopre

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Re: Varmilo - questions about premium customization
« Reply #7 on: Mon, 30 August 2021, 10:56:04 »
Thank you HungerMechanic for such a complete answer. I have no further questions :) Beer for you, yo!