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What are Illuminated Keyboards?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 17, 2024
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Illuminated keyboards rely on backlighting to give keys greater visibility under low-light conditions, eliminating the need to use task lighting that can add glare.

Many people enjoy using their home computers at night with only the light of the monitor to illuminate the keyboard. Turning on an additional light can create unwanted glare and increase eye sensitivity, while straining to see the keys is also fatiguing. Illuminated keyboards can be the answer, but not just at home. It can also be great for multimedia presentations in darkened boardrooms or lecture halls.

Designs and mode of backlighting differ between models and brands. Some models are made with transparent or semi-transparent tops and keys that have black lettering. An electroluminescent pad sits beneath the top. In daylight when the light is not enabled, the keyboard is used normally and simply looks like a standard keyboard. When switched on the entire top of the keyboard glows.

Another style of illuminated keyboard is designed more like the backlit keys on a cell phone pad. This type of keyboard might be black with lettering that appears white in daylight, much like a standard keyboard. However, individual LEDs sit under each key cap. When switched on, rather than the entire top glowing, only the individual letters on the keys appear backlit.

The latter model throws off less light, which might make it a better candidate for situations where you do not want the keyboard's glow itself to become a distraction. This could be a consideration if using it for corporate presentations unless the illuminated keyboard will be behind a podium or otherwise hidden from general view.

For home users, choice will depend on personal preference. Those who like working in the dark might prefer the latter style with its discreet backlit letters. That said, illuminated keyboards with a glowing top are very easy to see and the larger amount of light they emit could come in handy.

Features to look for when choosing an illuminated keyboard include the ability to turn off the illumination. Some models will also let the user adjust the level of brightness, which can be very convenient for using it under differing conditions.

Illuminated keyboards vary in cost depending on the quality, features and style. Prices start around $25.00 (US) and run as high as $120.00 or more. Standard keyboard sizes of 101+ keys and baby or mini keyboards of 83+ keys are both available.

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Discussion Comments
By Logicfest — On May 12, 2014

@Soulfox -- if you have thought about retrofitting a lighted keyboard to your laptop, forget about it. I once considered doing that and it is more trouble than it's worth.

Ah, but there is hope. It might be well night impossible to retrofit the keyboard you want, but you can do something about typing in low light situations by purchasing a USB-powered "worm light" designed to shine some light on your keyboard when you are typing in low light conditions. They are inexpensive, too.

Still, you are right. A backlit keyboard is a wonderful thing on a laptop. If you want one, you'd better purchase one on the front end.

By Soulfox — On May 11, 2014

Whomever decided to put one of these on a laptop is an absolute genius. I never realized how much I used a lighted keyboard until I bought a laptop without one. The trend is toward black keyboards with white letters and those are very hard to see in low light situations. As I'm a competent touch typist, that's rarely a problem unless I'm searching for a character that I don't use frequently. In those cases, a lighted keyboard is invaluable in situations where lighting isn't optimal.

Again, this is a brilliant invention. The fact that one can use it without being fully aware of how useful it is demonstrates that it is a subtle improvement to a keyboard but a darned good one.

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