There are two primary types of keycap puller tools used in the removal and replacement of keycaps from a mechanical keyboard. The wire type, which is constructed from two thin metal wires attached to some sort of handle. The other is known as a plastic ring; a simple design with a ring shape and two prongs molded into a single plastic piece. Plastic ring pullers are commonly bundled with mechanical keyboards. Which of these keycap removal tools is better at its job? That’s what we’re discussing today.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Wire keycap pullers are considered the more “premium” tool for removing keycaps by most mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Though relatively cheap, usually between $5-$10, wire pullers still cost multiple times that of a plastic ring puller tool. Plastic ring pullers are very common, practically free. They’re often included with a large percentage of mechanical keyboards. The example I’m comparing now (pictured below) came bundled with my Magicforce 68 65% mechanical keyboard that was reviewed last week.
Wire pullers won’t scratch or mar the surface of your keycaps. Yes, that can happen with plastic ring pullers. With the plastic ring type, two prongs need to be slid down the sides of the keycap so a protrusion on each prong can latch onto the underside ledge. Then you can easily pull off the keycap from the switch stem. The problem is those prongs are stiff and more narrowly spaced than the base of the keycap. When you push it down onto the keycap, more and more pressure is exerted as the keycap base widens. This can cause damage to the material, paint or coatings of some keycaps. The plastic ring puller itself is also prone to breakage after extended use.
Plastic ring (left) and wire (right) keycap puller tools.
Besides being cheap and plentiful, the only other advantage of a plastic ring puller is ease of use. You simply put your finger through the ring, push the tool down onto the keycap until you hear it click into place (this indicates two teeth on the prongs have locked onto the bottom edge of the keycap) and gently pull straight up to remove the keycap.
On the other hand, wire puller tools require a little more finesse. When you first receive it the wires will usually be straight and touching one another. They’ll each need to be bent apart at a slight angle allowing you to position the wires under the keycap. Then you twist the handle until opposing corners of the keycap are inside the wire loops. Now you can lift the keycap from the board.
When using a wire puller force is only applied to the bottom edges of the keycap, so you don’t have to fear scratching the sides. Once you get the hang of it you can even speed up the process by pulling multiple keycaps without removing the previous one, a method not possible with plastic ring pullers.
Summary of Wire vs Plastic Ring Puller Tools
For me it’s really no contest. Wire type keycap pullers are the clear winner. They generally only cost a few dollars more than plastic ring pullers (though can be found as cheaply as $2), can remove 3-4 keycaps in quick succession without having to remove the previous keycap from the tool, are much more durable and minimize the risk of causing physical damage to your board.
Plastic ring pullers might be ok if you’re in a hurry and aren’t worried about the potential for scratching, but only if you don’t have access to a wire type puller.