Gamers spend a lot of time carefully picking out components to power their rig, but the most personal part of any build is arguably the keyboard. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good you are or what kind of hardware you have, if your inputs aren’t registering exactly as intended, you’re toast. Your keyboard is so pivotal to your success, it's easy to get attached, especially since changing things up can be jarring. A new kind of switch or a tweaked layout can be enough to throw you off your game entirely. When you find 'the one,' you tend to stick with what you know works.
For the ROG Strix Flare, we wanted to keep all the classic elements of a great keyboard, like a familiar layout, high-quality switches, useful shortcuts, and RGB lighting, but avoid the ‘old faithful’ feeling of familiarity that can sometimes make the tried and true feel just plain tired. The Flare crams in all the non-negotiables but still leaves plenty of room for personalization in form and function. Per-key RGB lighting with more than a dozen lighting effects and multiple ways to program your macros is just the tip of the iceberg. Customizing the removable acrylic insert is where things get really fun, and you don’t even need to be particularly creative to make the Flare totally your own. Keep reading to see what the Flare is like and different methods for modification that range from easy-peasy to mildly hard.
More than a feeling
The tactile feedback and crisp feel of a mechanical keyboard is hard to beat, but keyboard connoisseurs don’t rave about mechanicals for feel alone. A higher actuation point means mechanical switches actually register key presses sooner than the more widely used rubber domes. Not only does that translate to quicker actions, but it also saves you from bottoming out with every press, which reduces fatigue. The long life of the switches means they can withstand the prolonged torture of years of marathon gaming sessions, and there’s a wide range of switch types with varying levels of resistance, audible click, and tactile bump.
Switch preference is entirely personal, so the Flare is available with all the main types from German peripheral company Cherry. I love the linear stroke of the Cherry MX reds, as well the fact that they’re relatively quiet compared to something with an audible click, like the blues. Whether you choose red, brown, blue, or black switches, anti-ghosting tech with N-key rollover ensures all key presses are registered, even if you’re mashing multiple keys at once.
Typing on the Flare is a dream, especially if you tend to be a little heavier on the keys like me. The base is solidly built with no flex to the frame as you bash away at the board. Rubberized feet stop it from shifting out of pace on the desk, even when I hammer away at awkward angles late at night.
Light ‘em up
Per-key RGB lighting illuminates the entire keyboard, while a white tray underneath the keys acts as a reflective canvas, intensifying the glow for an especially candy-like appearance. Additional RGB lighting under the left and right edges drops a diffused glow onto the desk on either side of the keyboard, extending your custom colors beyond your build. You can also use Aura Sync to match the keyboard lighting with other compatible system components, like ROG motherboards, graphics cards, and peripherals.
The Flare’s lighting is controlled via our updated Armoury II software, which expands your options for personalization with 13 different effects, from the ever-classy Breathing and whimsical Starry Night, to the brand new Raindrop. Applying a single effect to the entire keyboard is quick and easy, and it looks especially awesome if you opt for one with a random color cycle, but there’s no limit to the combinations that can be achieved by setting different colors and effects for different regions, or even assigning them on a per-key basis.
Effects and color combos can be stored in one of five individual profiles and then linked to specific applications, so you can mix things up from game-to-game without losing your favorite blend of bling, or switch between one profile for gaming and a more subtle selection for everyday use. When I’m working, I set my 26 alphabetical keys to ‘Reactive’ with a random color cycle, so I can see little bursts of surprise colors as I type (it’s the simple pleasures). Everything else is set to an admittedly quite garish and always-on turquoise blue, save for backspace, which is red and breathing, forever tempting me to just delete everything and start over.
The Flare allows you to record macros on the fly (just press Fn+Right Alt to start and end the recording process), but Armoury II offers the ability to customize keys and record your macros right alongside your customized lighting profiles. Because the software is completely driver-based, it can’t be detected by games that try to prevent players from using macros. Armoury II also installs itself automatically via Windows 10, so you don’t have to go hunting online for the right version to download.
While the software makes assigning macros and managing personalization really easy, your macros and profiles are actually stored in the keyboard’s onboard memory. That means you don’t need to dip back into Armoury II (or even have it installed) beyond the initial setup. This is especially handy if you’re not always gaming on your own machine; esports players can safely stash all their settings on the keyboard and have them available no matter which tournament machine they’re using on a given day.
Reinventing the wheel
Dedicated media keys along the top of a keyboard are nothing new, but they’re mostly right-side aligned, so you have to take your hand off the mouse to reach them. Shifting these keys to the left side puts them within easy reach, so adjusting volume, skipping tracks, or evening switching off your RGB backlighting doesn’t mean interrupting your flow. All of the media keys have white lighting that's always on, making them easy to find no matter what colors and effects you're using elsewhere. Even as the rest of the keys go dark during Aura’s ripple or rain drop effects, you don't have to hunt for the correct button to skip a track or pause your music.
The accompanying volume wheel is approximately three key caps wide, so it’s easy to find without taking your eyes off the screen, and its fine, rubberized ridges provide traction as you scroll. The wheel lets you turn things up or down with a flick of your finger. It's also clickable for instant mute and unmute, though scrolling in either direction from mute turns your sound back on, too.
Looks aren’t everything, but they do count for something, and the Flare’s design has just the right amount of edginess to help you stand out from the crowd. Shrouded in matte black, a hairline finish traverses the right side, running parallel to a diagonal slash that cuts right down to the keyboard’s bottom edge.
The included palm rest matches up perfectly and even extends the channel for headphone cables that runs underneath the keyboard. If you don’t have the desk space or prefer the naked look of Flare on its own, the palm rest easily detaches by lifting the keyboard up and away. Even before you dip into the Flare's unique customization capacity, the keyboard makes quite a statement all on its own.
Design it yourself
With the media keys in a more natural position, we saw an opportunity for to take the Flare’s RGB lighting to the next level and offer further options for customization beyond the usual Aura lighting. An acrylic window slots into an angled cut-out in the keyboard’s frame and is lit with dedicated RGB lighting. The white Republic of Gamers logo stenciled on the underside of the insert glows with the RGB lighting on the keyboard.
It’s a cool effect on its own, but each Flare ships with a blank insert that can be customized with your own design. We recommend that your chosen graphic be solid white, so it really pops against the RGB illumination, but the sky’s the limit for design and even the method of application. You could go all out and etch your own design with a Dremel (mad respect and more power to you if you do), or take it to the mall to get engraved, but there are much easier methods that require significantly less skill and are a lot less permanent.
My experiments with customizing the Flare look a lot like a timeline of my misspent youth. They start with model painting and progress through nail art, henna tattoos, and vinyl decals before eventually graduating to stolen office supplies. I had varying levels of success, and here are the top three methods I found for easy modification that don’t require laser engraving or a bulk-order of 1,000 vinyl stickers.
A few things to note before you start:
- Insert customizations live in the Upside Down
Because you’ll be applying your design to the underside of the acrylic insert, you’ll need a flipped version of it, or a design that looks just as good mirrored. If you plan to monogram with your initials, or brand the blank with your gamertag, remember to mirror your design!
- It’s all about the base
If you’re using stickers, especially vinyl or any kind of foil, be aware that the underside of the sticker is what you’ll see once you’ve re-seated the insert. Be sure to use stickers with a base that matches your desired color (again, white works best).
- The golden ratio is about half an inch square
If you are buying stickers, half an inch is about as wide as you want to go to avoid things looking squashed by the cut-out. You’ve got some flexibility in the vertical measurement, but not much.
- Measure twice, cut once
If you plan to make your own design from scratch, keep in mind that it needs to be sized and positioned correctly. I used the stock insert with the ROG mask logo as a guide to determine exactly where to place my new design before I peeled any stickers or started painting. By stacking the blank one on top, I was able to get the best sense of what the finished product would look like.
Method 1: Order a custom vinyl sticker
The first method is absolutely the easiest in terms of application. A white vinyl sticker placed just so on the insert looks awesome and requires very little effort. There’s a wealth of sticker shops online producing vinyl decals for everything from laptops to phones, but I had the most luck with the web’s haven for handmade goods: Etsy.
Rather than giving my money to the Big Sticker companies (and because I only needed the one sticker as opposed to hundreds of them), I hit up a few small sellers on Etsy that had designs I liked. While every imaginable shape and design is out there, very few shops sell decals smaller than a US postage stamp. But it’s Etsy, and everyone is nice, so people are eager to help.
I direct messaged some sellers offering designs in multiple sizes and asked if they could shrink ‘em down smaller. Not every request was a success (some more intricate designs didn’t work when scaled down to a fraction of their original size), but I struck gold with two adorable little decals of a kitty cat and a whale.
These laser-cut, white vinyl stickers are easy to apply and leave no residue. Removal is harder if you want to reposition and reapply. Getting the edges to come away cleanly without marring the sticker with accidental folds is difficult. Be very sure of your placement before you apply, and peel with care if you mess up. I was able to remove and reapply the whale once, but a few days later, when I wanted to change to the cat, Moby Dick had to be scraped off in pieces.
Method 2: Print your own stickers
This one is a little more involved, but designing and printing your own sticker at home eliminates the hassle associated with sourcing a sticker manufacturer and allows you to change out your design as often as you fancy. All you need are some blank labels, a printer, and your graphic of choice.
I liberated some regular white address labels from the stationary closet and was able to mock up my own designs pretty easily. I went super primitive and used Microsoft Word’s label maker with a sheet of Avery easy peel labels. This allowed me to scale my image to 0.5” x 0.5” and print multiple designs on one sheet of stickers. You’ll be cutting out the design after printing, so this method isn’t conducive to intricate graphics unless you're really awesome with an Xacto knife.
The hard part is cutting out the design. After experimenting with a range of different tools, I found a pair of cuticle scissors to be the best for clean, fuzzy-free edges. The pressing and dragging with the Xacto knife was sometimes too much for more delicate parts of the design. Hard to reach corners like the inside angles of the star are easy to mess up.
The nice part about using thick paper labels rather than a thin vinyl sticker is that you can use the outline of your printout as a guide (if you're bad at staying inside the lines, like me) and it won't show through on the final design. You can see in the reflection from the glass tabletop below that I left the outline completely intact to ensure all five points of the star were as even as possible, but the thick black outline isn't visible from above.
Method 3: Raid the bathroom cabinet
Difficulty: High (but pretty forgiving)
If you’re a little more artistically inclined and have a steady hand, you can paint directly onto the acrylic insert using nail polish. This method requires a little more in the way of supplies and is definitely messier than printing off labels or slapping on a vinyl sticker, but it’s also a ton of fun and really forgiving if you make mistakes.
High-end nail polishes can cost as much as $50, but a bottle of Essie Blanc will set you back less than ten bucks and can be found at any drugstore. It’s not a seasonal color, so it shouldn’t be hard for you to find, and Essie nail polishes go on sale all the time. I didn’t try any other kinds of paints, but there are plenty of craft blogs using spray paint and acrylic paints on Lucite trays and storage containers, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find other materials that work.
For application, you have a few options, but the brush included with the nail polish is going to be of very little use if you plan to paint free-hand. It’s too big and holds a lot of paint, so it's hard to work with. Do yourself a favor and hit up a beauty supply store or model shop and buy a brush meant for detail work. I ended up using a couple of my makeup brushes, which I cleaned with acetone and alcohol once I was done. I am sure you are not supposed to do this and then use them on your face, but my eyebrows have not fallen off yet.
You can also opt for straight up nail art to remove the need for any skill at all. Nail art varies in its application; some are simple stencils, while others are patterns that are painted onto a design plate, scraped, and then transferred using a stamper. The second method means you don’t have to mess around with excess paint or stencils, but it's more suited to all-over coverage or a repeating pattern. If you want a specific image, a stencil is better.
These stencils are made of vinyl and adhere tightly to the acrylic, so you can paint your design without the nail polish bleeding underneath the edges. Start with a very small amount and go slowly to avoid bleed and keep your lines clean. If you have too much paint on your brush, the nail polish will start to pool at the edges of the design and be more likely to bleed underneath the outside lines of the stencil. You also risk messing up the edges when you peel the stencil off.
Applying thin, even layers is the key to a clean design. Rather than trying to to get a full coat on the first shot, I ended up using a sponge to apply three thin layers. A hair dryer (set to cold) can help to partially dry each layer between applications if you find additional coats are pooling rather than spreading evenly. Holding the insert up to the light will help you see thin spots that require more paint. You can clean up edges using a brush and some acetone before you remove the vinyl, or go really carefully with the cleanup after you take off the stencil.
Regardless of how you apply the nail polish, it comes off easily with a small amount of acetone, which is widely available in beauty stores and most drug stores. Note that regular, acetone-free nail polish remover didn’t work for me here, and even a gentler formula with an acetone base didn’t make a mark. The good news is that designs are difficult to scratch off inadvertently, which I was worried about when swapping the inserts in and out. The bad news is that acetone is a lot harsher than regular nail polish remover. It’s also really drying, so mind your fingers. Use cotton balls to remove paint, don’t let the acetone sit for any amount of time on the insert, and rinse off any excess to avoid damaging the surface. I haven’t noticed any damage to the acrylic so far, but keep in mind that this is a DIY mod and not covered as part of your warranty.
The new classic
Whether you choose to personalize your keyboard with a rainbow of colors and a hand-painted logo for your next LAN, or prefer a stark white backlight and blank insert for a cleaner look, the ROG Strix Flare can be customized to match your mood and easily modified when you feel like changing things up.
While it goes all out on flash, it doesn’t do so at the expense of functionality. The Flare incorporates all the mainstays of mechanical gaming keyboards, like the crisp feel of Cherry MX switches, eye-catching RGB lighting, and the precision of NKRO while still leaving room for styling that’s entirely your own. Available now, the ROG Strix Flare is priced at $179.99 USD and $229.99 CAD. Check the table below for retailers in North America selling the Flare. Gamers outside of the US and Canada should check with their local ROG representative for availability and pricing in their region.