MacBook Pro Retina 2016 and 2017 Keycaps

Overview

As a specialist in the industry, we regularly see faults that appear to be common within certain ranges, however, since so many of the machines that come through our doors are faulty, it is somewhat difficult to perform an objective analysis on the overall stability of any given Mac range with great accuracy.

That being said, it has not gone unnoticed that we have seen an increase in particular keycap and scissor clip sales since the release of Apple’s own ‘butterfly clip’ design. More recently we have also heard of a possible lawsuit against Apple for not replacing keycaps due to poor design.

Unfortunately, because of the way these keyboards have been designed, it is very easy to cause irreparable damage when removing keycaps. We would always recommend going in to see Apple about it (even if it is outside of its original warranty, as you are legally covered by consumer law within the UK/EU for manufacturing faults potentially present at the point of sale for up to 5 years from purchase), as the most common problem is that the keycaps themselves actually snap, which can affect response to touch or become non-responsive.

In cases where you have damaged the keycap then have removed the key and damaged the surface mounts below, or have snapped the scissor clip pegs off, there are other solutions for repairs, but they will not be covered here. What this article aims to cover is the safe fitting and removal process of what we refer to as the Type-M and Type-P keycap types (type-L is also similar in design).

Update: Type-M keycaps were first released on the 2016 retina ranges. Type-P is a slight variant found on the 2017 retina ranges and although it is slightly different, Apple is now positioning it as a direct substitute for the Type-M keycaps.

Butterfly Scissor Clip Design

The butterfly scissor clip differs to the design of earlier models because it doesn’t comprise two interconnected parts. The clip literally ‘butterflies’ with the fold in the middle causing the upper and lower parts to move in-sync with each other, as seen below.

Type-P Butterfly Clip

Type-P Butterfly Clip

Keycaps have been designed in the same basic way all the way back to the original PowerBook ranges, and that doesn’t change here with the butterfly clip. There are four pegs on the scissor clip that hold the keycap onto the keyboard. Two of them align and slide into place, and two of them snap in, holding the key in place, as seen below. The right side aligns first, then the left side clicks into place.

Clip Design

Clip Design, one clip, one slide

If you try to remove the keycap from the wrong side, you will break either the keycap latches, or the scissor clip. If you are dealing with these extremely delicate butterfly clips, there is a very good chance that you can damage the top case mount as well (early ranges have metal mounts that the scissor clip attaches to but the butterfly models attach to easily broken plastic mounts as seen below).

Close up clips

Close up clips

As seen above, the inner pegs will invert when the key is up, and the outer 2 pegs are housed in a plastic frame. when pressed the outer pegs go down, and the inner ones go up. If you try to pry the keycap off the top, the outer plastic mounts often snap irreparably damaging the top case. The only option then is to replace the entire top case (as Apple would suggest) or cut out the mount and glue in a replacement from a surrogate keyboard (not an easy task).

So the short and simple advice is, be very careful when removing your key, especially if there is a chance Apple can be held accountable for it and will provide a replacement. Even if it seems like a simple job initially, its not worth the risk. We’ve heard of a lot of cases where someone has tried to re-fit the key but they’ve damaged the mount and Apple have refused to cover it under warranty.

The replacement process

If you are like many out there who dont have any warranty coverage anymore, or would just want to do the job yourself, we’re hoping the following will help you with the process.

If you are aware of which side of the key ‘clicks’ and which one ‘slides’ (as noted above) and have a gentle touch, you can easily replace most of the keys on your keyboard.

  • Alphanumeric – Clip at the top, and slide at the bottom
  • Space Bar – Clicks at the top, slides at the bottom

Always start at the ‘hinge’ point of the clip. In the middle of the left or right side on the space bar and alphanumeric keys (function and arrow keys, its in the middle of the top or bottom edge, as they are side on).

IMG_5050 2

Make sure to get the pick or piece of plastic just under the keycap edge, but not deep enough to get under the butterfly mechanism. This is very important to ensure you don’t damage the scissor clip.

Then slide it towards the ‘click’ side of the keycap, which is up in the case of the space bar and alphanumeric keys.

IMG_5051 2

IMG_5053

Space Bar Process

Start on the left or right side, the same as the alphanumeric keys, making sure to only go as deep as the keycap, not under the butterfly clip edge.

IMG_5027

You will feel resistance as you come across the ‘clips’ on the underside of the keycap. Remove the pick and reinsert it and carry on.

IMG_5028

IMG_5029

IMG_5030

IMG_5032

Refitting the keys is done in reverse. Align the ‘slide’ side of the keycap to the scissor clip, then push down on the ‘click’ side until it clicks into place.

If you know how it works, they are pretty easy to replace, but hopefully this will make your life easier as we are trying to take the guess work out of the keycap replacement process so you can save yourself the expensive Apple repair process.

IMG_3855

Arrow Keys

 

Butterfly Clip Fitting

If you are unfortunate enough to have to contend with the butterfly clip fitting process, this is where it gets more tricky.

Firstly, if there is any damage to the plastic mount on the top case unit, or if the peg is broken or damaged on the clip, there is no point trying to fit the butterfly clip as it wont seat properly. (see illustration below)

To fit the butterfly clip, you cannot simply ‘press down’ on the clip and expect it to slot into place. This is often how the damage illustrated above is caused. The butterfly clip needs to be ‘stretched’ over the top case mount to prevent any damage to the retaining brackets.

In the illustration below, we start on the left of the space bar (most complicated clip to fit) and work our way to the right.

  1. Align the first 4 pegs to the mount. Inner 2 go in the gap and the outer 2 go under the mount.
  2. To engage the second set of 4 pegs, insert a tiny flat-blade screwdriver between the upper 2 pegs. Gently rotating the screwdriver will stretch the clip away from the mount so that you can lower the clip over the mount and then release the screwdriver to allow the upper peg to go safely under the mount without straining the peg or the mount. Repeat for the lower 2 pegs of this set.
  3. Repeat for the 3rd set of 4 pegs, but rock it (stretch it) to the right.
  4. Repeat for the final 4 pegs on the far right.

 

If you find yourself in a position where the mount on the top case is damaged, there is still hope… but it is about as complicated a job as you will come across when dealing with keycaps. In our experience, you can get it functioning again, but its motion will never be 100% as new again.

The process involves cutting off the plastic surface mount (the domed section with the metal plate under it) and replacing it with an undamaged one from a donor top case. It needs glueing into place, but alignment is so precise on these models that any slight twist will cause the key to stick when pressed so be aware that if you carry out this process, it may not operate with the exact same response as the other keys on your keyboard.
We hope this guide proves helpful when replacing your keycaps and can give your machine a new lease of life. Hopefully Apple will be more supportive when dealing with these sort of manufacturing and design problems on their keyboards, but until then, let us know your thoughts. If there is another guide you’d like to see, get in contact and let us know!

 

Here is a link to a quick how to video we have created. It is just as a quick guide to help see the process in action

YouTube Keycap Removal Video

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24 Responses to MacBook Pro Retina 2016 and 2017 Keycaps

  1. Jens says:

    Hey great guide!
    Do you have by chance a picture of the enter/return key? Mine also sticks, but I am too afraid to remove it, as I dont know where the hooks are on that one.

    kind regards
    Jens

    • nojboy715 says:

      Absolutely. They hinge at the top and bottom, and the top is wider, so the best side to go in at. but I shall take a photo tomorrow when our office is open and will add it as a reference at the bottom of the blog post

    • nojboy715 says:

      sorry for the delay. the return key is now photographed.
      It clips on the left, and slides on the right. If you put a pick in at the top of the keycap (the widest point), make sure it is just under the black keycap edge and not under the butterfly clip, then move it to the left. You should find it clicks and lifts off.
      I hope this helps

  2. Jens says:

    Hey, thanks alot! I was in vacation, but this helped me and the keyboard is coke-free again!
    Thanks big time!

  3. savannah says:

    hi, i took my spacebar off assuming it didn’t have butterfly clips and it did. :/ my butterfly clip mechanism is still attached to the top of the key so i can’t see anything. how do you properly remove the butterfly mechanism from the key to attach it separately, and then how do you reattach the black top of the key?

  4. savannah says:

    i’m not sure if my last comment went through. my key top and butterfly clip came off together. your pictures show you reattaching the butterfly clip separately from the black top and i was wondering what the safe way to remove it is.

    • nojboy715 says:

      thanks for your message. it sounds like there may be some damage that needs looking into. I would inspect the plastic mounts of the top case closely to ensure there is no damage, as seen in the photo on the blog post.
      Aside from that, you will need to get the pick or plastic tool between the black keycap and the butterfly clip in the same way as you do when removing it from the top case. Start along the top edge, and work your way around carefully, ensuring you avoid the fragile clips on the underside of the keycap.
      I hope this helps

  5. RD Harles says:

    I have the 2017 model A1707 and those keycaps need to be removed top first, then bottom (not left and then right!). In other words, you unsnap the top (left and right side) of the keycap first, then gently lift from the top to a 45 degree angle and wiggle and lift the key out.

  6. RD Harles says:

    Strange that they changed the design of the keycaps though in late 2017 as the pictures above (where you snap in the keycaps) look exactly the same as mine.

    • nojboy715 says:

      I’d say more frustrating than strange, as it’s a bit of a frantic process to eliminate the fault with the butterfly clip design. They have every laptop range staked on its success, so changes are expected. It just makes compatibility a bit of a pain 😬
      But that’s apple for you!

  7. JJ214 says:

    Do you by any chance have pictures or a guide on how to remove the butterfly clips for individual keys?

    • nojboy715 says:

      There are photos on how to remove the space bar towards the bottom of this post, but we’ve not done a video of the process currently.
      If it would prove helpful we can look to record the process on Monday when we are back in the office.
      The alphabumeric keys clip the same way as the space bar, just on a smaller scale. So it requires ‘stretching’ the clip off the top case mount, ensuring not to put any pressure on the plastic mount itself

  8. saad naeem says:

    Great post. Waiting for the video, if you can include

    1. removal and fitting back butterfly mechanism on individual letter key
    2. putting back spacebar when everything came out. lol

    will receive my messed up keys in 2-3 days.

    Thanks.

    • nojboy715 says:

      I hope this proves helpful. Sorry its not the greatest quality, it was done quickly just to get it listed for you

      • saad naeem says:

        Thanks, i was able to fix the butterfly mechanism on keys and was able to get it working in no time.

        For spacebar i am not getting free butterfly movement, not sure why and spacebar is not getting fixed.

        I was not getting free motion of butterfly clip on individual keys as well but when i had put in the keycaps they worked straight away.

  9. kris says:

    I recently replaced my spacebar (and butterfly mechanism) and needed to glue the retaining brackets in place. Most of the spacebar now works, but pressing on the left and right edges (the last 12% of the width) does not trigger the dome. Is this likely as issue with the way I installed the retaining clips / butterfly mechanism?

    Thanks for the comprehensive post and video.

    • nojboy715 says:

      Firstly, we’ll done for getting the mount replaced and seated! Because of how little room for play under these mounts, it is a very difficult task to undertake. Even when carrying out the work ourselves we notify customers of the possibility it may feel a bit stiff towards the corners. Being even half a millimetre off to one side can affect the key travel.
      But unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done to improve the movement from this point without the potential of causing more damage (removing the mount, removing all glue and tape residue, the. Refitting it)
      You can inspect the space bar for any curvature, as that can also affect it. But I’d probably suggest you leave it as it is.
      There is still the possibility of contacting Apple under their extended top case replacement programme, although they won’t like the fact it’s been worked on, if there are signs of it from the outside.
      Best of luck either way, and thanks for your feedback

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