Macros and shortcuts can be extremely useful for streamlining your workflow. Simply put, macros are just input sequences that are recorded via software and can then be activated by only one press of a button. There is a problem though—while some keyboards today have dedicated macro keys, most don’t. This is where macro pads come in.
A macro pad can give you plenty of buttons for your macros. And, with most pads coming with some form of software for recording macros, program-specific actions can also be performed, usually called “shortcuts.” Shortcuts can do a variety of power things like launch programs, turn on and off your microphone, and more.
There aren’t a ton of options in the macro pad world today, but you should still be able to find one that matches your needs whether you’re working, creating, or gaming.
What to Look for in a Macro Pad
Before we get into the picks, there are few things we wanted to outline about macro pads in general.
- Button Count: This depends on your use case. If you’re already heavily into macros and want to use a lot of them, you’ll need a macro pad with the button count to support that. But macro pads with a lot of buttons are larger and more expensive, so if you only need a few macros at any given time, getting a pad with a lower button count can make sense.
- Software: For most pads, you’ll use software created by the manufacturer to reprogram each button and record macros. Recording macros can be a complicated process, so preferably, the software the company provides will be intuitive to use.
- Build Quality: Simply put, macro pads aren’t cheap, so you want to make sure the build-quality matches the price you pay.
Now that you know all this, let’s look at some macro pads.
Best for Most People: Razer Keypads
Razer has been making keypads for a while now, and the common thread among all of them (and what makes them so great) is the Razer Synapse software. Synapse makes recording and editing macros, reprogramming keys, and customizing backlighting incredibly simple. If you want a macro pad that’s easy to use, Razer is the brand to go with.
As previously mentioned, Razer does make a few different macro pads. The Tartarus V2 and Pro are nearly identical, with both having 20 keys, a scroll wheel, an additional button, and a thumbstick for movement in games. The V2 uses “mecha-membrane” switches—normal membrane switches with slightly more feedback—and the Pro uses Razer’s optical switches, which are basically just really fast mechanical switches.
The Orbweaver has a bit of a different design compared to the Tartarus V2 and Pro. It also has 20 reprogrammable keys, loses the scroll wheel, and is shaped differently. This keypad uses Razer’s Green mechanical switches, which means it has the satisfying click many mechanical keyboard users love.
Razer Orbweaver Chroma Gaming Keypad: Mechanical Key Switches - 30 Programmable Keys - Customizable Chroma RGB Lighting - Programmable Macros - Classic Black
Whether you're gaming or working, Razer's keypads will give you access to shortcuts and macros in a simple way.
For In-Depth Users: Elgato Stream Deck
The Elgato Stream Deck is a well-known product in the live streaming and video-creation world. But it does have use outside of those fields of work.
Each button on the Stream Deck is a tiny LCD screen that can be customized to show whatever you want by using the Key Creator. Elgato also provides software to create macros and shortcuts. The Stream Deck can open specific programs, preform actions in those programs, and also perform actions on certain websites.
For example, you can create shortcuts to instantly open a new document in Microsoft Word, mute your microphone easily, or send out automated tweets from the Stream Deck. While the Stream Deck only has 15 buttons (there are also 6- and 32-button models), you can create unlimited shortcuts thanks to the nested folders.
And then, of course, on top of the amazing shortcuts, you can also just record your own macros and assign them to a button. For those willing to spend the time required to set it up, the Stream Deck can become the ultimate macro pad.
Elgato Stream Deck - Live Content Creation Controller with 15 Customizable LCD Keys, Adjustable Stand, for Windows 10 and macOS 10.13 or late
The king of shortcuts, the Elgato Stream Deck has so much room of customization.
Budget and Compact: Max Keyboard Falcon-20
If you want something cheaper and smaller than the options we’ve listed so far, the Falcon-20 might be the best option for you. While it looks like a normal numpad, all 20 keys can be reprogrammed to do whatever action you want, including macros, using Max Keyboard’s software.
The Falcon-20 uses mechanical switches and you have quite a few options. You can normally choose between Cherry MX Blue, Cherry MX Brown, or Cherry MX Silent switches, but if you pay an additional $10 you can also have Gateron Black, Gateron Red, Gateron Clear, Gateron Blue, Gateron Brown, or Gateron Green switches.
Max Keyboard Falcon-20 Programmable Macropad Mechanical Keyboard, Backlit Multicolor LED, Cherry MX RGB Switch (Cherry MX RGB Silent)
For a smaller and cheaper macro pad, the Falcon-20 will still do everything you need.
Maximum Macros: X-Keys Keypad
If you need as many macros as possible, then X-Keys has the product for you. Its keypad is available with 24, 60, 80, or even 128 buttons, each of which can be assigned to a different macro. The software, MacroWorks, is a bit dated but still works well and enables you to record and edit your macros and set shortcuts.
The symbols on each button are printed. Max Keyboard does provide a sheet of general symbols in the box, but if you want something specific you’ll need to print it yourself.
X-keys Programmable Keypads and Keyboards (80 Key, XK-80)
If you need the highest button count possible, X-Keys has the product for you.
For 3D Modelers and Designers: 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro
Complicated work often requires complicated tools, and this is certainly true for 3D modeling and design work. “3D Mice” are useful in this field for enabling designers to perform actions that would difficult or impossible to do with a normal mouse. This 3D mouse has a few of the normal modifier keys found on most keyboards, a central rotating dial, various shortcut and action keys, and four reprogrammable buttons for actions like macros. All of this can be customized via 3Dconnexion’s software.
The entire device is coated with soft-touch material and is shaped ergonomically, so it will be comfortable to use for long work sessions. The battery should last about 2 months with average use.
3Dconnexion 3DX-700040 SpaceMouse Pro 3D Mouse
A complicated tool for complicated work.
For Digital Artists: Wacom Express Key
Wacom is a well-known name in the digital art world for its various drawing tablets . One of the great features of Wacom’s tablets is the reprogrammable buttons that can be used for program-specific shortcuts. But, if you find those buttons insufficient, Wacom also sells the Express Key.
The Express Key has 17 customizable buttons, and you can even connect up to 5 Express Keys to one device and have each be program-specific. And, this isn’t just for Wacom tablets, the Express Key is wireless via a USB dongle, so you can use it with whatever drawing tablet you have. Everything you need to customize can be customized through Wacom’s provided software.
If you need to streamline your creation process, the Express Key is definitely the way to go.
Wacom Express Key Remote for Cintiq & Intuos Pro (ACK411050)
When it comes to streamlining the act of creation, the Express Key is the best product to get.