Learning the COLEMAK keyboard layout

July 20th, 2008 by jose

I have determined I want to learn the COLEMAK keyboard layout. The point? It’s not about typing speed. The layout requires far less wrist motion than qwerty, and it feels very confortable. You can see that your hands are not moving much (the author claims that your hands travel 2.2 times more on QWERTY).

IF you spend most of your time using your keyboard (and if you are an academic, chances are you do), this one-time investment of your time might be worth it. We only have a set of hands for life, and if you imagine all the papers you should write in a lifetime stacked, you’ll feel the immediate urge to protect your hands :) .

I’m not a touch typist on QWERTY, and wanted to learn touch typing, so I decided to go with COLEMAK instead.

It seems that you can only learn for about an hour and a half a day, and thus it will take a month before you can do any work at all. Some people have tried to go cold-turkey, but I have to get actual work done. If you peruse the forums, there are people posting detailed reports on their experiences.

There are lessons available in the website; one is supposed to go through them till reaching 96% accuracy or more. They recommend against relabeling or reorganizing the keys. Instead, the way to go seems to be to tape a copy of the layout on your monitor, like this:

BTW, If you suffer from back pain I have friends who swear by .

I’ll post more on how things go for me on the new layout. The good thing is that it’s not an all-or-none change: I can still do QWERTY when I have to get something done under a deadline.

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13 Responses to “Learning the COLEMAK keyboard layout”

  1. joseNo Gravatar Says:

    BTW, here is a video that shows how little your fingers move, while retaining over 100WPM:

  2. StuartNo Gravatar Says:

    The Dvorak keyboard layout makes similar claims of reducing hand movement (= risk of RSI etc) as well as improved touch-typing speeds compared to QWERTY.

    While QWERTY is undeniably the most-used layout in the English speaking world, Dvorak is probably the next most popular, so you’re more likely to find Dvorak pre-installed on other’s PCs than COLEMAK. This could help a lot if, like me, you have to work on a number of different public or semi-public PCs. Once you’ve learnt to touch-type on a given layout, using a different one is /very/ frustrating!

    Good luck with whatever you choose, nonetheless. I tried switching to Dvorak from QWERTY; already being a touch-typist, I couldn’t stick at it long enough and have gone back to QWERTY.

  3. KehityskelpoinenNo Gravatar Says:


    Just wanted you to know that I recently created an online service that you can use to try out Colemak without changing software. It is freely available at: http://blite.iki.fi/lab/alternative-keyboard-layouts/

  4. Sir OwlpalNo Gravatar Says:

    Why not try it out with an illuminated keyboard to help find the keys better?

  5. ChaimNo Gravatar Says:


    Why did you choose COLEMAK over DVORAK?

  6. joseNo Gravatar Says:

    I think COLEMAK builds on the experiences of former DVORAK users. The stats seem to favor COLEMAK in terms of distance travelled. But, what I think it’s the definitive adva

  7. joseNo Gravatar Says:

    I think COLEMAK builds on the experiences of former DVORAK users. The stats seem to favor COLEMAK in terms of distance travelled. But, what I think it’s the definitive advantage is that COLEMAK leaves zxcv (bottom row) in the same spot. This is important because while adapting, you can at least copy and paste (!).

    I also like the delete key mapped to caps lock.

    I think it’d be easier to switch to COLEMAK from QWERTY; some people keep both skillsets. I have read reports of people switching from DVORAK to COLEMAK too. They mention that they love how you can do finger rolls on COLEMAK.

  8. ChaimNo Gravatar Says:

    This is the first I have heard of COLEMAK. I will have to give it some further consideration. I have been meaning to switch to DVORAK for several years, but have never been willing to put in the dedicated effort necessary.

  9. Colemak UserNo Gravatar Says:

    Good choice. I switched about six months ago. Would recommend this layout to anyone.

    All the best.

  10. vboouliNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi wanted to say hello to members of this helpful site which I have been browsing for some time and glad to be part of your wonderful website. Im sure there is a lot of great stuff I will be able to learn from you all.

  11. Preston LeeNo Gravatar Says:

    I switched to an ANSI Dvorak layout almost exactly a year ago to date, and have noticed significantly less fatigue, particularly in my tendons. OS X has a very fast and easy to use layout switcher built in for when others are using my computer. Most linux distributions support the layout with the `loadmap dvorak` command, and Windows XP and Vista support it out-of-the-box as well.

    It took me about 7 months to ramp up to 80 words per minute. You can read about my journey into Dvorak by searching for ‘dvorak’ on my blog, here: http://www.prestonlee.com/?s=dvorak

  12. Olmec Says:

    Just found this on a random Google search, but will attempt to throw in my two cents…

    In recent years, I have had a problem with my right hand small and ring fingers, mostly from having to hit the enter key and backspace so much, it seems to stretch something that shouldn’t be stretched in my right hand.

    So, I tried switching to Dvorak (bought some keyboard stickers and everything), only to realize that Dvorak seems to place *most* of the typing duty onto your right hand pinky finger. With Dvorak, you not only have to hit the Enter and Backspace, but the letters S & L and some symbols. The S was particularly painful. In fact, regardless of the fact that all the vowels are allocated to the left hand in Dvorak, almost all the typing seems to be done with the right hand (not a good idea at all in my opinion). Try typing the word “strength” in Dvorak. You use your right fingers 7 times while only using your left once. That doesn’t seem to follow the rule of “alternating typing” at all.

    Colemak seems much better than either Dvorak or QWERTY, in terms of using hands more or less equally and having the letters in the right places. I might just give it a shot after rearranging these letter stickers!

    (P.S. I have swapped/remapped the caps lock and enter and tab and backspace keys with “KeyTweak” to alleviate some of this right hand over-use)

  13. Nick SCNo Gravatar Says:

    I’ve been using Dvorak for many years now, originally switching because of tendon problems. But I’m learning Colemak at the moment – mainly because there’s more in common between Colemak and QWERTY. There’s a portable version of Colmak which you can run in Windows, and it can run without installation, from a memory stick of you want – so it’s completely portable. See http://sourceforge.net/projects/pkl/ for the software.

    To Learn it I’ve been using Bruce’s Unusual Typing Tutor (free download) which has lessons. The program shows a QWERTY layout on screen but I ignore that. PKL (Portable Keyboard Layout) includes an onscreen image of the layout which you can switch on or off so that’s the one I look at if I need to.

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