From Colemak


What is Colemak?

Colemak, pronounced /'ko:lmæk/ (Coal-Mac), is a keyboard layout designed for touch typing in English. It is designed to be a practical alternative to the QWERTY and Dvorak keyboard layouts. It was released on 01-Jan-2006.

Why is it called Colemak?

It's after the name of its creator, Shai Coleman. Colemak has the same ending as Dvorak. Colemak was inspired by the Linux naming idea.

Will it take years to learn?

No. Actually most of the time spent is for improving the motor skills and finger dexterity involved in typing. If you already know how to touch type quickly and correctly in QWERTY, it won't take long to regain (and exceed) your QWERTY typing speed. Remember that only 17 move from QWERTY, and you only have to relearn those keys. See why Colemak is easy to learn.

How long does it take to learn the Colemak layout?

Each person will have a different learning experience, and it depends on many factors. You can read about other people's experiences in the forum to get a rough idea.

Will I forget how to type on QWERTY?

Most people who have mastered both layouts can switch easily between keyboard layouts on a regular basis.

While beginning to learn the layout you are likely to experience a fall in typing speed in QWERTY as you adjust to the new key placements. After you become comfortable with the new layout you will have seperated the two layouts in muscle memory and both layouts are usually accessible. After using QWERTY for many years, it's not forgotten quickly. If you forget a placement, a quick glance at the keyboard will let you recall it. Some people experience a small permanent drop in typing speed and accuracy when typing on QWERTY, others do not.

What if I learn Colemak and I need to use someone else's computer?

  • If it's a Mac or Linux computer, you can enable the layout by changing the system's settings.
  • You can just install Colemak on Windows. It takes less than a minute to download and install it. You can switch between layouts on a hotkey (Win+Space on Windows 10) or notification icon.
  • If it's not feasible to install Colemak, remember that most people who learn Colemak don't lose their ability to type on QWERTY - just type with QWERTY temporarily.
  • Alternatively you can continue touch typing on QWERTY while looking at the keyboard.

Where is the Caps Lock key?

It's gone. See also.

Is there any scientific research that shows that Colemak is better?

According to carpalx, which is the most extensive research on keyboard layouts done so far, Colemak wins over Dvorak and QWERTY in all different typing effort models. Note that the default scoring model used by carpalx is somewhat subjective, but configurable. Moreover, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence on the Colemak forum, and on the web.

Where can I get a physical Colemak keyboard?

A physical Colemak keyboard can be useful, especially if do one-handed typing from time to time. While you can't yet buy a Colemak keyboard, you can make your own.

Is Colemak suitable for smartphones?

Colemak isn't recommended for smartphones as it increases finger travel and error rate compared to QWERTY. On smartphones I would recommend gesture typing (e.g. Google Keyboard/Swype/Word Flow) on a QWERTY layout.

Is Colemak better than Dvorak for programming?

Programming languages make heavy use of punctuation symbols. Colemak keeps almost all of the punctuation keys in their QWERTY positions to ease the transition from QWERTY. It depends on what programming languages you use, variable naming conventions (CamelCase vs. underscores) and what editor you use. In the end it's a matter of personal preference. You'd might want to remap the AltGr sequences to punctuation symbols you use often.

Is there a one-handed version of Colemak?

There's an experimental Half-Colemak version similar to the Half-QWERTY keyboard available for Windows. More information

Where can I find images of the layout?

On the Images page.

Other layouts

What's wrong with the QWERTY layout?

  • It places very rare letters in the best positions, so your fingers have to move a lot more.
  • It suffers from a high same finger ratio that slows down typing and increases strain.
  • It allows for very long sequences of letters with the same hand (e.g. "sweaterdresses")
  • It suffers from an extremely high ratio of home-row-jumping sequences (e.g. "minimum")

Do I need to buy a new keyboard, move the keys or relabel them?

No, in fact I recommend against it. Just print out the layout image and refer to it when needed during the learning phase. Read the tips for learning for a detailed explanation.

What's wrong with the Dvorak layout?

  • The main problem with Dvorak is that it's too difficult and frustrating to learn for existing QWERTY typists because it's so different from QWERTY. Colemak has been designed to be easy to learn.
  • Placing 'L' on the QWERTY 'P' position causes excessive strain on the right pinky. Colemak doesn't place frequent letters where the pinkies stretch.
  • 'F' is on the QWERTY 'Y' position which is a difficult stretch on normal keyboards.
  • 'I' is very frequent but isn't on the home position.
  • 'R' is very frequent but isn't on the home row.
  • It is significantly lopsided so that the right hand does too much work.
  • It's not comfortable to use Ctrl-Z/X/C/V shortcuts with the left hand while holding the mouse with the right hand. Colemak conserves those shortcuts in their QWERTY positions.
  • Even though the design principles are sound, the implementation isn't optimal because it was designed without the aid of computers.
  • 'L' and 'S' form a frequent same-finger digraph on the right pinky. Same-finger for the pinky is very rare in Colemak. In particular, Unix commands such as 'ls -l' are very uncomfortable to type.
  • Some punctuation (in particular the curly/square brackets) is less comfortable to type on Dvorak. This affects mainly programmers and advanced Unix users.

How does hand alternation in Colemak compare to Dvorak?

Dvorak achieves higher hand alternation in the expense of higher same-finger ratio, imbalanced hand load, heavy strain on the pinky, and fewer handroll combos (multiple keys hit on the same hand with one comfortable movement). See: hand alternation.

Even if you decide not to learn the layout, I recommend remapping the Caps Lock key to Backspace. That change alone results in a 15%-20% reduction of finger distance on QWERTY. After experiencing the difference perhaps you'll be more motivated to learn an alternative layout.

What are the other alternative layouts besides Colemak?

List of alternative layouts.

What makes Colemak better than the alternatives?

  • There's an active and growing community of users.
  • Colemak has been designed to be easy to learn and to allow easy transition from QWERTY.
  • Colemak keeps the Ctrl+Z/X/C/V in the same place.
  • Colemak doesn't overwork the pinkies.
  • Colemak's design is considered stable.
  • Colemak is available for many operating systems.
  • Colemak has typing lessons.

More information


Who should learn Colemak?

  • People that suffer from Repetitive strain injury (RSI), or Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
  • Anyone that experienced pain or discomfort while typing.
  • Writers, programmers or anyone who wishes to type as fast as they think, and slower typing might result in a loss of their train of thought.
  • Journalists, bloggers or anyone that needs to type in time-critical situations.
  • Students that take notes with laptops during lectures.
  • Anyone's that interested in lifehacks or doing things more efficiently.
  • People that often use instant messaging and chat software.
  • Anyone who spends over 10 hours per week at the keyboard.

Who shouldn't learn Colemak?

Colemak is designed for touch typing, and isn't much better for people that only use a few fingers to type. If you're not intending on learning correct touch typing technique, it won't be worth the effort to switch to Colemak.

Is it worth switching from Dvorak to Colemak?

The Colemak keyboard layout fixes all the issues mentioned above, and wins in virtually every criterion, but the difference will be less noticeable than the difference between QWERTY and Dvorak. The switch won't be as easy for veteran Dvorak users. If you're generally happy with Dvorak, you should probably stick with it.

I don't have time now to learn the Colemak layout

Learning a new keyboard layout is difficult and frustrating during the first few days, but you will reap the benefits every time you type for the rest of your life. You'll need to invest some time at first, but you'll be able to recoup your time investment many times over.


Where can we get help or discuss Colemak?

The Colemak forum is a forum for Colemak users. The /r/colemak subreddit is another forum. The Discord server is very active in live discussion and help.

Why isn't Colemak in Windows?

Colemak is available out of the box in Mac OS and Linux distributions as well as other operating systems. Getting Microsoft's attention to add the layout is a work-in-progress. Sign the petition to help get Colemak added as a pre-installed keyboard layout in Windows