Control Your MacBook Keyboard Lights With Lab Tick

Justin Pot 23-08-2013

Take total control of the lights behind your MacBook keyboard. Lab Tick is a free Mac program that lets you manually control backlight levels with a simple slider.


Taking control of the backlight on your Macbook Pro or Air keyboard isn’t hard: newer models specifically devote keys to the purpose. That wasn’t always true, however. Before the addition of keys for the job, there was basically no way to control the lights behind the keys manually. They did what they wanted based on a light sensor – and it wasn’t always what the user wanted.

So why check out this program if you’ve got keys for control? Fine tuning. Newer Macs may allow you to manually turn the light level up and down, but the sensor still takes control when it feels like it. Lab Tick lets you turn this off, and does a bit more. Let’s take a look.

Lab Tick Gives You Control

Start up Lab Tick and you’ll notice a new icon in the tray. Click it and you’ll see a slider:


This menubar app works much like the default volume control, allowing you to directly control the backlight levels by scrolling up or down. For owners of older Mac laptops, such as Powerbooks, even this level of control is more than enough to justify the existence of a tiny app – without it there’s no control at all. But is this worth looking into for anyone else? That depends.


The slider isn’t the only feature of Lab Tick. Click the gear at the bottom of the slide and you’ll quickly find the settings, which allow you to take more control over how your backlit keys work:


You can allow the program to remember your last setting and stick with it, if you like. You can stop OS X from automatically adjusting the levels based on your Mac’s sensor – useful it you don’t understand what it’s trying to do half the time. You can also set the program to start when your computer does.

Click over to Advanced and you’ll see some (not necessarily more advanced) options:



You can set keyboard shortcuts for turning the brightness up and down, which is brilliant for owners of older Macs. But perhaps more interesting is the ability to create a single keyboard shortcut for turning off your backlights altogether. You’ll also find the ability to turn the lights off after a set amount of idleness. This is cool, but it’s worth noting that you’ll find this setting in the Keyboard controls under your Mac’s main settings.

Compared To Standard Settings

Head to the Keyboard tab under OS X System Preferences and you’ll see this:



So if you simply want the ability to turn off the automatic sensor, or for the keys to stop glowing when the computer is idle, you don’t need Lab Tick – the default settings screen has you covered. Users of older OS X versions might not see these settings, so for them Lab Tick is an obvious choice. But for everyone else, what does lab tick offer that OS X doesn’t on it’s own?

I’m glad you asked. Here’s a list:

  • Control keyboard brightness from the Menubar. It’s not necessary, but some might like it. After all: you can control volume from the menubar, despite the existence of volume buttons.
  • Create a single keyboard shortcut for turning off the backlight altogether. Yes, you could do this by repeatedly pressing the dim button. But compare this to sound again: there’s a mute button. If you want an “off” button for lights this is your tool.
  • Gives you a single app for configuration.

Note that, for me, Lab Tick and the Mac’s keys for controlling the lights didn’t get along very well. Be prepared for some confusion if you plan to use both.

Controlling More From The Menubar

Want to control even more from the Mac’s menubar? Well, there’s an app out there for controlling screen brightness. It’s called Brightness, and it’s a lot like Lab Tick:
Control Your MacBook Keyboard Lights With Lab Tick 03b Brightness App
Read all about Brightness, and two other apps for controlling your screen’s backlight How to Change The Brightness Of Your Mac Display Beyond Default Levels Read More . A tiny, appropriately named program called Caffeine can stop your Mac from going to sleep.


Control Your MacBook Keyboard Lights With Lab Tick 02 caffeine menu

Read more about Caffeine, and other useful menubar applications The Ultimate List of Mac Menu Bar Apps These tiny smart utilities don't get in our way like the dock apps do -- Mac menu bar apps sit in a corner and swing into action only when you need them! Read More . You’ll be glad you did.

Oh, and if all of these apps are cluttering up the top of your screen check out Bartender ($20) or Broomstick (free), two apps that can help reduce the number of visible icons. Why Apple hasn’t done what Microsoft fixed in Vista I don’t understand, but I’m sure they’ll get around to it in five years and call it “innovative”.


Lab Tick was originally created to solve a problem Apple’s since solved on its own. Those who’d rather not have backlit keys can, on modern Macs, simply use the designated keys to turn down the brightness. But that doesn’t mean Lab Tick isn’t useful anymore: there are a few things you can configure with it.

Download: LabTick (Free)

Is this worth a look in 2013, or simply a tool users of older Macs might find useful? Let me know in the comments below.

Image credit: Macbook Pro Keyboard via Flickr

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  1. Fizgig
    June 23, 2016 at 5:47 am

    This works great for a 17", 2.6GHz, MacBook Pro whose light sensor is just too flaky and those silver keys can get really difficult for my client to deal with in low light conditions when the light sensor for the keyboard still thinks it's bright enough to see the keys.... Well, it ain't...

    Thank you for bringing this little app to our attention!

  2. rob
    January 3, 2016 at 10:12 am

    this app is wonderful. I have a macbook pro and the keyboard keys for backlight was totally misbehaving (adjusting brightness randomly)....this app solved my problem, and I have also set other shortcut keys to control the it saved me buying a new keyboard and disassembling the mac, that is really time consuming. thanks, thanks!!!

    • Justin Pot
      January 4, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      I'm glad the article was helpful to you!