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Crafty Curios

Ever since I started in this hobby, I wanted to create interesting keycaps that have a relatively flat surface. Any prominent texture would distract me from typing. I couldn’t find the industry term so I’m calling these types of keycaps “embedded keycaps”. Think Zen Pond from jellykeys versus Jade Empire from Keyforge.

After feeling confident from casting single color keys, I experimented with making more advanced molds to make embedded keycaps. I thought about literally embedding objects (which you can do to create glitter or gold foil keycaps), but I wasn’t sure how to embed more intricate objects and have them not float and move during the curing process. I decided to go with advanced molds for now and I’ll make a separate post on mold design.

It took a lot of iterations of mold design and casting technique before I created anything resembling an embedded key. I was surprised by the difficulty but it was probably my lack of intuition for physical crafts. Below is my current process.

Three Day Process

This is a three day process to create embedded keycaps using three different mold pieces. While I used molds with simple geometric shapes, the same process can be applied to more detailed molds. The process takes many days because I wait approximately 24 hours for resin to cure between the steps.

purple keycap

green stars

First Day – Cast the Details

I cast the details of a two-part mold (such as the hemisphere or stars) as well as the stem mount. I wiggle the stem to release any air bubbles trapped in the mount. Casting the stem on the first day (instead of the second day) avoids creating air traps.

first cure

Second Day – Cast the Bottom

The second day is for casting the bottom of the keycap that surrounds the switch’s upper housing. I fill the mold with colored resin and press the two halves together. I need to carefully clean out the escape holes to help prevent air holes forming along the bottom ridge of the keycap.

second cure

bottom pieces

Third Day – Final Cast

The third day is for combining the bottom pieces with a clear top for the final cast. I use molds with the desired surface profile in this step. I spray the molds with mold release, fill them with clear resin, and then inlay the bottoms from the previous day. The mold release makes the keycaps shiny.

mold with resin

third cure

after third cure

That’s it! That’s my process. I’m sure I’ll change it as I learn more. If you’re just getting started, check out intro tutorials at http://artisanalliance.mx/ and my list of materials.

I’ve changed up my strategy for casting keys. Since I’m still struggling with air pockets at the base of the keys, I’m casting fewer keys per day to focus on technique. I still have low success rate but produced some great casts recently.

all together now

forest cat

star key

green dome

I’m hopeful that I’ll solve the air pockets problem (maybe with the help of a pressure pot). Stay tuned!

The unfortunately large air holes are back. I’d resolved them a few weeks into key casting but for some reason they’re returned. While I figure this out, I’m making some highly experimental keys.

full bloom technicolor

I also borrowed Harry’s keyboard for to cast some OEM keys. It’s a little hard to capture in photographs, but they do have legends.

turkish delight

legends

When I first saw a koi pond keycap by Jelly Key, I was amazed. I’d never considered keycaps could be anything other than single color plastic. I was suddenly open to all the possibilities. Think of a cat keycap! Or a dim sum keycap! Although I have some experience 3D modeling on a computer, I lack finesse with physical crafts, and never pursued making my own keycaps.

When COVID ramped up, and forced me to give up aviation, I needed a new hobby. Around that time, one of my friends started machining his own mechanical keyboard plates. That was the final push to send me ordering all sorts of key casting supplies.

I learned the basics from Youtube. Since I don’t have strong physical intuition, I did a lot of trial and error experiments. I still don’t have a great success rate yet, but I’ll keep iterating. I’ll write a separate post on everything I’ve learned.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll see I went from single color keys to two layers of color to embedded cat key. Right now I’m experimenting with alcohol inks and mica powder. Alcohol inks can give you the watery effect in koi pond keys. Mica powder gives a metallic shine. After I’m able to reproduce the effects I want, I’ll apply them to embedded shapes.

In the meantime, check enjoy these progress photos

cold water

sea scale