Here are the steps I use to cast a fish keycap. If you’re completely new, see the Z-Butt wiki and my older blog post.

petri fish at an angle

First I cast a bottom piece. Thanks to the Z-Butt community, I learned to get the petri effect, you need to wait for about 1-2 hours before adding in alcohol ink to the resin. Here I waited for 1.5 hours.

alcohol ink

After the bottom piece is cured, I add a polymer clay fish. I use acrylic paint to add details and dab a dollop of resin to secure the fish to the base. When everything looks dry, I invert it to cast the top piece.

WIP keycap

That’s it!

After casting keycaps over a couple of months, I’ve finally finished my first bottle of resin. Now I’m trying out a different brand and realize not all epoxy resins have the same properties. I started with Unicone Art a couple of months ago and now am using Dr Crafty.

Here’s a comparison of the resin brands Unicone Art (left) and Dr Crafty (right):

resin compare

Epoxy Resin Brand Unicone Art Dr Crafty
Cure Time 18 hours – hard enough to work with, 24+ hours – full hardness 24 hours – still very pliable, 30 hours – hard enough to work with
Casting Great for casting More viscous and will not conform to certain complex molds
Clarity Clear but small trapped air bubbles will make the keycaps appear cloudy Crystal clear and fewer air bubbles
Odor I couldn’t detect anything Strong chemical smell from the hardener

If you look closely at the photo above (and ignore the different dye colors), there are a lot more tiny air bubbles in the left keycap than the right. I let all resin degas before casting, but it seems like for Unicone Art, the air bubbles have a harder time making their way out.

I prefer strongly Unicone Art for its casting property and turnaround time. However, Dr Crafty is visibly clearer.

Maybe I’ll try to cast the bottom pieces with Unicone Art and the clear top with Dr Crafty. Will report back.

star keys

These will be the final star keycaps I cast. I’m pretty satisfied. Aside from different colors, there’s not much left to explore.

lake keys

I might try to make a few lakes keycaps. I’m not loving the overall key design ’cause it leads to large air bubbles trapped everywhere.

It seems like everyone during quarantine is making keycaps.

If you’re looking to get started, there are lots of videos online. Here are my recommendations:

  1. How to Cast Artisan Keycaps with Silicone and Resin is a comprehensive guide to making your first keycaps. They also have other videos for advanced techniques.
  2. Making Custom Resin Keycaps is a recent video showcasing how to make different types of keys. I wish I had this as a reference when I first started. It would’ve saved a lot of time.
  3. Cloudy Sky Resin Key Caps is quite a bit different from the first two videos by using off-the-shelf molds. Due to the mold design, you won’t get precise fitting of the keyboard and the keycap, but this is super low investment. You only need resin and the mold. This is all the fun of keycap making with minimal work.

I use the same concept from video #2 to design my molds and actually cast with the technique described in video #1.

Here are my posts:

  1. How to Cast Embedded Keycaps – It took me a long time to figure out for embedded keycaps, you need to cast the bottom piece first (the part with the stem) and then invert it into a well of resin. I tried all sorts of unsuccessful ways to cast the top piece first. If only I had :Making Custom Resin Keycaps” for reference.
  2. Materials for Making Keycaps – Everything you need to get started with L2K casting

There are a lot of non-keycap resin artists with great videos for inspiration:

Artsy Madwoman is my favorite. She has a vibrant personality posts many videos on colorful projects

I’d been avoiding using paint in my keycaps and restricting myself to resin. I’d felt using paint was “cheating” and a slippery slope to where I’d buy tiny plastic figurines from eBay and plop them in pre-fabricated molds. All of the artistic challenges would be gone.

But it’s 2020!

So what if I’m making keycaps in easy mode. I should go easy on myself and my hobbies.

So here are some easy mode keys:

acrylic keycaps

mint star chip

cocentric

^ This one is actually all resin. I’m including it ’cause I like the colors.

pond keycap

bright stars

Even though acrylic paint makes the surface a little more textured, the colors really pop. I actually like them a lot.

More acrylic keycaps to come.