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“You have a replacement key for your keyboard… And it is a grilled cheese sandwich?”
“So it’s like… Jewelry for your keyboard.”
This just about sums up the idea of artisan keycaps (No, they are not all grilled cheese sandwiches). Simply put, they are specially made and designed keycaps that many enthusiasts in the custom mechanical keyboard hobby enjoy collecting. They come in all shapes and sizes and are some are even made to match the color scheme of your set up. This article will be more of an introductory one where I will cover some of the better known artisan keycap makers, their works, how keycaps are made, and also some from my own collection.
Fair warning: collecting Artisan Keycaps is extremely addictive. Even those that are not susceptible to making large, frequent, purchases on things may become hooked. Please proceed with caution. The good news is that artisan keycaps, as with most custom keyboard components, do a good job of retaining value and some rare artisans can even end up selling for higher than you purchased it for in the aftermarket.
Here’s a quick gallery of some artisan keycaps from my own collection and some belonging to friends:
Different Types of Artisan Keycaps
A majority of artisan keycaps are made from resin. The process itself is deceptively simple: make a master sculpture, make a mold, cast the resin. Though the process seems simple, keep in mind that these things are TINY and it is extremely difficult to achieve a high level of detail in the sculpture. Not only that, but the resin casting process itself requires a lot of finesse (not to mention expensive equipment for decent product). This is why big names in the artisan keycap business like Keyforge are sought after and the higher sale prices are justified. Here is an example of a Keyforge keycap that I received:
After the original sculpture (“sculpt) is created, the artisan will create molds and cast resin with the molds. The resin casting also requires a lot of technique and different color schemes are produced by mixing colors and playing with the chemistry of the blend that is used for the cast. Some artisans create plain keycaps shapes and profiles with unique figures or patterns inside the caps like the ones from Primecaps (right) and Jelly Keys (left).
There are also artisans keycaps that are made of aluminum and other metals that are milled using expensive equipment. The 3x RAMA Kuro Wave SEQ 2 keycaps I have on my work keyboard (from What’s On My Desk? Ep. 1) is an example of a metal artisan keycap. These are made from anodized aluminum and give those keys a nice “clink” sound when they are pressed. There was also a keycap maker by the name JL Titanium that produced two of my absolute favorite keycaps, the Titanium Honeycomb and “Catwish.” Of course, being produced in small batches and made of … you guessed it: Titanium, these keycaps were actually pretty expensive at $125 for the Honeycomb and $141.99 for the Catwish after shipping. Although I still love these Titanium keycaps, since the brand is not as recognized, it is highly likely that I would only be able to sell the keycaps fo much less in the aftermarket if I needed/wanted to.
Handmade Clay Keycaps
While these are more uncommon, there have been a few artisans that have been able to make a name for themselves in the hobby. My favorite is Charm Caps who has been missing for a while now. Charm caps specialized in making delicious looking keycaps that are the pride of my personal collection:
Another famous Clay Artisan Keycap maker who has a big following is Tiny, who you can find making cute little hamburgers, Kirby keycaps, and little pastel Yetis. You can see more of her work on her instagram.