DIY Keyboard Backlighting Takes Forever, Worth It

LED Keyboard with Custom Lights

Want a back-lit keyboard? Make one yourself. Though you may not want to after seeing this build by [prodigydoo], who devoted 40 hours to upgrade his mechanical keyboard with a smattering of shiny.

No eye rolling just yet, though, because [prodigydoo's] work is a monument to meticulous craftsmanship and dedication. So what if he accidentally dropped the keyboard’s PCB and cracked it? He patched that up with a few wires in true hacker-problem-solving fashion and no one will ever know.

With the electronics “safely” removed, [prodigydoo] set about desoldering every single key switch, then carefully detaching and disassembling the Cherry MX Blues. He then inserted an LED into each switch’s backplate, reassembled them, mounted the keys back on the board, then added some current-limiting resistors and heat shrink to the circuit. [prodigydoo] cut a few necessary holes for a power switch, state indicator LEDs (Caps Lock, etc.) and some under-the-board lighting, then rounded off the build by hooking up a power supply capable of running all the lights.

No microcontroller? No RGBLEDs? We like it anyway, and it seems [prodigydoo] is glad he kept it simple. Go check out the gallery for gritty details, an explanation of the circuit, and more pictures than your family vacation album.

Comments

  1. jpnorair says:

    This is a great build, but the thing I like most is simply that it’s Dvorak. Your layout is indeed the hardest core of Dvorak layouts. I tip my hat to you, sir.

  2. carcanhol says:

    Very nice. But if it was me, i would have used uv led and uv reactive keys.

  3. macona says:

    Wow, I think I would have given up halfway though and thrown the whole thing in the trash.

    • aztraph says:

      I would have given up after I got done and have it not work. The potential for failure with something this complex would be much higher given the number of parts, I would have thrown it away and started again with new parts rather than troubleshooting it. Amazing amounts of patience,

  4. Jan says:

    Man, hats off to the patience building this up. Not my cup of tea, but still impressive workmanship.

    However, why the heck didn’t he use SMD LEDs?! It would have been a lot simpler mechanically as they are a lot smaller. Glue the LED inside the switch and the use thin magnet wire to connect everything together.

    Some people were asking about why not RGB LEDs – I wouldn’t want to have to wire 3x as many pins! In that case the “smart” LEDs with the built-in serial driver chip would have been better, but probably would have cost more than a factory-made backlit keyboard alone.

    However, what I am really missing on this build is some sort of PWM brightness control – that is very important especially in the evenings.

  5. hckdcmmnt says:

    This ratsnets screams for a custom PCB…
    Would have made using RGB leds easier too!

  6. preamp says:

    Wow, impressive work!

    I’ve always wanted to do something like this, just a little more crazy. I’d have used dual color LEDs (like white and red), so that they switch color for every single key as long as it’s pressed. Should be pretty close to impossibe without making a completely new PCB though.

  7. heatgap says:

    So sweet. I have wanted to do this for so long but I didn’t want to foul up my Cherry switches (I have terribly shakey hands now in my 30s) by missing the solder points and hitting the plastic. No I can no longer tinker with SMD either. I’m jealous!

  8. Ogre-M says:

    Couldn’t pay me to do that. :/

  9. rasz_pl says:

    I cleaned my laptop keyboard over the weekend
    -removed all keys
    -removed all switches
    -removed rubber sheet
    -removed flex sheets with membranes
    -vacuumed dust, dead skin sells, cat fur, random ginger pubic hair, bread crumbs
    -washed all the keys in detergent
    -finally put it back together

    took me few hours (im slow and lazy). I through this was stupid and I should just buy a new laptop keyboard (probably $20 on scam_bay directly from china), but THIS? soldering/desoldering every key, then diodes?????? and the effect is not that great to begin with :/
    Personally I love backlit keyboards, but only those using solid keys with moulded in transparent plastic symbols, so only the symbol of the key is lit.

  10. Bogdan says:

    That webpage needs over 3GB of RAM when opened.
    I admire the guy for the patience, even though I see no purpose for back lit keyboards.
    Still, putting SMD LEDs on top of the buttons would have been waaaay easier.

  11. enosys says:

    I find that using a DIP IC puller makes getting those keys off pretty easy. As for the hacked up space bar holes, the same sort of mess can be found in the Rosewill keyboard that I have.

    Overall, that’s a job well done!

  12. pcf11 says:

    I have jumped out cracked printed circuit boards and as simple as it sounds to do I’ve had less than success doing it.

  13. That wire THAT WIRE

  14. Pedro says:

    this is so overkill. a simple hack can be made with el wire…. with better results actually. I’ve done it. It took me about 1 hour… it’s also a lot cheaper..

  15. Jordan says:

    Im actually working on a WS2812B based RGB backlit keyboard right now. I came across one of those old apple extended keyboards that comes with the old apple G3s and had to completely disassemble it to clean it properly. I figured i might as well make it look sweet while im there. there’s a metal back plate right under the “plastic PCB” layers so im gonna machine out holes for an led under each key. All the keys are a greyish see through plastic and the entire case is plastic, so it should look pretty sweet!

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