They say experience is the best teacher, and experience tells us they are right. When [Thomas Thiel] couldn’t find any resources about re-creating the groovy ‘caps of thocky old keebs like the Space Cadet and the C64 (or find any to buy), it was time for a little keycap experimentation.
These babies are printed in black resin and the inlay is made with white air-dry clay. After printing, they are sprayed with acrylic, and then [Thomas] works a generous amount of clay into the grooves and seals the whole thing with clear spray. [Thomas] soon figured out that the grooves had to be pretty deep for this to work right — at least 1 mm. And he had better luck thick fonts like Arial Black instead of thin fonts.
Of course, as [Thomas] mentions, you’re not restricted to white or even air-dry clay. You could go nuts with colored clay and make a retro-RGB clackable rainbow.
Still not tactile or custom enough for you? These hand-stitched keycaps are technically re-legendable, though it would take a considerable amount of time.
There were some truly bizarre computer keyboards in the 1980s and 90s. The Maltron keyboard was a mass of injection-molded plastic with two deep dishes for all the keys. The Kinesis Advantage keyboard was likewise weird, placing the keys on the inside of a hemisphere. This was a magical time for experimentations on human-computer physical interaction, the likes of which we haven’t seen since.
Now, though, we have 3D printers, easy to use microcontrollers, and Digikey. We can make our own keyboards, and make them in any shape we want. That’s what [Andrey]’s doing. The 32XE is an ergonomic keyboard and trackball combo made for both hands.
The keyboard has curved palm rests, a trackball under the right thumb, and is powered by the ever popular DIY mechanical keyboard microcontroller, the Teensy 2.0. This keyboard is equipped with a trackball, and that means [Andrey] needed a bit of extra electronics to handle that. The mouse/trackball sensor is built around the ADNS-9800 laser motion sensor conveniently available on Tindie. This laser mouse breakout board is built into the bottom of the keyboard, with enough space above it to hold a trackball… ball.
Since this is a very strange and completely custom keyboard, normal mechanical keyboard keycaps are out of the question. Instead, [Andrey] 3D printed his own keycaps on an FDM printer. Printing keyboard keycaps on a filament-based printer is extremely difficult — the tolerances for the connector between the switch and cap are tiny, and nearly at the limit of the resolution of a desktop filament printer. [Andrey] is taking it even further with inlaid keyboard legends. He’s created a keycap set with two color legends on two sides of the keycaps. If you’ve ever wanted to print keycaps on a 3D printer, this is a project to study.