Making Membrane Keypads From Scratch

A few years ago, [Paul]’s son got a simple electronic toy that plays funny noises and sings to him. The son loves the toy, but after months and months of use, the toy was inevitably broken beyond repair. Figuring an ‘electronic box that plays sounds’ wouldn’t be a hard project to replicate, [Paul] set out on making his own. The electronics weren’t hard, but custom membrane keypads are hard to come by. No matter, because it’s actually pretty easy to build your own.

Membrane switches are usually made with silkscreen conductive inks on fancy plastic, but that’s not a requirement to build your own. All you really need are four layers – a ‘front decal’, a ‘top foil’ layer for the rows, a ‘bottom foil’ layer for the columns, and a ‘cutout’ layer that provides enough separation between the rows and columns.

[Peter] laid out the four layers in Illustrator, printed the layers, and covered the rows and columns with copper tape. The cutout layer is the crucial part that keeps the layers separated until the button is pressed, and that was just a piece of card stock with strategically placed holes.

Once the rows, columns, and other layers were glued up, [Peter] could connect this keypad up to a microcontroller. The code is very easy with the Arduino keypad library, and should stand up to the rigors of being handled by a child.