Artisan keycaps have become a popular niche craft in the world of mechanical keyboards, allowing artists to express their creativity and design unique keycaps that stand out from the crowd. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll focus on the resin casting technique for making artisan keycaps. We’ll cover safety precautions, sculpting supplies, creating a master sculpture, making silicone rubber molds, casting resin, and adding finishing touches. For more information on choosing keycaps, check out this in-depth guide.
Safety Precautions and Workspace Preparation
When working with resin, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and ensure that you have a well-ventilated workspace. Protective equipment is necessary, including disposable nitrile gloves, safety glasses or goggles, and a respirator mask with organic vapor/acid gas cartridge filters. Always make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area to minimize exposure to harmful fumes.
Sculpting Supplies and Materials
Before starting, gather the essential sculpting supplies, which include:
- Sculpting clay (Super Sculpey Firm or Monster Clay)
- Sculpting tools (silicone sculpting tools and dental picks)
- Exacto knife for trimming and cleanup
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Lint-free foam swabs or applicators
These tools will help you sculpt the keycap master, which is a sculpture used to create silicone molds for resin casts.
Sculpting Tools and Materials
For sculpting, you’ll need:
- Super Sculpey Firm clay
- Z-butt aluminum sculpting base (heatproof if baking)
- Small ball tool
- Needle tool
- Pointed silicone tool
- Exacto knife/razor blades
- Dental pick
- 99% isopropyl alcohol & lint-free swabs
Creating the Master Sculpture
When creating a master sculpture, consider the design elements that can affect mold-making and resin casting. Complex nooks and crannies can create weak points in a mold, while horizontally protruding elements may make de-molding challenging. Also, consider the size of the access area and “well” for the resin when designing your keycap master.
For example, the Renewal design features three eggs clustered together and a highly detailed nest, presenting challenges for mold-making and resin casting.
Glazing the Keycap Master
To achieve a smoother result in resin casts, glaze the keycap master with a satin glaze. Keep in mind that this may make the keycap harder to paint later.
Making Silicone Rubber Molds
To make a silicone mold of your keycap master, gather the following materials:
- Clay master sculpt
- Containers for pouring silicone
- Stem cavity master
- Paper towels or shop towels
- Disposable gloves
- Mold release
- Foam cleaning swabs (recommended)
- Disposable cups
- Stir sticks (popsicle craft sticks or swizzle sticks)
- Kitchen scale (recommended or required depending on silicone)
- Two-part silicone rubber
- Pressure post (recommended)
Preparing the Mold Masters
Lightly spray your mold masters with mold release and use foam cleaning swabs to distribute and remove excess.
Mixing and Pouring Silicone Rubber
Mix parts A and B of the two-part platinum silicone rubber thoroughly in separate containers, then combine them and mix for 3 minutes. Pour the mixed silicone rubber into the container, covering the master sculpt but not the sprues of the stem cavity. Tap the container against a table to release trapped air.
Curing the Molds
Cure the molds by either covering them with a sheet of paper for 6 to 8
hours or placing them inside a pressure pot at 45 PSI for a minimum of 6 hours, with 8 to 10 hours recommended.
Trimming Excess Flashing
Before casting resin into the molds, trim excess flashing from the edges using flush cutters and an X-Acto knife.
Casting Resin Keycaps
You can choose between single-shot and multi-shot resin casting for your keycaps. Both methods have their advantages and challenges, so choose the one that suits your design best.
Tips for Successful Resin Casting
- Ensure your molds are clean and free of debris
- Mix the resin according to the manufacturer’s instructions
- Pour the resin slowly to avoid air bubbles
- Allow the resin to cure fully before demolding
Hand-Painting the Resin Keycaps
For an added touch of creativity, you can hand-paint your resin keycaps using acrylic paints or other suitable materials. Be patient, take your time, and use fine brushes for detailed work.
Polishing and Varnishing the Finished Product
After painting, polish and varnish your keycaps to protect the surface and add a professional finish. Use a clear, durable varnish that won’t yellow over time, and apply it in thin, even coats.
Alternative Keycap Crafting Techniques
While this guide focused on resin casting, there are other techniques available for making artisan keycaps, including:
- Polymer clay
- 3D printing
- Injection molding
- CNC machining
Each technique has its pros and cons, so explore the options and choose the one that best fits your needs and preferences. For more information on keycap customization, check out this article on DIY keycap pullers and this list of the best keycap sets.
Embrace Your Creativity with Artisan Keycaps
Making artisan keycaps is a unique and rewarding hobby that allows you to express your creativity and customize your mechanical keyboard. With patience, practice, and attention to detail, you can create stunning keycaps that will be the envy of fellow keyboard enthusiasts. So go ahead, dive into the world of artisan keycaps, and let your imagination run wild!
Expanding Your Artisan Keycap Skills
As you continue to explore the world of artisan keycaps, you can develop new techniques and experiment with different materials to create even more intricate and unique designs. Here are some suggestions for expanding your skillset and taking your keycaps to the next level.
Experiment with Color and Texture
Experiment with various color combinations, gradients, and textures to create visually striking keycaps. You can achieve different effects by using pigments, dyes, or even incorporating other materials like metal flakes or iridescent powders into your resin.
Master Multi-Shot Casting
While single-shot casting is a great starting point, mastering multi-shot casting allows you to create more complex and detailed keycaps. This technique involves casting multiple layers of resin with different colors or effects, enabling you to produce intricate designs that stand out from the crowd.
Collaborate with Other Artists
Connect with other keycap artisans and share tips, techniques, and ideas. Collaborating with fellow artists can provide inspiration, help you learn new skills, and even lead to joint projects that showcase your combined talents.
Attend Workshops and Conferences
Participating in workshops and conferences dedicated to artisan keycaps can further expand your knowledge and skills. These events often feature demonstrations, hands-on activities, and opportunities to learn from experienced artisans. Plus, they’re a great way to network and make new friends in the keycap community.
Showcase Your Work Online
Share your creations on social media platforms, forums, or even start your own blog or YouTube channel to showcase your work. By sharing your keycaps and the process behind them, you can inspire others, receive valuable feedback, and potentially generate interest from potential buyers or collaborators.
Turn Your Hobby into a Business
If you’re passionate about making artisan keycaps and have honed your skills, consider turning your hobby into a business. You can sell your creations online through platforms like Etsy, or even start your own website to showcase and sell your keycaps. Additionally, you can offer custom commissions or limited edition series to attract more customers.
Keep Learning and Growing as an Artisan Keycap Maker
The world of artisan keycaps offers endless opportunities for creativity, learning, and growth. As you continue to develop your skills and experiment with new techniques and materials, you’ll be able to create increasingly unique and impressive keycaps. So, keep pushing your limits, learning from others, and embracing the challenges that come with this rewarding craft. Happy keycap making!