Author Topic: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps  (Read 15856 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« on: Thu, 07 June 2018, 12:27:12 »
Hallo and Guten Tag everyone,

as hinted on my "Arke" Keyboard thread, I have bin experimenting with adding text to blank keycaps for a while now.
And I finally after thinking about a possible way and trying different processes every now and than for about 3 month I found and easy way (if you have something like a laser-engraver).

The laser alone did not do the trick on blank PBT-Keycaps. But what did was adding a thin coat of printer toner and turning down the laser.

You find my complete guide in this video: Printing on KeyCaps (or any other plastic)

197421-0
(of cause this works with color to [see video])


Gratings

Max

Offline Kilgarah

  • Posts: 47
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #1 on: Thu, 07 June 2018, 12:40:08 »
Hallo and Guten Tag everyone,

as hinted on my "Arke" Keyboard thread, I have bin experimenting with adding text to blank keycaps for a while now.
And I finally after thinking about a possible way and trying different processes every now and than for about 3 month I found and easy way (if you have something like a laser-engraver).

The laser alone did not do the trick on blank PBT-Keycaps. But what did was adding a thin coat of printer toner and turning down the laser.

You find my complete guide in this video: Printing on KeyCaps (or any other plastic)

(Attachment Link)
(of cause this works with color to [see video])


Gratings

Max
Wow, this is super cool. How well would this hold up over time compared to something else that people can do at home like dye sublimation?

Sent from my SM-G955U1 using Tapatalk


Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #2 on: Fri, 08 June 2018, 03:52:07 »
First a Tldnw: Put toner from a laser printer on the keycap and melt it with a laser where you want it to fuse with the cap.

I can't draw a final conclusion to how well this lasts over time since I did this for the first time about 3 days ago.
But I started making a full set for testing.

Here is a picture of what it looks like when you rub of the toner with some acetone (which will dissolve the toner).
There is no way you could get more wear then this, but how long it takes to get to this point by using them the normal way I can't say atm.

197562-0

Offline DeTommie

  • Posts: 17
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #3 on: Fri, 08 June 2018, 05:07:19 »
Great video (and moustache). Good find on this technique.

Have you tried to first trace the contour and then fill it in? I think this will get rid of the jagged edges.

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #4 on: Fri, 08 June 2018, 08:41:49 »
Have you tried to first trace the contour and then fill it in? I think this will get rid of the jagged edges.

Good point. I thought about it but somehow missed trying it :confused:
Will give it a try and report back ;)

Meanwhile here is one I did with just some random "Nailart pigments" off of ebay.
These Pigments are basically also only colored plastics  ;)





Offline vvp

  • Posts: 803
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #5 on: Fri, 08 June 2018, 13:34:20 »
That's cool :)

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #6 on: Fri, 08 June 2018, 15:31:18 »
sorry for spamming my own thread but am experimenting all day with this.

I did a full set for long term testing, and will report back when some letters went down the stream ;)
197617-0

and here is a cap where i first used black laser printer pigments and than golden nail art pigments.
The gold pigment particles are relatively big compared to those of the printer, so the tiny details get lost, but it works :D
197619-1
« Last Edit: Fri, 08 June 2018, 15:33:31 by xack »

Offline vvp

  • Posts: 803
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #7 on: Sat, 09 June 2018, 04:54:17 »
sorry for spamming my own thread but am experimenting all day with this.
Don't worry and continue. I like your cap printing experiments.

Offline DiodeHead

  • Posts: 14
  • Location: Spain
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #8 on: Sat, 09 June 2018, 09:45:15 »
another cool thing to try is powder coating paint, with this you have plenty of colors to choose from and I think it works kinda like toner, it is heat cured so maybe the laser could make a good job on printing the details, also its very fine powder too.

Offline Giorgio

  • Posts: 1846
  • Location: Italy
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #9 on: Sat, 09 June 2018, 09:51:54 »
First a Tldnw: Put toner from a laser printer on the keycap and melt it with a laser where you want it to fuse with the cap.

I can't draw a final conclusion to how well this lasts over time since I did this for the first time about 3 days ago.
But I started making a full set for testing.

Here is a picture of what it looks like when you rub of the toner with some acetone (which will dissolve the toner).
There is no way you could get more wear then this, but how long it takes to get to this point by using them the normal way I can't say atm.

(Attachment Link)

Just print a keycap with a black pattern (uniformly spaced stripes) and then cut it. You'll see how deep the colour goes.

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #10 on: Sat, 09 June 2018, 13:50:42 »
another cool thing to try is powder coating paint, with this you have plenty of colors to choose from and I think it works kinda like toner, it is heat cured so maybe the laser could make a good job on printing the details, also its very fine powder too.

good call, have to see where I can get some tiny amounts but yes same principle, should work. Also one could premelt it with a laser and than bake it for a better finish.

Just print a keycap with a black pattern (uniformly spaced stripes) and then cut it. You'll see how deep the colour goes.

Ok I tried it but penetration is almost not there, an also wear dose not only depend on how deep it penetrates but how resistant the coating is to mechanical erosion. Also you could get a thicker coating by just repeating the process or getting a thicker initial layer of pigment (maybe by using static attraction).
However here is a picture of a cut keycap under my crappy USB-Microscope. When I find the time I might try again on a proper microscope at university.
197668-0

In other news: I switched my process to a vector based in LaserWeb 4.0 and this gets rid of the jagged edges and gives a much cleaner result.
197670-1

Anyways since the keyboard is now fully decked out with self printed caps we will see how long that lasts.
Just to make sure: I don't claim to have invented "the best" process. It's an pretty easy way to do something like that at home. Nothing more, nothing less  ;)
 

Offline T14

  • Posts: 31
  • Location: Northern Denmark
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #11 on: Sat, 09 June 2018, 14:22:19 »
It is a freaking thing of beauty  :thumb:

I'll need to see if my local hackerspace has anything resembling the hardware needed for this process. Oh, the possibilities!
-T14
Autocorrect is my worst enema.

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #12 on: Sat, 09 June 2018, 15:56:14 »
all you need is a laser and even on made from an old cd burner diode would have enough power ;) On a CO2 laser you might need to go very fast and with minimum power to not evaporate the pigments but that's what a makerspace should have  ;D

Offline Giorgio

  • Posts: 1846
  • Location: Italy
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #13 on: Sun, 10 June 2018, 01:25:36 »
Going deeper could involve heating a little bit the keycap, or using a little bit of solvent in the invested area (wait until it evaporates). Anyway there's no reason why this should last more than laser burnt keycap. Nice results, but sadly not durable, probably even with the suggested improvements.
« Last Edit: Sun, 10 June 2018, 01:53:07 by Giorgio »

Offline Giorgio

  • Posts: 1846
  • Location: Italy
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #14 on: Sun, 10 June 2018, 01:59:19 »
197759-0

Offline Giorgio

  • Posts: 1846
  • Location: Italy
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #15 on: Sun, 10 June 2018, 02:10:34 »
Try to mark super shiny plastic and try to use some of the commercially available pigments. No need to reinvent the wheel!

 ..."Leading suppliers of custom color and additive masterbatches for laser marking are Clariant and PolyOne."

Operating in an oxygen deprived setting could allow to reach higher temperatures and higher penetration without burning marks
« Last Edit: Sun, 10 June 2018, 02:24:18 by Giorgio »

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #16 on: Sun, 10 June 2018, 07:43:45 »
hehe thx for your input :)
any meltable pigment will do the trick I think. I happen to have a friend working for clariant so I will ask him if he can arrange a tiny amount of the pigment... Problem is als with powder coating pigments, that I don't need kilos.

Operating in an oxygen deprived setting could allow to reach higher temperatures and higher penetration without burning marks

Shielding gas is a good idea but not that easy to do in my apartment ;)
Also the laser will not necessarily burn but even evaporate  the pigments

Offline Giorgio

  • Posts: 1846
  • Location: Italy
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #17 on: Sun, 10 June 2018, 08:54:54 »
Thanks for your answer. Why don't you consider abs? It melts too easily?

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #18 on: Sun, 10 June 2018, 16:10:52 »
ABS should work the same but I had a pile of cheap PBT blanks, so this is what I used for my first tests.

Offline DeTommie

  • Posts: 17
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #19 on: Mon, 11 June 2018, 02:28:18 »
In other news: I switched my process to a vector based in LaserWeb 4.0 and this gets rid of the jagged edges and gives a much cleaner result.

The vector-based approach has a stunning result. Well done!

Offline Giorgio

  • Posts: 1846
  • Location: Italy
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #20 on: Fri, 15 June 2018, 16:01:19 »
You could try to do a negative printing experiment.
Fill uniformly the surface of the keycap except the shape of the letter, which isn't printed.

Offline fpazos

  • Posts: 56
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #21 on: Tue, 19 June 2018, 09:28:51 »
hahahaha I just read the thread, it is interesting how some people answered the same questions as me on the other thread. Good improvement using vectors.

I hope to join your experiments as soon as possible.

Talking about printing on plastic I also saw that you can dye it. Mostly using clothing dye mixed with acetone or just using heat, you can find some info just googleing it. It is more intended to dye entire parts rather than just printing something but maybe it has possibilities.
 

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #22 on: Mon, 02 July 2018, 16:30:23 »
good idea, it might be possible to modify an incjet printer to print the dye directly onto the keycap.
Some thoughts on that:
- the coloring might not be intense enough
- I don't know if the color will bleed into the unprinted area
- coloring (as far as i know) only works with pbt caps

But that shall not mean it would not be worth trying ;)
Might give it a go when I ever finish my other projects :confused:

Offline fpazos

  • Posts: 56
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #23 on: Tue, 11 September 2018, 01:05:41 »
Hi again!! I got some kaikh low profile keycaps for a keyboard on which I am working now. These are perfect for custom legends because they are made of a translucent plastic, covered with a thin color surface (black or white). So you can add legends using laser ablation or just sanding the surface.
« Last Edit: Tue, 11 September 2018, 01:17:11 by fpazos »
 

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #24 on: Sun, 10 March 2019, 13:13:23 »
Ok sorry that I dig this up again, but I think I owe you all an update on the long term durability of this printing method.
Following are some close up pictures of my daily driver board since my first post on this topic (89 days ago).

Some more information:
I touch type (qwertz) so my fingers always rest on the home row.
I guess I type 70% English and 30% German (just for reference on the key use).
The switches underneath are Kailh Box White, I tend to slightly bottom out and am right handed.
While making the keyset I changed some settings and since its a manual process of coating the caps there is a slide variation right from the start.

As you can see the home row is pretty warn down, especially the D-key. The C-key also looks pretty bad.
Other pretty commonly used keys like R are less worn. Also the right side of the board is in better shape than the left one.

Overall I think the printing process is good but not awesome. Making a full keyboard was also more of an extreme test.
This process should only be used for decorative special keys and not for your main chars.
Also I depends strongly on finding the right settings to get really durable results.
 

DISCLAIMER
This Keyboard was in daily use in my dusty workshop/office. I did not clean it before taking these pictures. You have been warned  ;)


Offline suicidal_orange

  • * Global Moderator
  • Posts: 3447
  • Location: England
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #25 on: Sun, 10 March 2019, 13:53:55 »
Thanks for the update, looks like your legends last longer than some pad printed caps - not bad at all :thumb:
                               
Ducky Zero, MX Reds    JD40, Jailhouse Blues           GH60
Soarer controller

Offline tex_live_utility

  • Posts: 817
  • MX brown apologist
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #26 on: Mon, 11 March 2019, 14:54:08 »
Nice job! I wonder how hard it would be to laser-etch the front face of the keycap instead of the top, since the front face will basically never get worn out.
Discord: salt rock lamp#0679
Reddit: /u/nerdponx
Deskthority: autoload -Uz
Keebtalk: salt_rock_lamp

Offline MaxW

  • Posts: 1
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #27 on: Thu, 14 March 2019, 17:24:36 »
Nice job! I wonder how hard it would be to laser-etch the front face of the keycap instead of the top, since the front face will basically never get worn out.

You sir, are a freaking genius! I see myself printing some kind of perfect angelnd mx holder and etching keys on the side. I - need - a - laser - damnit!

Ok sorry that I dig this up again, but I think I owe you all an update on the long term durability of this printing method.
Following are some close up pictures of my daily driver board since my first post on this topic (89 days ago).

{..}


Thanks for the detailed reply. i am suprised how well they hold the color. Thank you!

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #28 on: Sun, 17 March 2019, 16:27:14 »
Nice job! I wonder how hard it would be to laser-etch the front face of the keycap instead of the top, since the front face will basically never get worn out.

You sir, are a freaking genius! I see myself printing some kind of perfect angelnd mx holder and etching keys on the side. I - need - a - laser - damnit!


yep great idea and exactly what i would do. Design a holder that holds the keycap perpendicular with the face you want to mark to the laser and it should work fine. If you don't focus the beam to close even slightly sloped surfaces (like on DSA/SA) should not be a problem ;)

Offline ritt02

  • Posts: 1
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #29 on: Mon, 18 March 2019, 16:56:00 »
yep great idea and exactly what i would do.

It's funny that you just resurrected this thread because before you did, a couple weeks ago, I stumbled across this and decided to try it out.  I just got an ergodox and I use 4 layers and there's no way I can remember what every key is on every layer.  The toner trick was perfect because I can use different colors for different layers.

In my pics, you can see the result.  Please note I didn't do the A-Z letters and I didn't do the 0-9 numbers, as well as a few of the symbols.  There's definitely a lot I could do to make them look better/more consistent if I had more time (I have kids so my time is limited for personal projects).

There are also a few keys (esc, shift, and apostrophe) where my laser did something goofy and created markings where there shouldn't be.  Not sure how I did that.  Again, probably just need to be more careful.  Custom making each character vs taking screenshots from an image of a board would be much better as well.  One thing I learned is that the fused toner will be wider than the engraving would be without toner (presumably because the heat of the laser is fusing toner next to the laser, not just under it).  So if I did this again, and time wasn't an issue, I'd custom make each character, using thinner lines and a template for consistent sizing between different character types. I also would want a better jig on my engraver to ensure the keycaps were properly aligned.

If anyone else tries this, please note that not only consistently applied toner, but the thickness of the toner makes a huge difference.  Some of the cyan/magenta keys are hard to scratch off and some are easy to scratch off - the only difference really being toner thickness which is very hard to control.  But since most of mine were done on the sides of the keys, it wasn't much of a concern.  None of them wipe off, even with water, so I'm not too worried about longevity on most of these.
« Last Edit: Sun, 07 April 2019, 19:40:40 by ritt02 »

Offline xack

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 49
    • Make'n'Modify
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #30 on: Tue, 30 April 2019, 04:56:56 »
Sorry for the late response.

Awesome that you bravely jumped into it and made a hole keyboard that way  :thumb:
Yea it takes some practice to get it perfect but at least blank DSA caps are relatively cheap.

Thanks for your feedback :D

Offline judison

  • Posts: 2
  • Location: São Paulo, Brasil
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #31 on: Sat, 06 July 2019, 19:07:32 »
Hi,

I bought a dirty cheap laser engraver because of this post (inspirational video, tks)
Its a Neje DK-8-KZ
It came with a marker pen (those for whiteboard) and that pen seens to work like the toner. (I think its easier to use)

With black I used 6ms of burn time, took some time to figure out...





Then I bought some colored whiteboard markers...
Didn't worked with 6ms;
Red around 20ms, green 30ms, blue 60ms (numbers from first/second try, maybe there's room for improvement)



(The color esc key is a test subject, it received 5 "engravings" so there's some blue "pixels" to the left.)

(Sorry for the dirty keeb)

I center the key on the engraver, I have a image with one pixel dot in each corner, 148x148 px  size so when you hit preview it will "show" the entire key for positioning...
I apply  the marker and start engraving.
After its done (~ 5s), I rub the key with a cloth with alcohol.

Offline vvp

  • Posts: 803
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #32 on: Sun, 07 July 2019, 04:16:00 »
Interesting.
It is a cleaner job to work with a white-board marker than with a toner.

Offline Capsmiths

  • Posts: 21
    • Capsmiths
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #33 on: Mon, 15 July 2019, 16:55:26 »
Hi,

I bought a dirty cheap laser engraver because of this post (inspirational video, tks)
Its a Neje DK-8-KZ
It came with a marker pen (those for whiteboard) and that pen seens to work like the toner. (I think its easier to use)

With black I used 6ms of burn time, took some time to figure out...

Then I bought some colored whiteboard markers...
Didn't worked with 6ms;
Red around 20ms, green 30ms, blue 60ms (numbers from first/second try, maybe there's room for improvement)


(The color esc key is a test subject, it received 5 "engravings" so there's some blue "pixels" to the left.)

(Sorry for the dirty keeb)

I center the key on the engraver, I have a image with one pixel dot in each corner, 148x148 px  size so when you hit preview it will "show" the entire key for positioning...
I apply  the marker and start engraving.
After its done (~ 5s), I rub the key with a cloth with alcohol.

How easy was it to get this set up? I was buying custom printed/etched keycaps but it seems like its not too complicated.

Offline Hak Foo

  • Posts: 1233
  • Make America Clicky Again!
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #34 on: Wed, 24 July 2019, 21:45:13 »
Well, I just shelled out $54 for the engraver to see how it works with that set of XDA blanks I bought.

I'm thinking it might make sense to mount a jig to the base to do caps in a systematic manner if you have 100+ to do like me
Home: Tactile Pro 4 PC
Work: Customizer 104
Spare: Quickfire XT, Greens, Retro DSA

Offline Hak Foo

  • Posts: 1233
  • Make America Clicky Again!
Re: How you can add printing on blank KeyCaps
« Reply #35 on: Wed, 31 July 2019, 23:56:02 »
Okay, quick mini-review:

The results are pretty decent-- little obvious pixelation and surprisingly good fine detail, but it would probably help dramatically if you prepared some hard cardboard/plastic/metal fittings to snap the cap into an exact predictable location on the print bed.  Trying to eyeball it results in worse-than-Unicomp-level legend misalignment.  The preview sort of helps, but not much, since it only traces the outer bound of the image.

The software is somewhat less than helpful for some use cases-- it tries to always draw around the center of the tray, and it crops whitespace from PNG images at least, so you'd likely have to do a lot of manual alignment if you want legends aligned in the corners of the caps.  There is another package called ezGraver which might be worth considering, but I couldn't get it working immediately so I went with the known quantity for testing.

There seemed to be an odd bug with some images-- the ": ;" design would send the engraver into a tizzy, driliing to far right and making horrible noises.  It seems like it has problems with images less than maybe 10 pixels wide, as tweaking the image to be a bit wider seemed to print fine.

I'd probably want to redo about 20% of the keys on this boaard given a chance, so I might buy another set (thank goodness KPRepublic is stocking them... as an Alps enthusiast options are depressingly few and far between.)

I tried it on both the PBT blanks and some old Alpine Winter ABS blanks from Signature Plastics.  At the 6ms setting with the marker pen, both picked up quite readable legends, but the ABS caps emitted a burning aroma.
Home: Tactile Pro 4 PC
Work: Customizer 104
Spare: Quickfire XT, Greens, Retro DSA