So, you have dove deep into the mechanical keyboard rabbit hole and now want to know what an artisan keycap is? Well, thankfully, you have come to the right place. In this in-depth explainer, we will discuss everything about artisan keycaps, ranging from what they are, how they are made, where and how you can get them, and why even are they relevant in the unusual world of mechanical keyboards. Stick around till the end of this article to know everything about artisan keycaps.
Artisan Keycaps: Everything You Need to Know!
Now, below you will find various sections, explaining different aspects of artisan keycaps. You can scroll through the headings below and read all of them or jump to your desired section using the interactive Table of contents above.
What Are Artisan Keycaps?
Artisan keycaps are nothing but specialized keycaps for your mechanical keyboards that resemble a general keycap but come in quirky and intricate designs, that are typically handcrafted by artisan keycap makers. The first artisan keycaps originated back in the 2009-10 era and created a niche market for part-time artisan makers, collectors, and mechanical keyboard enthusiasts.
Initially, people used the popular social platform for everything-mechanical keyboards, Geekhack, to buy and sell artisan keycaps. However, as the mechanical keyboard hobby grew over the past years, many companies and design studios started their own artisan keycap brand to sell these specialized, hand-crafted keycaps to thousands of hobbyists around the world.
Currently, you can find numerous reputable companies and design studios and thousands of indie artists, making unique and intricate artisan keycaps to add an oomph factor to your custom mechanical keyboard(s).
Artisan Keycaps: Profile and Compatibility
Now, if you have been researching the mechanical keyboard hobby, I am sure you know about the different keycap profiles like Cherry, SA, MT3, OEM, and others. So, what profile does an artisan keycap comes in? And, are all artisan keycaps compatible with every mechanical key switch out there?
While there are no rules to crafting the top of artisan keycaps, they all should come with a compatible stem at the bottom to fit some of the most common mechanical key switches such as Cherry MX or Topre. Although the most common stem for artisan keycaps is the Cherry MX-style stem that fits all Cherry MX and Cherry MX clone switches like Gateron and JWK, some companies make artisan keycaps with TMX stems to support both Cherry MX- and Topre-style switches.
Now, coming to the keycap profile, artisan collectors and keyboard hobbyists prefer to put artisan keycaps on the first row (R1) of their mechanical keyboards. Hence, most artisan keycaps are crafted as R1 caps, most often to replace the Esc keycap or the F13 keycap (if the keyboard has an F13 key). So, more often than not, they come in an overall taller profile than other keycaps. However, it is worth mentioning that you can get artisan keycaps for various modifier keys such as spacebars, left shifts, Enter, and Backspace. Standard artisan keycap size ranges from 1u to 6.25u.
However, it is also worth mentioning that there are various designers and design studios that have their own proprietary profiles for their artisan keycaps. For instance, Jelly Key is a popular artisan keycap manufacturer that has its own, unique droplet-profile artisan keycaps along with other profiles like Cherry or SA.
How Are Artisan Keycaps Made?
The process of artisan keycap making can be a bit complex if you do not have the right skills or right tools. However, it is always good to know the basics of a topic that you are researching, and hence, we will go over some of the basic points of artisan keycap making.
Now, as aforementioned, most artisan keycaps are intricately handcrafted keycaps containing miniature designs or encapsulated objects or dioramas. So, the first step of producing an artisan keycap from scratch is creating a sculpture for the keycap subject. This can be done using clay or wax or via software and 3D printing.
While the latter might require more technical skills, handcrafting a keycap sculpture using clay or similar material require intricate artisan tools that may not be available easily. Many designers have been known to put together their own tools to fit their crafting needs.
After the sculpting process, designers use the original art piece to create several molds using mold-making silicone. They create a structure to surround the sculpt and the base of the artisan keycap. Then, the designers use specialized resin preparation, often containing various
additives such as colored dyes, UV-activated powders, and metallic powders, to design the artisan keycaps using the original art mold they created.
Source: Jelly Key
The designs on the artisan caps are created using a process called Resin Placement in which artisans use different techniques to place the specialized resin solution into the molds to produce a beautiful artisan cap. Some of the most common resin placement techniques include:
- Slush Casting
- Cold Casting
- Resin Writing
Following the resin placement process, designers seal both parts of the two-part mold – the sculpt and the base, together for the resin to cure inside. During this process, designers have to make sure that there is absolutely no air trapped inside the mold. This is because air bubbles can cause defects on the resin surface of the artisan keycap during the curing process.
Coming to the final step, the finishing process of the artisan keycap starts after it is taken out of the mold once the resin cures completely. This process includes clipping excess resin residues on the artisan keycap, sanding down the edges for smoothness, and inspecting for air bubbles or minor flaws.
Once this is complete, the designers use different platforms to sell their artisan keycaps to collectors and keyboard enthusiasts all over the world. While designers can sell fully-perfect artisan keycaps as A-stock at higher prices, they might sell some imperfect ones as B-stock at low prices or even as accessories such as keychains, badges, and magnets.
Where and How to Get Artisan Keycaps?
Now, when it comes to getting or buying artisan keycaps for your mechanical keyboard, there are many ways you can opt. For starters, you can check out e-commerce platforms like Etsy to find various artisan keycaps from individual designers and artists. However, if you want high-end, exclusive artisan keycaps that come with a novelty factor, you might need to join raffles or group buys.
What are Raffle Sales and Group Buys for Artisan Keycaps?
Raffle sales and group buys for artisan keycaps are nothing but ways of selling high-end, handcrafted artisan caps to interested buyers in batches.
If you have read my previous articles on mechanical keyboards, you might have already come across the term “group buy.” Group buys are held by manufacturers to sell keyboards, keycap sets, as well as artisan keycaps for a limited time or with a specific MOQ (minimum order quantity). So, if you join a group to buy an artisan keycap, you will need to pay the required amount beforehand and wait for days or maybe months to receive your purchase in hand.
Now, coming to raffles, it is another way of selling keyboards, typically high-end ones such as Kohaku or Keycult, artisan keycaps in which manufacturers share raffle forms for interested buyers on their Discord channels. Buyers need to fill up the form and submit it to the manufacturer. Furthermore, there are many other conditions that buyers need to comply with.
Then the manufacturer or designer of the artisan keycap will select certain buyers and will send out an email notification confirming their selection. At this stage, the buyer needs to pay the required amount for the raffle sale, including shipping, and wait for their artisan keycap to arrive. However, one downside of raffles is that if you join a raffle sale, get selected, and do not buy the product eventually, you might get banned from joining further raffle sales in that community. So, it is recommended that you join a raffle sale only when you are sure of buying the product, be it a keyboard or an artisan keycap.
Should You Get an Artisan Keycap for Your Mechanical Keyboard?
Now, the topic of whether or not you should get an artisan keycap for your mechanical keycap completely depends on your, wait for it, preference. Artisan keycaps are nothing but miniature art pieces that sit on your keyboard to add some extra flair to them.
So, the answer to whether you should get an artisan keycap for your keyboard really depends on whether or not you want to customize your desk or workspace in a specific way. Although there are a lot of budget options when it comes to general artisan keycaps in the market, high-end artisan caps usually cost more, up to $100. Whether or not you want to spend your hard-earned moolah on a single keycap is completely your decision.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is an artisan keycap?
An artisan keycap is a miniature keycap with unique, intricate, and handcrafted designs that fit standard Cherry MX and Cherry MX clone switches.
Why are artisan keycaps expensive?
Artisan keycaps are essentially handcrafted art pieces that are created by designers from scratch. It requires meticulous work, intricate tools, and complex techniques to produce artisan keycaps. These factors along with others such as market demand and exclusivity make artisan keycaps expensive.
Do artisan keycaps fit every keyboard?
Artisan keycaps are usually created to fit standard mechanical key switches such as Cherry MX switches, Topre switches, Alps, or Buckling Spring switches. So, while artisan keycaps will fit most mechanical keyboards, they will not fit standard membrane keyboards or mechanical keyboards with OEM stems such as those from Razer or Asus.
Capping…err., Wrapping Up!
So, there you have it! This was all about artisan keycaps, what they are, how they are made, and how you can buy them for your mechanical keyboard. We hope this article helped you understand what artisan keycaps are and why some of them can be expensive. If it did and somehow added value to your knowledge, let us know in the comments below.