It’s difficult to describe the sense of relief as we sent out the last Meowcap B-Stock. The elation and sense of accomplishment was short lived. A recurring theme in my personal creative process has always been a dissatisfaction of what I’m currently working on and the constant urge to begin a new project. I’m sure many of you can relate. This feeling was not an exception during Meowcaps.
When Koala-T created the prototype for Meowcaps, I was still determined to make blanks for my Topre boards. Afterall, it was the driving force that plunged me into the world of artisan keycaps in the first place. By then, I had already completed prototyping for 1u caps. Stock Topre keycaps have a satisfying “pop” sound when you pushed it into the housing. It was this “pop” sound that would later become a benchmark for which I would hold all my future casts.
The thinness of stock Topre caps left much to be desired. One truth can be said about the mech enthusiast community. Girth is king. The thicker the better. Why? Some would argue that the thickness of the keycap provides better acoustics during the down/upstroke. Others simply like the robust feel over thin ABS caps. From a design perspective, thicker walls make sense. It gives the artisan slightly more room to work with. Processes like embedment would be much more difficult if the base of the keycap wasn’t reinforced. Furthermore, resin will inevitably lose structural integrity as it becomes thinner.
Why mention thicknesses? Simply put, it became one of the most challenging aspects of creating a satisfactory blank. When dealing with keycaps, you are working with such small scale and proportion. Because of the nature of how keycaps fit their respective stems, a few nanometers of deviation can be the difference between a loose or tight fit. It could be the difference between a scoffable girth or a keycap that isn’t seated properly. Once you throw in the preference for maximum thickness, you are constantly walking a fine line. A fine line defined by nanometers.
Guess what happens when your goal is to replicate the “pop” of stock Topre keycaps? What happens is you spend days/weeks perfecting a master. You painstakingly test your prototypes. You strain your eyes, your fingers hurt. You dremel and sand. You add layers and take them off. And when it’s perfect, you make the mold, just to realize that the marginal shrinkage of silicone has made that “perfect master” completely unviable.
BTCtopre, a member of the GeekHack community commissioned me a while back to do some color matching for him. The RF 10th Anniversary keycaps he transplanted to his HHKB looked asymmetrical without a matching 1.5u on the right side. With my background in design, I took on the challenge thinking it would be a walk in the park. I grabbed some Pantone swatches and started mixing. For the most part, polyurethane casting resin consists of two parts. Mix Part A with Part B and it will catalyze/solidify. So what happens when you finally manage to match the color perfectly? You add Part A just to realize that perfect color has now lightened.
I shipped several samples of keycaps to BTC. “Close, but no cigar”, “It’s a little too light/too dark”. I anguished over this. I confidently took on this challenge just be defeated by my own hubris. “I’m losing money” I told him. He suggested that I sell some of my test keycaps. “But, they don’t pop”. His response: “Who cares? Your caps looks great. You should be able to recoup some of your losses”.
I was reluctant but I caved. That night, while browsing some group buys, I saw the GMK CMYK sets. CMY always held a special place in my heart. It was the cornerstone of digital printing. It was the holy trinity. The set of colors that would reproduce every other color. I wanted them for my Topre keyboards. So I made up my mind. CMYKeys would come to fruition one way or another.