Posted On 10/10/2015 By In How-To

HOW-TO: Create a keycap set for a Group Buy

So you want to go about creating a keycap set but feel totally lost. Well, if you found your way here you are in the right place. To start, let me clarify the basics. Most sets designed here are for Group Buys, and not single sets for personal use. Should you want to create a personal set just for yourself, WASD is really the only way to accomplish that. They have a good number of colors for the caps, and the UV coating method allows for a huge variety of colors to be printed on the keytops. The downside? They are relatively thin keycaps and the printing method will eventually wear off under heavy use.

Custom WASD Keycap Set

Now, remember that phrase Group Buy I used earlier? Let me explain what a Group Buy is and why it is needed to make sure all the basics are covered. Many custom sets you see on the forums were obtained in Group Buys, in fact nearly every one probably was. KeyPuller is a database that documents a lot of these custom sets. Higher quality sets with many more options than WASD has can be custom ordered from a number of manufactures, each having their own profiles, cap plastics, colors, and legend technologies.

Photo Source

After all the details are chosen per the manufacturer’s restrictions and abilities, the custom set can be ordered. There will be a minimum order quantity (MOQ), for example say 100 sets of the base kit and 50 numpad sets, that must be met before the set gets produced. So, a Group Buy is essentially an organized pre-sale with the vendor (either an individual on the forum or company like Massdrop) placing the order with the manufacturer after the MOQ is reached. The vendor will then receive all of the sets from the manufacturer to ship out on their own. Pimp My Keyboard is a slight exception, as they are part of Signature Plastics, and essentially run official interest checks and group buys right from their online store.

Modern Selectric: A popular set currently in the PMK store

Now, as I said, most people here are probably interested and working on creating sets for group buys by either Signature Plastics or GMK. When designing a custom set, getting community feedback during the creation is critical, because the set won’t happen without enough people backing the project and helping it reach MOQ.

GMK Render for SoWaRe Interest Check on GeekHack

I understand that there are 101 ways to design a keycap set and get it run as a Group Buy. This post by no means is the only way to achieve that, but I thought I would give an overview on how to achieve getting a set made. I know there has been a lot of interest lately in the design aspect, and I’m sure there are quite a few people that feel overwhelmed by the whole process.


Design/Original Idea – This is probably one of the most difficult parts of the entire process, or the most natural and easiest. I highly recommend using [Keyboard-Layout-Editor]( to start your design. This is a fantastic tool that already has a lot of built in options and should be thoroughly explored. When starting a design there are a lot of things to take into consideration right from the start. For starters, you may already know what profile you want (SA, Cherry, DSA, etc) and this will already determine who will be producing the set, or at least narrow it down. Legend type is another big decision. Dye sublimated may have fewer restrictions, but double shots are often looked upon at being the best quality. Choosing between PBT and ABS is another big decision to make. Keep in mind each decision you set in stone will have an affect on all of the other options that you have available. For example if you are set on SA profile keycaps, Signature Plastics/ABS/Double Shot are the only other options you have. If you are set on PBT, GMK is out of the question but Signature Plastics DSA and DCS profiles can be used. Etc, etc. There is no way I can easily list all of the available options and limitations, but you can use the community for help if you have questions during the next stages!

Feedback stage – I would start by posting to /r/keycapdesigners for feedback if you have never run an interest check before. This is a great place for pre-interest check ready sets, and keeps the other forums from being spammed with incomplete ideas. If you have a good idea, but very undeveloped, or simply a good color scheme this is what you want. Get the input you need on your idea before moving forward, that way you know the community is behind what you are doing. As great as you may think a set of colors looks, if the community won’t buy it there is no reason to spend time on it. This is also a good place to get a name/settle on a name for your set. The name is one of the few things I would not recommend changing after starting an IC. This just helps people keep track of your set easily and gives some sense of cohesion.

Interest Check / Development stage – The main thing for starting an interest check is having a good feel of what *your vision* is for your keyset. Yes, you should have a slightly more developed idea by this point, but having a vision will really help you along the way. Make sure you are flexible to change things based on community input, but also know what you won’t compromise on, because people will try to make *your set* their set. You can start with the normal KLE renders, but I would highly suggest moving up to PS/Inkscape/Blender/etc renders as things progress to really make your set stand out and start looking like a final product. Some people even provide a paid service for extremely high quality renders.

HD 3D render by Thesiscamper

Now, running the actual Interest Check is quite a bit of work if done properly. I highly, highly recommend running it on Geek Hack. It is the best environment to create a home base of sorts for your kit as it develops. Speaking of Geek Hack, here are a few pointers.

  • Run your Interest Check on GeekHack with the title *[IC] Keyset Name / Profile
  • Update your original post as things progress/as you add child deals/etc. Unlike reddit the title and all of the content can be updated.
  • Have a running work log with what you are/plan on working on, and ~~strike through~~ them after you are done instead of deleting them so everyone can see whats going on.
  • It can be a little tricky to keep up with your IC page if you aren’t used to how GH works, I would highly recommend bookmarking it for easy access. That being said if it is popular and getting comments it will stay up on the first page, because each time it gets commented on it goes back to the top of the list.

Here is an example of my latest set Jukebox as reference. Posting to other forums you are active on like /r/mk or Deskthority can never hurt either!

Get Feedback! – I know this seems self explanatory, but some people post IC’s and don’t listen to any feedback, its simply a way to present a set to the community as is. I would highly, highly suggest listening to what the community says. You can also find what Child Deals you should be spending time on. There isn’t a whole lot of reason to make an obscure international kit if only one person wants it, but if you have the time making it as compatible as possible surely won’t hurt anything. Also finding one, maybe two people to closely work with is also something I can’t recommend enough. Having wingmen are something every good keycap designer has.

Consider Pricing – When you are nearing completion of the full set (child deals included) you will start asking the manufacturer for pricing. A lot of things determine pricing and should be considered throughout the creation of the set. At SP, for example, each new mold they have to make (novelties, for example) adds ~$50 to the total cost. Extra keys, especially larger ones like space bars, also make kits noticeably more expensive. So when designing kits it is important to make sure you only have what is essential to keep the pricing low. Extravagant kits will be extremely expensive, and in the end they won’t tip, meaning it won’t be produced. Pricing also varies depending on how many kits sell. For example, 100 TKL Base Kits may cost $100/ea, whereas the same kit will only cost $60/ea if 500 are purchased. Balancing the kits so they are both affordable, and enticing is a very difficult line to walk, and can take a few tries to get perfect.

Choose Your Vendor – There may not be many options in every case, but consider your options and shop around for a good fit for your set. Going through PMK is standard, but there are other options. CTRL[ALT], Massdrop, and running it yourself are all options to look into. Both the designer and vendor have to mesh, so this isn’t as simple as deciding “I want Massdrop to run my set” but research each all the options before making a final decision, as it is a big one to make.

Official PMK Interest Check stage – This obviously is only applicable if you choose to go through the PMK store to sell your kit. You will need to contact PMK and have your kit set up for an interest check on their site. You will need at least 100 votes for it to be put in the store (that number may change with the new store). The PMK site is not the best for constantly making changes to the kit or adding/subtracting child deals, which is why I would strongly recommend going through an intense development stage first.

Group Buy! – Sell sell sell!


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2 Responses

  1. Avatar

    Great article. Maybe a follow up that talks about child kit/deals and what caps are most common and why.

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