Dyeing Keycaps in 2023
Fellow redditor amphiboi put together a detailed guide on dyeing keycaps, based on the groundwork laid by CrowningKnight.
Published April 27, 2023
Hi everyone, welcome to my keycap dyeing journey. This is going to be a long one, I hope you stick around.
Let's start with a little bit of background here. The first thing you should know about me is that I am incredibly picky. Once I have an idea in my head of what I want, nothing else will ever be good enough. A couple of weeks ago I set out on a deep internet dive, looking for the perfect keycaps. Cherry profile, blank (themed icons would've been fine if I liked the theme, but no legends), orange-y color palette, and preferably PBT but I was willing to concede that if I had to. I searched far and wide with no luck, the keyboard I want does not exist. Another thing to know about me is that I am a die hard DIY-er. If I want something and can't buy it or can't buy it at a reasonable price I will make it. So, when I stumbled upon the idea of 'dyeing keycaps' I knew I was up for the challenge. There doesn't seem to be much info about this process online, so in addition to dyeing my keycaps I wanted to document my experience for those who come after me. This is that documentation.
I highly recommend you check out this Imgur post. OP over there did this process a couple years ago to great results, and a lot of my baseline info came from there. Now, let's jump right in.
I first made up a color palette I like.
Then I created a mockup of my keyboard and played around with the colors until I was happy.
And I used Rit's color recipes to figure out what dyes I would need and how to mix them to achieve my goals. These recipes are for a much larger project than this, so once I got the recipe I wanted I divided everything by 6. That is sort of an arbitrary number but it worked great for me.
Then I bought the dyes at my local craft store. I also went to Goodwill and bought a spoon and a strainer. I already had a pot that I hate and was fine with getting rid of. I also already had a set of blank, white PBT caps to use (here). It was time to prepare my cook space. I have laminate counters so I lined my working area with a couple pieces of foil to protect them. I am not a chemist, so I have no idea if these dyes would've penetrated my counter tops, but better safe than sorry.
And I began the dyeing process! I started with the blue. 4 cups of water went into my pot with a splash of dish soap. As the water warmed up I mixed in 2 tbsp of Kentucky Sky and 1/24 tsp of Daffodil Yellow (I mixed 1/8 tsp of Daff into 3 tsp of water in a separate container to get a diluted mixture, then put 1 tsp of that diluted mixture into my real dye mix). Once the water was steaming and just about to boil I added in some extra keycaps (things I will never use, like long right shift, the bottom right 1.25u keys, etc.) to test the color and the process. I kept my strainer in the dye bath with the caps and it made it so easy to take them out, check the color, and put them back in if desired. My blue test batch cooked for 22.5 minutes. The color does seem to darken slightly after cooling, though I can't say for sure.
The blue was a struggle for me. I finished my test batch and dumped in the real keys. 20 minutes passed, then 30, then 40 and I just could not get them as dark as my test batch. I believe this is because I reused my dye bath across the two batches. The blue result I saw with my test seemed to be the darkest that the concentration of my recipe could do, and when I cooked the test batch they took some of the pigment with them, decreasing the concentration of my dye bath. I fixed the concentration in my dye bath and the real batch of blue keys picked up the remaining color relatively quickly, about 5 minutes. This could have something to do with the blue dye itself, because my yellow and orange mixtures did not give me this problem.
As a side note, this trait of the dyes could be used to make a really nice saturation gradient. For example, cook 10 keys until they pick up the maximum concentration the bath will allow for, then (in the same bath) cook another 10 until the max, and repeat as desired. If my theory is correct then each batch should be a bit lighter than the previous, creating a gradient.
Then I moved on to yellow. I did reuse the same materials, I just washed them thoroughly and I had no issues. My yellow keys are not green, despite immediately following blue. Same as the blue 4 cups of water went into my pot with a splash of dish soap. As the water warmed up I mixed in 3 tbsp of Daffodil Yellow and 1/48 tsp of Apricot Orange (I mixed 1/8 tsp of Daff into 6 tsp of water in a separate container to get a diluted mixture, then put 1 tsp of that diluted mixture into my real dye mix).
After 5 minutes of cooking I pulled out my yellow test batch.
They were a bit bright for my taste, so I decided to do less time for the real batch. After only 2 minutes in the bath my real yellow keys were more than done. I believe this increased speed is because I washed the keys in hot water (50°C≈120F) and then transferred them immediately to the dye bath. This initial heating likely helped to start opening up the plastic to receive dye, speeding up the whole process. For my subsequent colors I rinsed the caps in cold water before submerging in the dye bath to slow the process and give me more control.
It was time for the light orange color. This one is my favorite and the whole thing revolves around this color for me, so it was lucky that it went smoothly. Again, 4 cups of water went into my pot with a splash of dish soap. As the water warmed up I mixed in 2 tbsp of Daffodil Yellow and 1 tsp of Apricot Orange. This color happened fast. 1.5 minutes of cooking and they were done.
And lastly, the true orange color. This one was a roller coaster. It started out seemingly as usual, 4 cups of water went into my pot. As the water warmed up I mixed in 3 tbsp of Daffodil Yellow and 3 tsp of Apricot Orange. After 2 minutes the keycaps came out red-orange and splotchy. It was here I realized I had forgotten the dish soap.
So I grabbed the last extra cap I had and tried again. I added the dish soap and an extra cup of water to my dye bath. This time the test came out good after 1.5 minutes so I jumped to the real thing.
Some of the brighter orange keycaps have some scratches or something on them. I really do not like this, but I'm trying to get over it. I'm not sure if this was some crud on the caps, a manufacturing error, or just from the caps scratching against each other. It's not noticeable to anyone but me.
Anyway, here is what you've all (hopefully) been waiting for: the final keyboard.
And some bonus pictures.
- If you're thinking about dyeing keycaps, do it. You don't have to be Walter White, it's okay if you're season 1 Jessie.
- As you go remember you can always add color, but you can't take it away. Practice restraint.
- My setup with the strainer sitting completely inside the pot made life so easy. I can't recommend it enough.
- The dyeing process took me probably 3-4 hours. Ensure you can stand that long without many breaks or get an assistant. I had to switch between a lot of colors which meant lots of rinsing and transitioning. With fewer colors it could be faster.
- Having someone around to show your caps to during the process is helpful. It can be easy to get in your head, and perceiving colors can be kind of finicky for humans so it helps to have a confidence check.
- Cook all the caps you plan to use (of the same color) in one batch. It will be very hard, even with great notes, to perfectly match keys that are cooked separately. Plan ahead.
- Let your caps dry completely before reassembling your keyboard. Blow water out of the stems if needed.
- Make sure your caps are PBT! I have heard ABS will melt.
- Take notes! It will save you.
You can find amphiboi's original post with comments over at r/mk.