Keyboard Builders' Digest
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Keyboard Builders' Digest / Advent Calendar

Keycaps, design and free kittens

Simon, co-founder of FK, looks back on 2022 where new projects were born, and into 2023 where more are coming. He is on a journey to make custom keycaps, new profiles and designer collaborations.

kartsims
Published December 17, 2022
This post is part of the KBD.NEWS Advent Calendar 2022. The previous article was: Ripping the wires out of relics by Alexander Krikun. The next post is: /r/MechanicalKeyboards, a Year of Changes by dryver.

Introduction

Hi 👋 my name is Simon and I co-founded FK 3 years ago with a dear friend of mine. 2022 has been quite a year for us and taking this opportunity to reflect on it is actually just what I needed! Thanks Tamás for putting up this posts series, gathering so many cool builders that I am looking forward to reading each day of December and working relentlessly on feeding us our weekly dose of keyboard news ❤️

Who/what is/are FK?

We have been around the MK community as a company since 2019, when we started an Interest Check in order to bring a proper keycap option for Kailh Choc low profile switches as there wasn’t any back then. We then started what became a long lasting collaboration with mburger, who designed the MBK keycap profile.

As we quickly realized, there are many talented designers in our community, and a lot of projects we could see sprouting online were having a hard time to happen, when they did. And as we experienced first hand when starting production of the MBK keycaps it turns out manufacturing is both time consuming and stressful (especially plastic keycaps), two resources that most designers may lack as they’d rather spend their time designing stuff and being creative. We were apparently adding more value to the community by standing on the designers side, working on getting stuff manufactured than running our own shop/projects. Having a co-founder located in Asia and with a Chinese-speaking wife helped too!

Another thing is that a lot of projects/GBs happening were in my humble opinion not so fun or innovative. I wanted FK to exist for the part of the community who likes to tinker and try out new things, as I believe everyone has its own taste and preferences, and that deserves to be reflected in the range of products available.

So in 2022 one of our goal was to define ourselves as a company, here’s what we settled on:

FK exists to empower designers by bringing their ideas into reality, and foster innovation in the MK community.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, FK means "Free Kittens" because who doesn’t like free kittens?

2022 Wrap up

2022 was quite a year! Packed with surprises, and it’s also the year when my partner and myself have decided to commit more to FK by leaving our full time jobs. Scary and exciting time! Taking this leap of faith allowed us to line up lots of good stuff for 2023. But let’s now look back on what happened in 2022:

HEX keycaps & 0xC.pad

Designed by s-ol, these keycaps are exactly the kind of project we are proud of making happen. Like it or not, it’s an innovative project (proper hexagonal keycaps for MKs had to happen eventually!), and working with s-ol has been a great experience as he is both talented and passionate about his work.

Pic:

Pic: HEX keycaps, with low profile Choc switches stems

HEX keycaps, with low profile Choc switches stems

They have been designed to be used in a musical (mech) keyboard and while that project is still cooking and in order to get the molds done, s-ol put up the 0xC.pad macropad, that is being distributed by a few vendors worldwide. A cool piece of hardware that I love to see on my desk everyday! Hopefully we’ll see more of these weird hexagonal keys keyboards/macropad in the future.

Pic:

Pic: 0xC.pad macropad, in stock for $70

0xC.pad macropad, in stock for $70

MBK Legend‡ GB

The MBK Legend‡ group buy that started in *checks notes and sighs* January 2021 was finally delivered in May 2022. This was a long and bumpy road to say the least. We have ultimately provided regular and detailed updates on Discord but long story short, dye sub is hard to setup and execute at scale, and while we’ll keep producing dye sub sets, we won’t be running group buys anymore. It was stressful, exhausting and we ran into so many obstacles that we decided two things. First, we’ll communicate more on our projects and products. That’s where our new website comes in. Second, we won’t take customers money until the product is in stock moving forward.

Pic: MBK Legend‡ on a Rollow - photo credit: Riizu

MBK Legend‡ on a Rollow - photo credit: Riizu

But there is one last GB (that we won’t be running ourselves) that’s coming… the new SLK profile.

SLK

The SLK keycaps profile has been designed by Nostril in 2020, if you’re interested you can read about its history in this post. When we got in touch we started discussing how we could help making the project happen and we eventually decided to make a test mold (for MX stems, our first MX project!) while looking for a designer to make some legends and run a GB for it. kema was interested and joined the project, so we spent the most part of 2022 going back and forth doing many round of samples to get a perfect dye sub subset of keys.

Pic: SLK Dessau render (slkdessau.com)

SLK Dessau render (slkdessau.com)

It is now the end of 2022, and we finally have samples that match our expectations and will start a GB in the coming months, lead by Cannon Keys among other vendors. That time when a long awaited project comes to life is so satisfying, even if the sets aren’t done yet and there is still a lot to do ahead of us!

Pic: SLK keycap height comparison

SLK keycap height comparison

For more information about this set, check out slkdessau.com.

MBK 40s and Glow R2 white

Now that we have our production capabilities in order for dye sub, we launched MBK Legend‡ 40s, a small set of keycaps that is affordable and convenient (read “in stock”!) for 40%/ortho users.

On the other hand, we started production of the white version of MBK Glow (the shinethrough variant of MBK, made of coated ABS). It is a R2 because we have updated the set content as well as the packaging a bit.

Pic: MBK 40s on a Corne-ish Zen

MBK 40s on a Corne-ish Zen

Pic: MBK Legend‡ Glow R2 kit content

MBK Legend‡ Glow R2 kit content

So we took some time in 2022 to slowly but surely add more options to choc/low profile users. By the way, MBK 40s is in stock at some vendors and Glow R2 will ship Q1 2023. You can subscribe for updates on our website if you’re looking forward to those.

MBK Extended

MBK has been around for a while now, but only in 1u, 1u homing, 1.5u convex and 2u convex sizes. Most low profile keyboard users are fine with those options as most keyboards are currently split/ortho. We had in the back of our mind to do all sizes to cover “standard sized” keyboards for a while now, and that time has finally come!

Pic: MBK Legend‡ Extended kit content (SC colorway)

MBK Legend‡ Extended kit content (SC colorway)

Pic: MBK Legend‡ Extended kit content (OG colorway)

MBK Legend‡ Extended kit content (OG colorway)

But we were facing a chicken/egg situation where we are (once again) making keycaps for keyboards that don’t exist yet. So we choose the hard way (not sure we ever chose the easy one) and decided to find designers interested in preparing compatible PCBs and cases.

There are now 5 designers who have contributed to this project: mburger obviously designed the new MBK sizes, tectonicplate designed the keycap sets, dezli created 2 PCBs (a wireless TKL and a 40% based on rain’s work), Darryl designed a 60% PCB and Audun Trede-Vere is designing cases for each PCB. We are thrilled to have such a team of passionate designers working together on this large project that will hopefully open up more MK users to consider having a low profile keyboard.

More details and an interest check to fill on our website: MBK Legend‡ Extended

Pic: 3D render: LP40 in a “Bender” case (case design by Audun Trede-Vere, keycaps by tectonicplate)

3D render: LP40 in a “Bender” case (case design by Audun Trede-Vere, keycaps by tectonicplate)

Pic: LP88 prototype (designed by dezli)

LP88 prototype (designed by dezli)

Pic: LP40 prototype (designed by dezli based on rain’s work)

LP40 prototype (designed by dezli based on rain’s work)

Pic: LP60 prototype (designed by Darryl)

LP60 prototype (designed by Darryl)

MNT Pocket

We had already collaborated with MNT when they decided to use MBK on their awesome open source laptop (that includes a mechanical keyboard obviously) called MNT Reform. For their new upcoming project called MNT Pocket Reform, a 7-inch mini laptop, they needed to go smaller, as small as it can get, so this new keycap is barely the size of the Choc switch!

Molds are done, samples approved and production started so we can get them early 2023! No vendor has planned to stock them, but to be fair we haven’t told them yet.

Pic: MNT Pocket Reform (render by MNT)

MNT Pocket Reform (render by MNT)

Pic: Early samples (raw material, no coating)

Early samples (raw material, no coating)

Pic: Samples top view

Samples top view

Website & Branding

One of the goals we had set for 2022 was to work on our brand identity and publish a new website. It is meant to give us a space where we can post our updates, but also receive and listen to your feedback and comments.

It took the whole year (plus a few months before that) to make it happen but it's finally here! We are now ready to communicate better on our ongoing projects, collect feedback and interest on the other projects that are still in early development (looking at you, TPRX), and introduce ourselves to the world!

Pic: Brand new color palette 🎨

Brand new color palette 🎨

Keycap customization

As mentioned above, offering customized keycaps has always been a dream of mine. I have been working on this webapp for over 3 years, granted 90% of that time was spent either over engineering or making poor UI/UX choices that lead to a full rewrite… twice. Talk about scope creep uh? The original plan was also to offer custom dye sub, but now that we better understand the production constraints we realize how hard it is going to be to pull that off with a level of quality and consistency that we can be proud of. We don’t give up just yet, and hope to provide this service in the future. But for now to get the gears turning, we’ll start with laser etching for ABS material (shinethrough, basically same as MBK Glow), or laser marking PBT (same PBT keycaps as usual). We are going with MBK first obviously, but will quickly expand to other profiles.

Pic: First tests of customized MBKs!

First tests of customized MBKs!

Pic:

Pic: Custom sets prototypes

Custom sets prototypes

This is what the final result looks like, and making the customization experience as smooth and enjoyable as possible is our new goal! Try it out today and let us know what you think. We will be looking into adding more options too, which you can help us pick by submitting/voting for feature requests in the bottom of the page.

Designers call

While there are already a few projects that happened, more are coming! And we are open to collaborate with talented designers that share our state of mind. Here are some skills/areas of expertise that we currently value:

  • Keycap legend design: creatives with a good eye for typography and icons/novelties can join us to bring their talent either to the customized keycaps offers or run custom sets at a larger scale
  • PCB/case design: we need more boards to fit those keycaps on! Especially the HEX profile, MBK Extended and why not MNT Pocket keycaps. PCBs and cases aren’t our strong suit but if you have a cool project that you’d want to get funded you can reach out!
  • Keycap profile design: this one is more tricky and happens over a longer period of time. Let us know if you have a cool project in mind and are willing to put in the time, work (and wait for samples for months…) – we are open to any ideas provided it’s somewhat innovative.

In any of these scenarios we have a very simple business model: designers get paid based on how many designs sell. Every quarter, we take pride in sending thousands of dollars to the designers as the result of their work!

Hello, 2023!

We are looking forward to 2023 with a big smile, knowing that we still have a long way to go, having fun (almost!) every day doing what we love, and hopefully turning what used to be a passion project into a full time job in 2023 🤞. A huge thank you from the bottom of our heart to all the people that chose to use our products and contribute to make our dreams happen, and a big shout out to the designers that trust us with their ideas and whose creativity make this journey so much more colorful and enjoyable. Have a great holiday season everyone! 🎅🎄

I typed this on my good old split UHK with browns and DSA keycaps, programmed with Colemak layout.

Simon (35)

kartsims
LocationBordeaux, France
DescriptionFK co-founder, keycaps manufacturer
Occupationback-end developer
Joined2018
Nichelow profile keyboards, keycaps customization
Linkshttps://fkcaps.com, https://twitter.com/f_k_caps, https://www.instagram.com/fk.caps/, https://discord.gg/b5C9H99RYZ

Published on Sat 17th Dec 2022. Featured in KBD #108.


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