Artisan Keycap History

Artisan keycaps have evolved significantly as both an art form and collectible hobby, belying its niche status within the mechanical keyboard market. The dynamic interplay between a rapidly growing community of makers and collectors continues to fuel this evolution. This section chronicles the development of the artisan keycap hobby, will expand as history is uncovered or new milestones are achieved, and is not expected to satisfy any particular standards for completeness. You can help by proving suggestions for the timeline via our feedback form.

Note: You can drill into each milestone through the header, to read more or follow links to source information. Orange highlighted maker milestones include links to the maker profile.

1868
First QWERTY Layout
First QWERTY Layout

Typewriter with QWERTY layout first developed and patented in 1868 by Christopher Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel W. Soule. The first keyboard with a Shift key (on the left side) was introduced 10 years later in 1878, on the Remington No. 2 typewriter.

1984
First MX Switch Patent Filed
MX Switch Patent

ZF Electronics UK Ltd. files the first patent for MX switches, titled “Mechanical keyboard with membrane switch array“, with the European Patent Association.

2007
Geekhack Founded
Geekhack Founded

iMav creates geekhack.org (domain registered), the first major community where artisan makers and collectors gathered. The logo was created by aggiejy and Krogenar.

2009
EliteKeyboards Founded
EliteKeyboards

EliteKeyboards (EK) was one of the early mech keyboard online sellers, and later became the exclusive vendor to sell Clack Factory artisans. EK was the US reseller of KUL, HHKB, Topre, Filco and Leopold keyboards. As of 2021 they are mostly inactive, but still sold remaining Clack Skull inventory through their web site.

ClickClack Runs Giveaway for Skull Prototype
Clack Giveaway

ClickClack’s earliest post on Geekhack was about his impressive keyboard collection (250+) and how he likes to disassemble them to examine various switch types. He then proceeds to post a photo of himself holding a bag (unfortunately, the photos are no longer available on geekhack, but you can see it above), and asks people to guess how many keys on various keyboards are contained in the bag. The answer is 6,968 keys from 67 keyboards, and the prize that he sends out is a red Clack Skull prototype, the iconic sculpt he proceeds to sell in 2010 and beyond under the Clack Factory brand.

Clack Skull Prototype

2010
Clack Factory Launches
Clack Factory Launches

Clickclack of Clack Factory creates account on Geekhack and begins selling the first known hand-sculpted, resin-cast artisans for Topre and Cherry MX switches. Whether he knew it would happen or not, Clack spawned an entire art form around artisan keycap making, inspiring hundreds of makers and thousands of collectors who form the hobby we enjoy today.

From one of his earlier posts on Geekhack, Clack shares a little about his background in model making: “I am a materials person (not “material”) and in model making I am always on the lookout for stuff I can either use for kit bashing or for textural elements. I also do a bunch of massing models for theme parks and other architectural environments. And simple repetitive geometric objects can make my life easier much of the time and a bit interesting (in an ironic way). I am also a sculptor and I will be using many of the keyboard components for that as well.”

See also: Clack Factory maker page

2011
Deskthority Founded
Deskthority Founded

Deskthority.net domain registered to launch a keyboard-focused discussion forum. Creates the Deskthority Awards, to eventually include “Best Artisan Keycap” category.

Ishtob Blanks and Zergling Artisans
Ishtob Zergling

Ishtob was an early hobbyist who made some cherry blanks and a sculpted DSA blank called a Zergling.

2012
Niqmods Airbrushed Keycaps
Niqmods Airbrushed Keycaps

Nascent artisan efforts often took the form of painted blanks. Niqmods are one of the earliest examples of this style, with automotive spray paint on OEM keycaps.

Boost Posts Superhero Artisan
Boost Pupil Superhero

Early artisan maker Boost posts a prototype version of his Superhero keycap to Geekhack, and runs a few small sales later that year.

Massdrop Founded
Massdrop

Steve El-Hage and Nelson Wu, originally from Toronto, move to Sillcon Valley and launch Massdrop. The site enabled group buys for enthusiast communities, including mechanical keyboards and, eventually, artisans. They would re-brand to Drop.com in 2019. There is some discussion on whether Massdrop was responsible for “over commercialization” of the hobby and practiced questionable IP exclusivity, but they certainly had a big impact on introducing “casuals” to mechanical keyboards and artisans.

Korean Maker GirlDC Casts Metal Keycaps
Korean Maker GirlDC Casts Metal Keycaps

Korean maker GirlDC starts series of posts on Geekhack showing metal artisan keycaps. This is one of the earliest Asian makers with high quality metal keycaps, and matching prices ($80+ per cap was a lot in 2012).

Techkeys.us Launches
Techkeys

Techkeys is an early US vendor that sold mech keyboard accessories and artisans. Like EK, they sold some artisans, including early work from makers such as HWS, Bro and Gen.s (the community was small back then, and every channel helped). They also collaborated with Binge and Pichael Thomson on bringing the :~$YNTH (synth) to market, which was the earliest tool designed specifically for artisans to simplify the mold making process, and is now on it’s third revision.

Gas Mask Keycaps
HKP Gas Masks

Gas Mask Keycaps, based in Hong Kong, one of the first larger scale artisan makers, releases their first keycap, the Gas Mask.

Bro Caps Launched
Bro Caps Brobot v1

Bro Caps launched his first cap (Brobot v1) at some point in 2012, sold initially via email sales. Bro would go on to become a highly successful and long lasting maker brand. (Photo by Dustin)

See also: Bro Caps Maker page

Alessandro Painted Artisan Blanks
Alessandro Sweet Caps

Alessandro used nail polish to paint OEM keycaps styled after sweets or candy. A few low production sales were hosted on Geekhack with caps starting at $15. Four designs were released and a fifth was prototyped.

DIPCAPS: Custom Dipped Keycaps
DIPCAPS

DIPCAPS Detail

Jeroplane and his significant other in Australia offer a group buy for painted blanks on Geekhack. They employ a process called “dip painting” – where a pattern is created using paint on top of a buffer (such as water) and the cap is dipped into it.

Reddit /MechanicalKeyboards founded
Reddit /MechanicalKeyboards founded

r/mechanicalkeyboards sub is created by Ripster (following some Geekhack drama), and becomes one of the largest mechanical keyboard and artisan communities.

Nail Polish Painted Keycaps from akuJIWA
akuJIWA Painted Caps

Another Australian Geekhack user, akuJIWA, and his wife do an interest check for nail polish painted keycaps on Geekhack, after receiving inquires from the community.

Reddit /MechMarket Founded
Reddit /MechMarket Founded

r/mechmarket sub founded, and gains traction as one of the most active trading platforms for artisans. Makers start to post sales on the platform.

3D Printed Keycap Models on Shapeways
3d Printed Artisans

The first 3D printed artisan keycap models start to appear on Shapeways, heralding what would eventually become an important medium for keycap making.  (Photo by Liang Kong)

2013
CtrlAlt Launches to Sell Artisans and Keysets
CtrlAlt Logo

CtrlAlt was an active early vendor in the community for many years, who ran several artisan sales for Bro Caps and KWK, and also ran several keyset group buys. Although the web site has been scaled back, the brand is still managed by Bunnylake, and continues to partner with Bro Caps, Originative.co, JTK, and some other creators and vendors in the community.

RoastPotatoes did an interview with Bunnylake of CtrAlt in May 2015.

Nubbinator Debuts
Nubbinator Early Sculpts

Nubbinator posts to Geekhack about his casting adventures and begins to share photos of his initial caps. He later follows this up with sale sculpts and continues to release an impressive body of work over the next years before going on a long hiatus.

See also: Nubbinator maker page

Bunnylake Painted Keycaps
BunnyLake Confetti Blank

Bunnylake releases a series of nail polish painted blanks with confetti and glitter effects. The caps came as single Esc, WASD, and arrow sets in a variety of styles, including Topre stems. He would later experiment with casted caps using a sculpt that resembles an alien facehugger.

Binge Caps Launches
Binge Caps Wadson and Moose

Binge shares his initial artisan keycap prototyping and casting journey on Geekhack, and starts to release his first sculpts. He notes his inspiration from predecessors such as Bro Caps, Clickclack, and Nubbinator, who inspired him to explore mold making and keycap casting concepts.

See also: Hunger Work Studio maker page

First Annual Keycon – 2013
Keycon 2013

About 30 hobbyists attend the first annual Keycon on August 17, 2013 at the University of Illinois campus in Chicago. Organized by i3oilermaker from Techkeys, the event features several vendor sponsors, and a presentation by Binge, who also did some giveaways. (Photo by mkawa)

More information about the event was also covered in CPTBadAss’ Keycon ’13 Diary thread on Geekhack (unfortunately, as with many older threads, several of the photos are now missing).

jcrouse’s clacks Keycon 2013

Jcrouse’s Clack Collection at Keycon 2013 (photo by eth0s)

jcrouse’s clacks Keycon 2013

Jcrouse’s Clack Collection at Keycon 2013 (photo by eth0s)

Binge Protokeys Keycon 2013

Binge Protokeys at Keycon 2013 (photo by i3oilermaker)

Hypnocaps Painted Keycaps
Hypnocaps

Geeekhack user do_Og@n shares initial painted keycaps he made for friends, and subsequently runs a few sales under the Hypnocaps brand.

HipsterPunks – Killed by Kaps
KBK

HipsterPunks starts sculpting and casting early versions of Mummies and Death Lives in late 2013, and sends them to various folks within the community. In early 2014 he starts selling caps on Geekhack. KBK style ranged from rough and ugly to clean and polished. Hipster used a variety of sale formats over the 11 months that sales were hosted. Kap prices ranged from $8 to $35 in MX, T, and BS stems (Photo by Dustin)

See also: KBK/KWK maker page

2014
Dodgy Keycaps
Dodgy Keycaps

Geekhack user Dodgy is inspired by Binge and Nubbinator’s threads on keycap making and decides to try his hand at it. His initial sculpts are a skull like object on a keycap, and a cubic face with mustache called “Mister”. Dodgy experimented with many casting techniques, including marbled and translucent, and would go on to create more refined blanks and sculpts with interesting effects.

Hammer HELLBOY and Skull
Hammer Imsto Hellboy Skull Artisans

Imsto runs a group buy on Geekhack for Hellboy and Skull sculpts, OEM height resin keycaps in MX and Topre stem. Initial colorways are transparent red and black with shine-through eyes.

The caps were manufactured and shipped from China, each with a stamped pouch.

Hammer Caps

Hammer Skull and HELLBOY artisans (tigersharkdude)

 

Gasmask Keycap Rebrands to Hot Keys Project
HKP Warmaster

Martin of Gasmask Keycaps notifies the community that he is rebranding to Hot Keys Project (HKP), featuring a larger variety of new products, and shares prototypes of his new Warmaster and Raven sculpts. HKP will go on over the years to release a successful line of injected molded artisans, blanks, and modifiers in both MX and Topre varieties.

RoastPotatoes conducted an interview with Martin from HKP in January 2106.

SSIPAK’s Bootlegcaps
Bootlegcaps

Geekhack user SSIPAK posts his experiments with keycap making and sculpts Necrocap, based on the Necronomicon book in the Evil Dead series. He follows up with some sales later that year.

Krytone’s KRAP Keycaps
Krytone

Krytone shares his first attempts at sculpting and casting with great detail and progression photos, which is characteristic of early makers starting out. He continues the thread throughout the launch of his Krap brand, and continues to post previews of his new sculpts for over 4 years, making this a truly interesting multi-year view of the gradual evolution from experimentation to successful artisan keycap maker.

KatzenKinder Capworks
KatzenKinder Sculpts

KatzenKinder posts about his efforts at “amateur cap-crafting to sort of rejuvenate the creative mindset”. He sculpts various organic and robotic faces on stock PBT caps from his Poker II. He starts a sale thread shortly afterwards, and embarks on a roughly two year journey of progressively refined sculpts and blanks.

Elsea Keys
Elsea Keys

Connorelsea and some friends make painted key caps using a hydrographic printing technique, and offer made-to-order custom keycaps starting at $15 each. They thank Nubbinator for providing some assistance with base materials.

Mandolin Artkeycaps
Mandolin

Brief artisan maker Mandolin launches his first sale with Demon Cat and El Chihuahua.

CG Keycaps / Shadowcaps
CG Keycaps

Geekhack member SavvyBird posts about her artisan making, with sculpts of a cat, nose, and ouija planchette on top of Poker keycaps. She would later cast the cat and nose sculpts for a debut sale on Reddit. She would later do a sale of Topre blanks on Geekhack under the Shadowcaps brand.

Killed by Kaps (KBK) Returns as Kult Worship Kaps (KWK)
KWK

After KBK abruptly ended, Punksdead returns a year later under the Kult Worship Kaps (KWK) brand, with a variety of micro sales (1 – 4 kaps) listed at random times on kultworshipkaps.com. Once it was understood that Punksdead and HipsterPunks were the same person, there were larger sales on Geekhack some of which included a few Mummy IIs.

See also: KBK/KWK maker page

2015
V0idtek 3D Printed Skull Cap
Voidward 3D Skull

Voidward posts high resolution pics of his 3D printed V0idtek Skull Cap on the Reddit Mechanical Keyboards sub. The prototypes were made using a Craftbot printer at 66-100 microns, with post-print chemical smoothing using acrylic cement. He subsequently sells more refined versions of the 3D Skull and other 3D artisans on his web site.

Fendent of Polymer Salon Early Casting
Polymer Salon

Fedent was a long-time member of Geekhack by the time he decided to share his initial sculpting experiments in February 2015. He would spend nearly two years doing casting before some initial giveaways of Topre Esc-fn sets at the end of 2016, followed by his Murray sculpt release in 2017.

War of Betrayal Artisans by HiddenPower
War of Betrayal

HiddenPower launches a story-driven series of futuristic masked soldier keycaps, with blanks and a key-puller based on a rifle, using 3d modeling, casting, and painting.

WinterWinds / Defect Artisans
WinterWinds / Defect

WinterWinds posts a photo of a watermelon style artisan blank on Reddit, that he plans to make available for sale. Later that year, in August, he shares photos of his first sculpted efforts of a fist keycap on Geekhack under the username Defect. Notably, Binge, Bro, and Hipster all comment on the fist cap thread.

KeyKollectiv Launches
Keykollectiv

Kudos makes an introductory post on Geekhack after some initial casting efforts with his partner Koala (now spouses). Their initial focus is on Topre and MX keycaps. His first sculpt is a Skull Squadron bust, which showcases Kudo’s characteristic methodical sketching and planning before proceeding to sculpting and casting.

See also: KeyKollectiv maker page

Lootkeys Keycap Project
Lootkeys

Lootkeys starts posting his various hand sculpted and cast artisan keycaps on Geekhack, and runs a few sales. He also institutes a loyalty program called “lootscore”, where the more caps you buy, “the better chance you have of grabbing something you would want”.

Adamski Artisans
Adamski Skull Prototype

Adamski, an early hobbyist that was heavily into DIY, posts on Geekhack about his attempts at keycap making. He shows pictures of his prototype hooded Skull sculpt, and subsequently makes Topre and mx blanks.

DOOMCAPS Launches
DOOMCAPS

ImpendingxDoom launches DOOMCAPS on Geekhack with Topre and MX Esc and Function blank sets and several sculpted blanks. He would continue to refine his work over the years, and was known for interesting casting effects such as marbling.

RoastPotatoes Keycaps and Blog
RoastPotatoes

RoastPotatoes was a Geekhack member who ventured into sculpted artisans and eventually held a few sales on Geekhack. He was also published his own blog covering weekly artisan roundups and even a did couple interviews with makers.

(Editor’s note: RoastPotatoes’ blog is the closest early predecessor to ArtisanCollector.com that I have found.)

R.A.G Caps
R.A.G. Caps

Multi-cap Artisan FFG

Australian reddit user flehrad, who now runs a mk-related podcast called The Board, posts his first casts of sculpted Sakura blank. Later that year he sells casted caps with semi-trans colorways. He would subsequently make an interesting multi-keycap artisan sculpt of a FFG / Adelaide Class Guided Missile Frigate from the Australian Navy. The only other multi-cap artisan ensemble before this was Binge’s Sir WASDson set.

Zazie’s Keycaps
Zazie Keycaps

Aspiring beekeeper and mead maker shares their efforts on Geekhack at making Cherry MX custom keycaps. Inspired by the warm tones and colors, zazie_rx casts their first trans resin blanks to match honey. They would go on to run a sale of artisan blanks later that year.

KappaKapps 3D Artisan Keycaps
KappaKapps Undead Clackin

KappaKapps was an early vendor run by two community members, /u/KappaKappsLogistics and /u/KappaKappsKeyboards, who made 3D printed artisan caps and sold keyboard related accessories on their website. According to an interview conducted by skiwithpete of 1upkeyboards, all of their profits were donated to charity. They produced their Undead Clackin’ Kapp on a SLS printer and applied a finish to it.

 

Retrocaps by Retrochick
Retrocaps

Retrocaps had an unorthodox start by today’s standards. Retrochick, the maker, cast for 1.5 years before her first public sale. During this time, she documented the process in her Making Stuff Together Geekhack thread and sent out a limited number of caps to members. Her first keycap was a goblinoid head called Goyle. She would go on to have some successful releases and collaborations, including the Frankenfurt with Keycollectiv and the Keymo with Tiny Makes Things.

Gen.s Artisan Caps
Gen.s Gem Caps

Gen.s from China posts photos of his Gem keycaps on Geekhack. He used a CNC to make the prototype, and then cast caps using silica gel. He then cut the caps into random shapes, polished the surfaces with sandpaper, and added a layer of high-gloss varnish. His first sale is a mini group buy.

ZorbCaps Launches
ZorbCaps

Zorb sells his first sculpt on Geekhack, a medieval Templar made with a combination of casting and hand painting. He goes on to become one of the most popular makers in Europe, releasing a series of well-known sculpts.

See also: ZorbCaps maker page

Keypress Graphics Artisan Painting Services
Keypress Graphics

Keypress Graphics lists an assortment of artisans for sale on Geekhack, made by other makers that he painted. He offers the first professional keycap painting services, from his home base in Australia. His initial customers send 3D printed caps for painting, but later on, collectors send well known artisan sculpts for elaborately designed painting.

Gloyz Artisans
Gloyz

Gloyz introduces himself to Geekhack as a “family of glass blowers that took on the challenge of making keycaps”, which was not an easy transition despite a lot of existing mold making knowledge.

Binge Caps Rebrands as Hunger Work Studio
Hunger Work Studio (HWS)

Binge and WidgiePidge rebrand Binge Caps to Hunger Work Studio, continue to release new sculpts, launch a web site, and develop various products under this brand.

See also: HWS maker page

BCBRNR Caps
BCBRNR Caps

Bcredbottle runs giveaways on Geekhack for his multi-shot Cherry profile artisan blanks. He would later experiment with Alps stems.

Omniclectic by Booper
Omniclectic

Booper started casting in late 2014, gave out some initial caps in 2015, and had her first Omniclectic sale on Geekhack in Oct 2015. The first sale sculpts were the Cosmo v1, Monkey, and Lilith. Booper would go on to create a long-lasting catalog of popular sculpts.

See also: Omniclectic maker page

First Artisan Collaboration on Massdrop
Massdrop HWS DWI Jack

Binge collaborates with Massdrop on a Deal with it Jack (DWI) Topre Artisan for a Realforce Numpad drop. This event marked the first time a major artisan maker sold a cap through Massdrop, and was certainly a surprise at the time, since artisans were still fairly niche. Binge would do another DWI Jack sale on Massdrop in 2016, but then due to IP conflicts, ended his relationship with MD.

Here is an excerpt from Binge’s message on the first DWI sale on MD:

A few weeks ago I was approached by Massdrop with an opportunity to work on a special Topre key. Coincidentally I have received e-mails for the greater part of this past year requesting new Smiling Jacks and saw the opportunity to show how my techniques have improved in sculpting and casting. With this drop ‘Deal with it, Jack’ is born! He’s lost some skin, it decomposed… deal with it, Jack. He’s still grinning and happier than ever to be sporting some stylish shades.

 

Tinymakesthings Clay Artisans
Tinymakesthings

Inspired by artisan keycap makers on Geekhack, Tinymakesthings explores how methods used to make jewelry, keychains, and other items with polymer clay can be applied to keycap making. She proceeds to post her experiments using sculpey polymer clay on top PBT keycaps, and then bakes the caps in the oven, foregoing the mold making and casting route. Tiny progressively improves her technique and starts to take on custom commission work. In 2017, she creates her first cast sculpt, the Yeti, based on an earlier clay Yeti creation. In 2018, she would collaborate with Retrochick on a very successful Keymo artisan. She was one of the first artisan makers to employee a Patreon subscription model. Through her accessible creations and work as a streamer, Tiny would reach an increasingly broader and mainstream audience, be featured in mainstream magazines, and now has a massive following on TikTok, Twitch, and Instagram.

2016
Widdlekitty Caps
Widdlekitty

Widdlekitty posts his keycap making progress on the Geekhack Making Stuff Together forum, and has a debut sale for some beautiful artisan blanks a couple months later.

:~$ynth Tool Released
:~$ynth

The first commercial tool to help artisan keycap makers called “:~$ynth” is released. Binge describes the solution on Geekhack as,  “a new opportunity for artisans and resin casting enthusiasts“, and it certainly resulted in a significant amount of amateur keycap makers that follow in 2016 and beyond.  A collaboration between Techkeys.us, Binge from HungerWorkStudio, assisted by Joey Quinn (CAD implementation) and Salvun, and machined by NudeCNC. Several improved versions of the :~$ynth have been released and used by both amateur and well-known makers, with the latest being the v3.1, which includes a mold box.

Suited Up Keycaps (SUK) Launches
Suited Up Keycaps (SUK)

Bambino posts his initial sculpts for feedback: the tall Spartan helmet, a bulldog named Duke, and one of his most popular, the samurai mask Keybuto. The Duke and Keybuto would go on to have many sales under the Suited Up Keycaps (SUK) brand, and bambino would make several popular sculpts over the course of his career in the hobby.

Badnewscaps / Key Cap Dungeon
Badnewscaps

Badnewscaps starts sculpting in late 2015, and in Jan 2016 releases several artisan keycaps for sale in MX and Alps stems. Early sculpts include Ent, Lucky Cat, Mr. Shakey Hands, and Eye.

Nightcaps Keycaps Debut
Nightcaps

Eat_the_food was a fan of artisans before being a maker, and after a series of frustrating raffle losses (especially KeyKollectiv), decided to embark on his own journey into keycap making. Nightcaps’ started out by experimenting with Topre blanks and sculpts. The first released casting experiments, posted on the Nightcaps Making Stuff Together Geekhack thread, were the modular and multi-part Castle Keycaps, Half-Shells, and the Gelatinous Cube, inspired by KeyKollectiv’s encapsulations. Nightcaps would run a giveaway of the Castle and Half-Shell caps, followed by a debut sale in April 2016 of the legendary Fugu sculpt. Nightcaps quickly rose to fame, and together with his partner Kristen, would become on of the most productive and widely-collected makers in the scene.

See also: Nightcaps maker page

Rama Aluminum Artisan
Rama Aluminum Artisan

Australian maker Rama debuts with an aluminum milled keycap blank, with vacuum sealed packaging. Rama would go on to become a popular manufacturer of keyboards, keycaps, and mechanical keyboard accessories.

Ramage Makes CNC’d Wooden Artisans
Ramage Wooden Artisans

After posting details of how he used a CNC machine to build a CNC router (how meta), and making wooden blanks, Ramage has his first sale of wooden artisans based on the Moai of Easter Island. The raw materials used for the sale were: Ebony, African Blackwood (the 7th hardest wood in the world), Curly Maple, and Stabilized Maple burl. Caps were made on a CNC machine, sanded down to 1500 grit, then coated with Satin Polyurethane.

Coz Caps Debuts from Down Under
Coz Caps

Australian picture framer Cozmosis holds his debut sale on Reddit with No Esc Keys, BucketHeads, Volkeynoes, MOBA Sets and blanks. He would go on to be a fairly consistent maker, releasing new sculpts and refinements to existing ones, with a broad set of offerings across both sculpted artisans and blanks, and even PS4 controller buttons. Coz also hosted a podcast series called The Cap Cast, along with fellow international makers Zorb and Krytone, covering all things artisans and mechanical keyboards.

Solidnitrogen Artisans (and drama)
Solidnitrogen Admiral Clackbar

Solidnitrogen introduces himself and his first artisan, Admiral Clackbar, on Geekhack. After a sale of another StarWars themed Rancor artisan on Reddit, several users complain of quality problems, and Solidnitrogen issues a mea culpa to try to resolve the issues. Despite these efforts, this maker’s tenure is cut short, and these caps are now historically interesting examples of poor quality artisans.

Jelly Key Debut
Jelly Key

Jelly Key is a Vietnamese brand that was created by Trần Mạnh Hùng in late 2015 to make artisan keycaps. This was the keycap product line of Joiha/Joinhandmade, which also specialized in custom headphones, the first of which was called “Jelly Ear”. Jelly Key started selling keycaps in March 2016 on Geekhack and Facebook, and eventually launched a web site to sell their work, usually through a group buy model. They also did some GB sales on Massdrop.

Jelly Key initially focused on blanks, dabbled in a few sculpts, and now makes fairly intricate mixed media artisans, usually combining 3D sculpting, resin casting, hand carved encapsulated elements, painting, and other techniques and materials. While not considered to be pure resin cast artisans, they built a very popular brand that introduced many casual hobbyists to artisans with accessible, appealing designs that continue to do well today.

Keyforge Unveils Initial Sculpts
KeyForge

In March 2016, SneakyPotato starts sharing his sculpting progress under the KeyForge brand on Geekhack. His initial sculpts are the Sabre v1 and Mulder v1, decent examples of initial sculpts that would serve as good experience for a maker that would go on to create the iconic Shishi and Orochi artisans. A couple months after showcasing his sculpting progress, he would go on to run initial sales on Geekhack, and eventually transition to selling on his web site (keyforge.com).

Ericaps Artisans
Ericaps

Ericaps has a debut sale on Reddit of their artisan blanks. They describe themselves on Instagram as having a “background in design and former crafters and hobbyists who have a passion for making and perfecting”.

Artisan Livestream – March 2016

Artisan Livesteeam 2016

Geekhack user Bcredbottle organizes an artisan livestream with Binge (from HungerWorkStudio), KatzenKinder, Bambino (from Suited up Keycaps), and Eat_The_Food (from Nightcaps).

DCcaps Enters the Scene
DCcaps

Kenda, a student in Vietnam, shares his initial artisan casting on Geekhack, with several sculpts from ogres to owls to skulls. Latee that year in September, Kenda then launches the DCCaps Instagram account, and proceeds to have a debut sale of his Owl sculpt. His initial exposure is primarily within the local VNMK community, but he quickly gains the attention of internal collectors. With minimal available resources for equipment, DCcaps initial caps are all gravity cast, and incredibly clean examples of the technique with virtually no visible bubbles. This maker would go on to hone his craft, make distinctly cute sculpts with cleanly separated casts, and become a popular maker.

Aconic’s First Artisans
Aconic Goo

Juahenza, a Malaysian community member, posts photos of his initial artisan sculpts on keycaps: the Screamer, Kappa, Goo, and Lil Tim. The Goo would go on to to enjoy several sales along with other new sculpts.

Navacaps Artisans
Navacaps

Nocturalowl made a Navcaps post on Geekhack, in May 2016, saying that he started making caps exactly one year earlier. He mentioned that his family owns a pastry shop, and that pastry making shares some commonality with casting and molding. His first sale sale was some time in late July 2016, and included his Symbio and Pok sculpts, followed by the Taka bird sculpt.

JTM Sea Caps Initial Sale
JTM Sea Caps Initial Sale

After sharing detailed progress of his initial sculpting and casting efforts on Geekhack, JT Sea (u/jtm_sea) runs his first public sale for his Bonk R1 sculpt, roughly inspired by Goombas from the Mario video game series.

MFCAPS Initial Sale
MFCaps

Dgneo runs his first “Alpha” sale of his Zev sculpt, based on the Mf Doom mask. His initial sale was mx pre-synth caps. In subsequent sales, he would also offer a Vik sculpt and WASD+Esc sets, and topre caps.

Aero Keys Artisans
Areo Keys

Raenbo posts his artisan keycap making progress on Geekhack’s Making Stuff Together forum, sharing photos of Topre blanks and Aero Keys’ initial released sculpts, the Mechashark and Rose. After a successful debut sale, Areo Keys would eventually release his most well-known sculpts, the Areophant.

Just Another Keymaker (JAK) Debut
Just Another Keymaker (JAK)

Reddit user RocketGruntJake starts sharing his initial sculpting and casting experiments in April 2016, and after getting a Synth, debuts his Gramps sculpt and has his first sale in July 2016. He would follow up with his Rose v1 sculpt in August 2016. JAK goes on to become a popular artisan keycap maker and is still active today.

BrewCaps Launches
BrewCaps Ogre

BrewCaps shares his debut Ogre-themed sculpt on Geekhack, and launches a sale shortly thereafter on his Esty store (this might be one of the earliest known community members to use Etsy, although many casual makers would later adopt the platform). BrewCaps would go on to become a popular maker with his Party Gnomes and Gobbler sculpts, and later on the meticulously detailed (and affordably priced) Pain and Eternity sculpts.

Switzcaps Debut Sale
Switzcaps Octo v1

Switzcaps shows off his Octo v1 sculpt in June 2016, and holds a debut sale on r/mm in August that year, for the Octo, Skullface, and some blanks. He would go on to refine the Octo sculpt and hold a few more sales, but then seems to leave his artisan keycap pursuits a year later.

BadMojo Caps
BadMojo Pyro

Canadian members Baddy126 and /u/MojoM1ke release photos of their Pyro sculpt on Reddit and Geekhack, and run their several sales shortly thereafter. They take a hiatus, and return two years later in 2018, for another series of Pyro sales. Their last sale was a single colorway No Face Pyro in March 2019, and they have been inactive since. The Pyro was a cute, well made sculpt, and somewhat successful at the time of sale, but because of large gaps between sales and lack of community engagement, they were not able to build a following.

Lost Keys Artisans
Lost Keys

Mattc777 introduces Lost Keys and his first artisan sculpt. In his words, “this  sculpt started as a fox, turned into a dino, and then began to look so much like a dog that I attempted to transform him into a “Sun God” version of Anubis.” Lost Keys would go on to have sales over the next year, of his Aviator Casey dog sculpt and Slurp dragon sculpt.

Caps Simulacra Debuts from Indonesia
Caps Simulacra

Indonesian craftsman, gadzkun, shares a “skeletor artisan” that he made on Nubbinator’s GMK skeletor Geekhack thread.  He proceeds to have a sale of the sculpt, officially called Pompaskull. Gadzkun also shares his impressive skill progression in the Making Stuff Together Geekhack forum, where also showcases some of his leather craftsmanship. (Some of his sales offered a leather pouch).

ipee9932cd (BRIZ) Previews First Sale Artisan
ipee9932cd

Avid artisan collector ipee9932cd shares a preview of Step the Ceph, his own debut sale cap, with colorful multi-shot designs. His earlier sculpting and casting efforts are also available on his Instagram.

2016 Deskthority Awards Includes Artisan Category
DT Awards 2016 Best Artisan Keycap

Deskthority was running annual awards since 2011, nominating products, vendors, or members across various keyboard categories, with winners chosen by popular vote by the DT community. The award categories have shifted throughout the years, and 2016 is the first time that artisan keycaps were included as a category. The official nominees in 2016 were:

  • KeyKollectiv x Booper for Kosmonavt
  • eat_the_food [nightcaps] for Fugu
  • Clack Factory for Flux Keypacitor
  • Key Kollective for Fruit Reboot
  • Jelly Key for Nebula

The winner by popular DT vote was Jelly Key, with Clack Factory in 2nd place, Eat_the_food in 3rd, and KeyKollectiv as honorable mention with both their nominations.

2017
Special thanks to Joey Quinn for collaborating with me to compile a significant chunk of early history, initially for the Board Culture Podcast we did together (see links below), and also to RoastPotatoes for his blog archive that helped to fill in the blanks.
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