Quest for New Keycaps

Getting commercially available parts to produce a brand new Commodore 64, that has never set foot in a Commodore factory, has been on top of my ‘must have’ list for quite some time. It’s fairly easy to get a brand new C64 motherboard (C64 Reloaded & Ultimate64), a new case (Pixelwizard) and a mechanical keyboard (MechBoard64). However, the keycaps are still causing some issues… Due to the looong wait for the Phase5 Indiegogo campain, quite a few people have tried to come up with alternative solutions to get new keycaps without having to get new moulds made which are silly expensive. A group of dedicated people on lemon64.com (mongooseman, FeralChild & Starglider2/Perifractic among others) have presented different approaches. This post is an overview of what they have come up with so far. I encourage everyone to contribute to the Quest for New Keycaps either here or on Lemon64! We all need new keycaps to get that final (LEGO…) piece of the puzzle…

The BrixKey4 Keycaps

Perifractic has build a fully functional LEGO Commodore 64 called The BrixtyFour. During his experiments, he found that some of the LEGO pieces fit the stems of the original Commodore 64 keycaps. He has therefore taken a completely alternative path and used standard LEGO bricks to create the World’s 1st All New Commodore 64… The keycaps are made from approximately 200 LEGO bricks and plates. The latter have been painstakingly designed and printed with the correct Commodore 64 characters – sweet! The keycaps are called BrixKey4 and can be purchased from Perifractic’s Takeout Store (link). The keycap sets are the world’s first fully commercially available replacement keycaps for the original Commodore 64 and the MechBoard64. The keycaps are sold in two versions: one is designed for the original Commodore 64 (link) and one is for the MechBoard64 mechanical keyboard (link).

Perifractic has made a really cool video on his YouTube channel (Perifractic’s Retro Recipies) of the build. Enjoy almost half an hour with his soothing voice, joyful puns and follow his quest to build the worlds 1st brand spanking new Commodore 64!

Homemade Moulds & Keycap Modding

Mongooseman have tried several approaches. He has experimented with making his own keycap moulds with very impressive results! He also tried removing the keycap socket of a modern day keycap and positioned it correctlyt to the side for mounting. Very creative!

As he has access to a 3D CNC router, he are also in the process of making wooden keycaps…

Modern Day Keycaps and 3D printed Adapters

FeralChild use modern day keycaps that have been custom printed by WASD keyboards. As described here (link) the 1.5u sized keycaps (Function keys, CTRL, SHIFT, RESTORE) cannot be used directly as the female socket of the keycap is centered which causes problems when fitted inside a Commodore 64 case. He is therefore creating a 3D printed adapter that that can ‘skew’ the 1.5u keycaps enough to mount them correctly. There is of course also the size 9u spacebar which is not a standard size… UPDATE: The files can be found on GitHub here (link)

Final Thoughts

I honestly hope that Phase5 will surprise us all and deliver the keycaps he was paid to deliver back in 2015. I certainly have my doubts, but that would really make things a lot easier. Until then, the LEGO approach is the easiest way to get brand new keycaps, regardless that it’s not Commodore perfect (whatever that is, right?). The flat top resembles most modern day laptop keyboards and the writing experience should be quite good.
I personally like the approach with the 3D printed adapter and modern day keycaps with custom C64 prints. This seems like an easy solution as a complete set of keycaps can be purchased for a reasonable price. WASD keyboards even offer a keycap with the Commodore logo on (link). Pimpmykeyboard.com offer a SA Family size 9u spacebar (link) but that does not have the same shape as offered by WASD keyboards. So it’s not a perfect solution. Maybe some 3D printed covers can be created to fill the gap if using a standard sized 6.25u spacebar?
None of the above use keycap solutions resemble the shape of the original keycaps. Moongooseman’s work with the 3D CNC routing therefore looks promising.
As stated in the beginning of this post, I encourage everyone to contribute to the Quest for New Keycaps either here or on Lemon64! The combined efforts will hopefully find a way to reach the ultimate goal of getting brand new Commodore keycaps for our machines.

© breadbox64.com 2019

6 comments on “Quest for New Keycaps

  1. I have published my project here (link). Unfortunately, the results of keycap adaptations were… well not as good as I expected. But at least I have some thing useful now 🙂

  2. Hi FeralChild, That is so cool! Thank you for sharing and for your thorough explanation on GitHub. I really had my hopes up for the 3D printed adapter you were working on 🙁 That would at least have taken care of the 1.5u key problem. What about the height of the modern day keycaps in relation to the case – is that ok? The bottom of the keycaps are below the case suface, right? Wishing more than ever that Phase5 would let us know whether or not his campaign will ever deliver. This way we could either wait for him or we could do another fundraising to get new keycaps…

  3. Hi Offtime, it would fairly simple to modify the keyboard to accommodate modern day keycaps. Fitting a SA Family 9u spacebar would simply call for two additional slotted holes like I did in this picture (link). This obviously rules out any other type of modern day spacebar as these are usually smaller in size (e.g. 6.25u). Furthermore, the holes for the 1.5u sized switches would have to be rectangular shaped in order to fit both the original C64 keycaps and the modern type keycaps. This may lead to instability issues and a big ugly hole next to all the 1.5u keys.

    Another issue is having modern day keycaps printed only for the purpose of populating the MechBoard64. To get a fair price, around 1000 sets of keycaps have to be made. I will never sell that many MechBoard64s. Thus, I’ll most likey end up with heaps of keycaps that cannot be sold. It’s too much of a risk.

  4. What about the height of the modern day keycaps in relation to the case – is that ok?
    In my opinion – yes.

    The bottom of the keycaps are below the case suface, right?
    Actually, they are about the same level, maybe even like 1mm above. Might as well depend on the brackets you use (I use 3D printed ones from COREi64, designed especially for the Ultimate 64).

    the holes for the 1.5u sized switches would have to be rectangular shaped in order to fit both the original C64 keycaps and the modern type keycaps. Another issue is having modern day keycaps printed only for the purpose of populating the MechBoard64
    Why not to provide two separate MechBoard versions than – one for the C64 keycaps, and one for modern keycaps? And you don’t have to provide the keycaps at all, this might be simply left to the user. And, if you design it to use 6U spacebar, you will have space for two 1.5U keys on both side of the space bar (alternative approach: 6.5U space + 2x 1.25U keys); if they are available through some additional pins at the bottom of the keyboard, they might find some good use – performing the reset, invoking some Ultimate64 functions, cycling through SD2IEC disk swap list, etc.

  5. It would almost be better to 3D print the Function Keys. I have had these printed (link) by Voodoo over in Brooklyn and they come out very nicely. However, like a lot of 3D prints you have to sand them down and paint them to get them smooth. Perhaps a liquid process would yield better results but my local 3D printing service does not support it. Supposedly sometime this year there is going to be a group buy for these (link), but they would not solve the issue with keys larger than 1U.

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