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Keyboards with Soul – Artisan Keycaps Designer Interview

Artkey Universe's keycaps are sketched, sculpted, and cast by hand.

Artisan keycaps are not your standard keyboard button. They’re not even those slick mechanical caps with cute designs printed in them.

Artisan keycaps are more like usable sculptures. And despite being little known, artisan keycaps are an extensive artform. You can dress up your keyboard with almost anything– like dragons, koi ponds, pokemon, and even a smaller computer. It really is a small universe to discover, and for people who spend their day on their keeb, it’s a true treasure trove.

ArtKey Universe is a team of designers and sculptors that specialise in creating the higher end of these key caps, with a single cap costing 100-200 dollars– not to mention special commissions.

They’re sold via raffles, and are deadly hard to get a hold of. That and their resin casting makes them a true heirloom for keyboard enthusiasts. 

Before Artkey Universe, what was the first keycap you remember making?

We introduced our first ever keycap back in 2017, which was the Bull. Long-time collectors will refer to this one as the Bull V1, to distinguish it from its later version released in 2019. 

ArtKey Universe's Bull V1 Keycap

Where does a piece start, with a sketch?

With an idea, to be exact. 

For the sculpts (or the moulds), we draw inspiration from our everyday life, the items that are in our immediate vicinity, or from our inner world of imagination. This is how our creations are first given form, from the animals, the monster to our most recent and popular motif – the space animals. 

For the colorways, we turn to cultures, media for ideas. When we are set on one specific idea, a sketch will be produced to visualise the colorway. 

Artkey Keycap sketch

Then comes the sculpting, how long does one cap take from sketch to final product?

The process of sculpting is arduous and more than often requires perpetual refining. From the initial idea to the complete sculpt can take us months. Take Kibou for example which was in development for over 6 months as we kept on adjusting the details and mulled over which version to release. 

And most of the time, the sculpts will experience some changes or even a complete overhaul post-release. 

sculpting and moulding

Do you use your own keys? What do you have on your Esc key right now?

Of course we do! But rather than having them on the keyboard, we much prefer our cuties sitting inside their own boxes. 

Still, we do like to use them if the opportunity arises, some caps feel particularly good to the touch. For example, here is our Exoboy in the colorway of GMK Mecha-01, with that same GMK Mecha-01 keycap set and an equally fitting keyboard. 

Artkey Universe’s product photos are stunning, I love how the Voidwalker set is surrounded by fruit. Who does those for Artkey Universe, and do you have a favourite?

We are so flattered that the photos have your interest! We do put a lot of effort into them. The photos are created in-house, our sculptor (Capupu) and Colormaster (Atiso K) are also in charge of photographing.  

There’s an extensive writing exploring the behind-the-scenes of these photoshoots. We try to create a world for our artisan keycaps as vivid and lively as we can. This is the article if you are interested: https://artkeyuniverse.com/blog/off-camera-highlight.html

artkey product photos

I saw that the team gets inspiration from the oddest places– like a street cat– what inspired the latest batch?

Our belief as artisan keycap makers is: “Everything can be art,” in which we draw ideas from just about anything we come across, then give it a twist of our personality and… voila

As for the latest creation, Otis, let’s just say we have a soft spot for cats in general. Daniel, a core member of Artkey, housed a few cats, each has its own personality, and there’s our inspiration. 

Do other artists inspire the work?

Oh, we adore the work of other artists, especially since Vietnam is a haven for artisan keycaps where many other talented makers are based. Their skills in the art of sculpting and resin casting never fail to fascinate us. 

What’s more, we’d like to work with such artists and together create the resin goodness 

About the source of inspiration, we turn to everyday life, anything on the news or any cultural events at all. For example, here is our Moon Walker Sirius to celebrate Space Exploration Day.
moonwalker sirius artisan keycap

And what’s one thing that we wouldn’t know about the artisan keycap process?

It’s a gamble. Resin and paint have a mind of their own in a sense that they will behave in their own ways before and after curing. Such a trait introduces many a problem during the process, hence the high error probability.

Lastly, what do you have in the works? 

Previously, we talked about working with other artists to make artisan keycaps. A collaboration project featuring a few other keycap makers will be revealed November 2023. 

Sounds exciting! Thanks for the interview!

You can check out Artkey Universe’s keycaps at their site. And you can follow their work on their Instagram, their Discord, their Facebook, or their YouTube.

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