Until now, keycaps have been made in a range of luxe materials, including walnut wood, aluminium, stainless steel, and of course resin. But the engineers and mad scientists of the mechanical keyboard community have never been ones to rest on their laurels, and the envelope has been pushed even further with new glazed-ceramic keycaps. Yes, you can now enjoy the cool, slick feel of artisanal pottery during your hours behind the keyboard.
The keycap designers to coin and mint this idea are CeraKey, a small band of chinese designers who have since become quite beloved among the diehard keycap community. I was lucky enough to have some time to chat to Mr CeraKey himself to learn about the origins of the ceramic keycap and their production process. Here’s what I found out:
What made you think of ceramic keycaps?
One time, when I was on my way back from a PBT keycap factory, the idea suddenly came to me that a new material like ceramic could also be used to produce keycaps.
How did you even organise for these to be made? Even if ceramics are a big industry, you’re treading new ground for keycaps, and it can’t have been easy.
China has been the forerunner and leader in the ceramics world for thousands of years and it is indeed a well-established industry here. However, with no ceramic keycap products existing before us, it’s been tough for us to start without a foundation.
So we simply started to design and produce based on other similar ceramic products. We still experienced many unexpected obstacles and difficulties in the process.
First, we produced a handful of prototypes, and then we had to design and customise the production machines. Due to the uniqueness of the ceramic blanks– and especially the glazing, which is the most complicated part– we monitor the performance and collect feedback monthly. And besides that, to keep the keycaps affordable for most people, many more process adjustments were made.
What does the production process look like?
To start the production, we need to prepare the ceramic slurry first, make it into a blank, start the glazing process afterwards then send it to the kiln. After about one night, the fired ceramics will be taken out of the kiln, and start printing legends on the keycap, and heated again. During the manufacturing of the Cerakeys, the keycaps go through several glazing stages. In the final stage the legends are applied and the ceramic keycaps are fired one last time.
Now for our V2 version, we need to glue the plastic stems into the keycap after. After completing all these, we start doing QC checks and package them.
Have you considered any other unusual materials?
Yes, I thought about glass before, but personally I’m more interested in the touch and feel of ceramic.
What’s next? Ceramic casings?
Ceramic casings are quite challenging, because ceramic shrinkage is really hard to deal with. Ceramic shrinks super easily under high temperatures, which means it’s easy to deform even just the small keycaps. Then with larger keycaps, like the spacebar, it gets quite tough to deal with, let alone the size of a keyboard case.
We’re still working on it, but we’ll start with other stuff, maybe a ceramic knob first.
What does your keeb look like today?
I’m currently using the Angry Miao CYBERBOARD R2 with our black ceramic keycaps.
Are there any brand or artist collabs that you think would be perfect for Cerakey?
When we first started the design work– from glaze colour to character style– we knew we wanted a range of options for our audience. It’s still early days, and we haven’t got any collabs in the works just yet, but we are excited to cooperate with other creatives to design new styles in the future.
What have you enjoyed the most about building Cerakey?
Growing and transforming with the brand. We started from a Kickstarter campaign and got a lot of feedback and feature requests from our audience. Then, working to solve them one by one and trying to meet their needs has been really challenging but satisfying. We see Ceramic keycaps with a lot of potential and many more to discover!