Engraving keyboard keycaps

Hi @dan, I was just thinking something…

I’m just looking at my keyboard right now, there are some aftermarket laser engraved letters on it for our country, but it’s really sloppy work. The speed was to high I think, and it’s really not a clean engrave, didn’t remove all the material.

Do you think there could be a feature (maybe there already is) that could engrave multiple same items in the GF at once, but we only set up the first one.

Lets say I want to engrave 100 of the same letter keyboard keycaps (maybe I’ll start a business out of this :P). I put them all in the GF, set up one and just tell it do it for all the other ones as well. So I get the same result on all but only set up the first one.

I’m thinking this should be possible. The way that the Mac book was engraved, the GF recognized it and put the design over it automatically. Now if we scale it down to a 100th of that size, and put a lot more of those in there… Can we let GF just do it’s thing on all of them in a simple way?

Otherwise I’m thinking I’d just cut 50-100 openings in a piece of plywood that would snugly hold the keycaps, and just make a “profile” for it. The keycaps would always be in the same position relative to the borders of the pylwood.

Or maybe just put the whole keyboard in, but my Razer Blackwidow is to thick I think. :slight_smile:

btw @dan, could you try doing something like that? Or maybe not on that scale but just engrave 1 keyboard with some custom keys. Maybe replace the windows key with a Glowforge logo keycap :smiley:

Oh and forgot to ask this. In the software, can we zoom into the object that’s in the GF? Probably gonna be digital zoom.

I’m just wondering because the keycaps are pretty small compared to a macbook, and the engraving has to be nicely positioned.

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@briski I have an out of control mechanical keyboard hobby and engraving blank keycaps is definitely on my todo list. My plan is to do this in a couple of stages just like you describe above.

  1. Design and cut a keycap fixture so that I can accurately control the relative positioning of keycaps from one run to the next. Basically a piece of 1/8" or 1/4" wood that has holes that keycaps will slot into. Happily, this will also leave me with a template that I can use when laying out caps in my design program.
  2. Use the template that I created when I cut the fixture to align the engraving for the caps. I’ll put the keycap designs in the holes in the template so that they align with where the keycaps go in the fixture.
  3. Place fixture in Glowforge and load keycaps into the holes in the fixture.
  4. Click print, align my print with the fixture, and press the glowing button.
  5. Profit! :wink:

I imagine you could make it work without removing the caps if you used the Glowforge camera to take an image of the keyboard inside the machine and used that as the template to lay the design out on, but the limited Z area available between the bed and the laser head may make that problematic. My Ergodox and Kinesis keyboards are definitely too thick too! :smile:

Really excited to try this out for myself when my Glowforge arrives!

@mark I can’t wait for my Glowforge either :smiley:

I’d love to see a test run done by the guys at Glowforge, see if they come up with an even better solution/idea :smile:

Big challenge is knowing what plastic the keycaps are, to ensure it’s laser-compatible.

I know my friends at keyboard.io are going to be doing some experimenting here too…

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Well, if you are custom building a keyboard… no point in cheaping out with plastic at all. Wooden keys all the way!

(Yes, wooden keyboards are beautiful, but I haven’t used one, so cannot say what the splinter risk is…)

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We’ve done wooden veneer keycaps and they’re lovely and very nonsplintery.

ABS and PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) are the most common plastics used in keycaps. I’m personally a huge fan of PBT caps and know (via my unhealthy relationship with Massdrop) that they can be laser engraved at least at an industrial level. No idea what that translates to in terms of released gasses and the capabilities of the Glowforge filter though.

And awesome to hear that you’re working with the keyboard.io folks, I’m a huge fan of the work Jesse and Kaia are doing and am a supporter of that project too.

I got to shop for keyboards with Jesse and Kaia in Shenzhen last year. They rock.

You can google “PBT laser marking” and I’ll bet you’ll find some information - one major question is if CO2 wavelength works or if they are best with fiber/YAG.


Seems this didn’t post yesterday when I wrote it up. Nice that the forums save post drafts.

I know ABS is a huge “no no” for cutting (gas release).

PBT is a new material name for me. I looked it up real quick and one site listed it as mark capable under FIBER laser, but not under CO2 laser. Another site was talking about how nice engravings stand out in their PBT which is 30% glass fiber reinforced. The glass fiber was the reason they stated for why the engravings show up so nicely. Not sure if they were also responsible for CO2 laser being able to engrave it, nor if it is hard to find PBT with such reinforcement.


Somewhere I forgot add to the question. Is there any difference when engraving backlit keys?

Basically then we’re just removing the top material, which should be fine right?