This is our first time sharing the artisan keycap tips. Though we are lacking of experience compared to some other makers, we still want to make some contribution to the community.
There are lots of tips you can find on Youtube, as well as from top artisan makers like HWS and Zorb. So we only share some tips regarding the preparation and casting process to help you get ready for the long and tedious day of casting.
1) First and foremost the most important thing to note is your choices in resin and silicone. For beginner who wants to make artisan keycaps with resin finds it impossible to seek a good and suitable resin and silicone. These materials are not cheap at all, so in case you choose the wrong one, it can easily ruin your spirit. There are so many brands and types of resin/silicone on the market, from industrial materials to handcraft brands. Hence, before choosing resin, you should list down and decide following factors: Budget, Personal protective equipment (PPE), Pot life and curing time that are suitable for you.
- Budget: I believe in the saying: “You get what you pay for”, so the higher your budget is, the better materials you will have. Allotting your budget for testing, then choose the best resins/silicone based on your price/performance criteria. Some good advice that you can consider is only choosing to buy materials from a good brand, and try to avoid industrial materials. Industrial materials can cause severe damage to your personal health as time goes by. Here is some brands that we recommend: Smooth-on (price range is 30 – 50$/kg resin/silicone), Alumilite (same price range), Craft Arrange from Japan (really expensive, it might up to 100$/kg, but it’s safe for handcraft).
- PPE: This part is very important, it ensures that you will stay in the field as long as possible. Some handcraft brands guarantee that their product is non-toxic and cause no negative effect to personal health. In fact, we still find it negative if we don’t wear a good PPE set. “Must have” list includes 2 parts: Mask and Glove, they both must have a function to anti contamination to your skin/lung when you work with resin and silicone. Mask must have 2 functions: Anti dust and air filter while glove goes with waterproofing. Beside that, If your PPE is good enough, you can also use industrial materials to save cost.
- Pot life and curing time: it depends on your skills and dexterity. Normally, people choose resin/silicone which Pot life is around 30 – 60 mins and curing time is 2 -4 hours. This offers makers enough time for casting resin into the mold, but don’t have to wait too long for each shot they cast. Just imagine that a 3-shots colorway might take up to 3 days to finish if you try the 12-24 hours curing resin.
2) Second note is bubble handling. After the materials are taken care of, in order to have a perfect cast of the final product, you have to deal with bubbles. Generally, Resin bubbles formed during 2 stages: Mixing and Casting. To completely eliminate them, you have to have at least a vacuum chamber and a vacuum machine. Mixing 2 parts of resin, using vacuum machine to eliminate all bubbles then start casting part.
After casting, it may generate bubbles again as your casting actions and resin absorbing moisture around it. So, you have to use vacuum machine one more time in the step to completely get rid of bubble again.
3) Last but not least, mold closing is a big deal to new maker and can destroy your hard work just by a silly mistake. Basically, it’s safe and sound if you do a 1x1 mold. If you are doing so, you can skip this tip. In case you do 2x2 and 3x3 mold, closing mold may ruin all your molds/sculpts if you don’t do it carefully and correctly. One of signals of failed mold closing is that the stem doesn’t work properly when you put it on your board, for example: being slightly stuck in the board whenever you press it which mean the stem is off-center or another example is lacking of resin after closing, causing the mold to not fill up properly.
So, tip for this is about mold designing. So be very careful with the closing the mold, be as observant and detailed as possible. Make your mold simple, but must have some concave and convex/ interlocking parts (think of legos) to ensure it’s totally match 2 parts.
There are many other problems that may occur during casting products, we can't describe them all, but above tips are good enough for a new beginning with making artisan keycaps. Hopefully you can find it useful and applicable.