Making my custom keyboard even more custom

Naked60BMP collage

The first time I saw the Naked60BMP it was sold out, but I knew it had to be mine. The layout I like and the ability to make it Bluetooth, in something so unique and portable? Sold. So when it finally came back in stock, I immediately grabbed a red one, because that was the only one that came with the artwork on a white background. Not necessarily my favorite cover color or material, but I figured I could source some interesting PU type of material and make it look like a makeup compact that’s actually a surprise keyboard.

After getting the kit and seeing that the artwork also covers the bottom plate, I started feeling like it was kind of a shame to cover it up. I thought about maybe using clear plastic, but then a very smart artist and keyboard friend suggested I replicate the art and heat transfer it onto the suede. That’s when I realized: the red was actually great, I just needed to make it my own and lean into the red-and-gold found so widely in Chinese (and Japanese) art as a part of my aesthetic.

I didn’t find the original art itself on the PCB files, but I did find this great vector art (helpfully filled in red and gold) and purchased it. A bunch of clicking on divide and merge in Illustrator’s Pathfinder later, I ended up with a file that was essentially one big path plus the inner cut outs instead of 2 paths per each individual petal and leaf, which the Cricut software could finally manage to actually set up to cut.

I then found a local place that sells adhesive and heat transfer vinyls and picked up some in gold (and a bunch of other colors, thanks stimmy). This specific heat transfer I got is the Siser EasyWeed Stretch, which doesn’t quite have the (scratchable) mirrored surface of their metallics, but still has plenty of shine and I figured being the stretch variety would help prevent cracking around the hinge area of the cover. The cover material is closer to 12.5 inches wide at the widest point, while the biggest safe cutting area on my machine is 11.5 inches wide, but that’s fine – the little slices that are not patterned are mostly hidden under keycaps anyway.

It took a solid 45 minutes for the cut to complete. I did not do a test cut first, but I highly recommend you do if you’re not using a material the cutter machine is specifically calibrated for – I got lucky and the backing material only split in a few places, but it could have been a disaster. Also note that for heat transfer you will want to mirror the image to be cut (it’s usually an option when starting the cut). I did remember to do a test transfer, where I used the lowest heat setting on my little press and a thin slice of the material. I set it in place and used protective paper over it and then kept the press constantly moving over the area for about 25 seconds, letting it cool before peeling off the backing. It adhered perfectly and even after picking at it with tweezers it wouldn’t budge and only showed minimal wrinkling.

After spending for-freaking-ever weeding out all the negative space (the parts where the red should show through) I lined the pattern up with the cover material to best showcase the design on the top cover area, made sure it was all lying flat, and then got to work heating and pressing one overlapping area at a time, making sure to keep something nonstick or unimportant under the areas where the heat transfer went outside of the material so it wouldn’t stick to my heat pad.

After cooling, I cut off the margins of the material, and got to work trimming down the edges cleanly and poking the screw holes back through the vinyl where it had covered them. The edges don’t really show so it doesn’t have to be an ultra-precise job, just enough to prevent raggedy bits from getting caught in anything. I then completed the assembly of the outer case with copius double-sided tape, having already build the keyboard part itself first to make sure it all worked, and voilà! A custom-custom keyboard, ready to travel with me around the house and outside into the world when travel becomes a thing again.

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