Brace yourselves, this is a big one.
It all started with a Planck, I was intrigued by the size and the arrangement. What a cute, useful little board, no waste around it, no bezels.
I was purchasing some caps for another project and the SA relegendables really intrigued me. I love macros, and customising. If the Optimus Popularis and Maximus weren’t so shit I’d buy them, but there you go.
Around the time I started this little project I also changed jobs, more frequently staying in hotels overnight with a Chiclet laptop. The idea of the relegendable being glow in the dark, and also the fact it diffused light so nicely I meant I couldn’t help myself but wire up some LEDs. Worked great. As I started to draw up some legends I thought “why not use 2 faces”, then I thought, “why not have multiple layers too”. Not wanting to stray too far from the standard Planck at this point I thought QWERTY on home along with its modifiers, then Dvorak and Coleman as separate layers, and maybe use the front to represent that layer? Could that work, would you see it?
So I printed some up, the dimensions were way off but it’d do. Looking through my K95’s LEDs (don’t worry, this soon goes), it looked super-funky-glowalicous and so I was sufficiently motivated to devote literally hundreds of hours to a new project.
I tested a few out, this worked. I needed to plan what goes where, and so I did.
I drew them up, and then worked on some basic templates to cover the 2 faces, but as I did that I thought why not use another face….. Why not use ALL the faces. And so, the Compboard was born.
The Composite Keyboard, the Compboard. A portable keyboard that could be used in multiple ways based upon the situation. A keyboard for my tablet, maybe a shortcuts bar for laptop, maybe the gaming keys for use when gaming on the laptop and so I don’t need to use the shitty scissor switches etc…. the ideas kept flowing. The ideas, they were the easy bit. Basically use the side layers with the keyboard turned 90 degrees in portrait, as a secondary keyboard next to the main. The backside forwards for the back keys. Just by turning the keyboard around you have multiple keyboards at once!
I experimented with different paper types and thicknesses, even getting some printed on photo paper at a kiosk (poor quality). The thickness worked will though in terms of solid colour / backlight effect.
I practiced on rough standard paper for alignment and layout, using the thick stuff when happy.
As I played with designs and layouts the changing in positions in PS had become laborious. I hadn’t been sensible and used layers and foler properly, it was largely a mess and needed very manual positioning. I developed methods and later actions to do a lot for me.
I wasn’t happy with the visibility of the larger legends.
Or some colours
Testing where it may live, this layer was all about quick shortcuts to common web design asci codes.
Printing myself on thin photo paper gave really great results.
Many, many hours of tweaking images and cutting (cutting is a killer)
I was content with this layout and also positioning, everything was legible and looked great. I spent a lot of time cutting the rest of the board.
Testing in position next to keyboard in “Shortcuts” mode.
Frequently I’d notice a mistake and need to print either all, or partial changes.
So by this time all the focus was on the keys. I’d ordered an orange milled case from OLKB when Jack said he had them in stock, however that took 12 weeks to be dispatched. After about 8 weeks I lost my faith in them and so modified the steel plate a bit, added some filler and sugru to the edges and as a temporary measure sprayed using peel coat. It actually was very robust, still is, and looks and feels great. I’ms till using now and it’s good to know it peels right off and can be reapplied, but also durable enough to take knocks.
I finished the board, much elation and joy was felt.
Overall, really happy with how it looks. The colours, legends and overall quality exceeds what I started to do. I’d love for everyone to have one, but right now this is a very expensive project. The SA keycaps where way over $100, the Planck obviously expensive and then the cost / effort / resource to build layouts, print them and create firmware makes this a difficult scalable project. I’d like a setup for Photoshop / Premiere shotcuts, Final Cut Pro, specific games, there are many many applications and it’s be great to have a pool of profiles you could assign to layers, but this is not only a software hurdle, but also a physical process one of all the cutting out. I know a die could be used or some kind of machine, but we’re then into a consumer product instead of a home project. I’m not done with it, so please expect to see some software to make this a reality for all. If anybody actually cares. Lol. Couple of mentions: Pyrolovesmoney was involved from very early on. He offered a listening board, suggestion and also approved / disproved of various crazy ideas and initiatives. We probably spoke about this project every day and almost every idea / photo was ran by him. I’ve no doubt he is as sick of this as I am. It is good to talk these incredibly geeky things through with people though (preferably not your wife unless you want to expose just how much of a dweeb you are). Rominronin sold me the original board, he was one of the first to hear this idea, he kind of gave me the initial “good idea” motivation. RAMA, a solid design engineer, later in the project Renan gave me lots of encouragement.
So here she is, now I need to refine how I’m doing the mappings, and also the automation of the legends using some kind of website builder model. I’d like for that to also create the file and print it, maybe produce the correct firmware to flash as well. That’s the plan anyway.
For now I’m handling most of the mapping with clever hotkey assignments on software.