Along with giving folks a comfortable means of typing for hours on end, a decorated mechanical keyboard can also reflect the passions of the user. Since no existing keysets adequately reflected my love of Final Fantasy, I made my own.
A nice set of keycaps can completely change the look and feel of a mechanical keyboard, but you can only do so much mixing and matching pieces from packaged sets or sifting through grab bags. In order to get what I really wanted, I had to go custom.
There are several places that will print custom keyboard keys to your specifications. So far I’ve tried two of them. At Max Keyboard I kept things simple, using the simple color picker tool to work out a colorway for my Pok3r, a 60 percent board from Vortex. The keys were $20, the side-printing another $20, and I got a nice-looking Reese’s peanut-butter board for not a lot of money.
The keys aren’t premium quality, but there’s no other set quite like it, and the price is quite lovely.
See how each of the alphabet keys corresponds to the first letter in the name of the Pokemon? That’s exactly what I wanted to do with Final Fantasy characters.
To do this, I had to go beyond the color picker. Downloading a template file from WASD and grabbing a copy of the outstanding open source vector graphics editor Inkscape, I went to work.
To be completely honest, I went to work four or five different times before I finally bit the bullet and committed to the project. The empty template is quite daunting, but once I’d placed the first couple of images there was no going back.
For images I turned to the outstanding Spriter’s Resource, where people have been pulling pixels from games for ages. I went with original game sprites for games that had them. For later Final Fantasy titles I used sprites from mobile games like All The Bravest, Brave Exvius and Record Keeper. I tried to represent each game in the main series, with a couple of side game characters thrown in for good measure.
Once I finalized my design I placed my order with WASD. The entire keyset, made for a tenkeyless board, cost $47, so cheap that I spent another $100 on a keyboard to go with it. I placed the order on April 24. On April 25 I was contacted to fix a mistake on my template. On April 27 the completed keyboard shipped. On April 28 I started kicking myself for not choosing faster shipping.
On May 4, the box arrived.
Not knowing what to expect, I may have whispered a silent prayer as I opened the box.
So far, so good.
Oh yes. The board turned out exactly as I had pictured it in my head, save for the green trees on the spacebar not matching quite as well as I had hoped.
It all began with Shantotto on the S key. From there it spiraled out of control.
Since I decided to limit character selection to heroic figures, I had to pull a few fast ones. The X is Red XIII from Final Fantasy VII, for example. Also note the inclusion of Delita from Final Fantasy Tactics.
The menu font came out really well with the blue keys.
The number keys are Roman numerals corresponding to Final Fantasy games, except when you need to Type-0.
Spacebar Chocobo is going places.
I got a little Final Fantasy IV heavy with the arrow keys. Recognize this scene?
How about Celes singing in Final Fantasy VI?
There were a few ideas I had for the board that didn’t quite come to fruition. For example, I wanted Locke on the Caps Lock key, but thought it might make the design a little less clean. Should I change my mind, WASD also offers single printed custom keycaps, so I can add elements as I see fit.
And there you have it. Around 10 hours of design including worrying over character picks, a few days to print, a few days to ship, and my Final Fantasy keyboard dream has come true.
Want to give it a go for yourself? You can download templates for Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape from WASD and get plugging away. If you want this specific set, I uploaded the SVG file to Google for everyone to play with. Just make sure you choose the right color keys, and you’re good to go.