[GB] [IC] Alps modifier kit: We Are The 65%

TL;DR: I propose to run an Alps modifier keycap group buy, this time targeting not just 60% builds, but the wildly popular 65% layouts we Alps enthusiasts have been denied for too long.

We Are The 65%

So you have gotten your hands on some delicious vintage Alps - now what? You could build a 60% or a TKL, as long as your donor board was a fullsize, since that can be achieved largely with a Teensy and a hacksaw. But if you are more ambitious, just one or two keys more ambitious - you are pretty much out of luck.

That's what this Interest Check is about. Could we design a set of Alps modifier keycaps which would allow us to build our Alps-based HHKBs and Leopolds and Whitefoxes without resorting to blanks or frankenboarding?

Here's what I've got so far. A set of 30+3 keycaps which would cover not just all the standard 60% layouts, but variations on a number of popular 65-ish layouts, like Leopold FC660, HHKB Pro 2, and Whitefox (True Fox and Aria). The reason I focus on these well known layouts is partly because they are great designs, and partly because there are aftermarket cases available for them ;)

Other known supported layouts include the Varmilo VA68 and the Clueboard (using donor board nav cluster caps).

Image


Legends
I would recommend the same legend style as Badwrench's modifiers, including the Alpine icon on the GUI keys and Glider icon on the Menu/secondary function keys. As for the geekhack legend, naturally I would prefer to swap that one for the DT logo if possible (all pending permission of course).


Colorway
Ideas? I am red/green colorblind so I am entirely the wrong person to do this. The color chosen in the images was just the best I could come up with for the examples.

I would suggest a colorway that differs from, but complements Badwrench's modifiers. This would make the set more attractive to those who already own one of those kits, and add to the too-limited choices we have in the Alps world.


Pricing and ordering
I'd want this to get into the hands of as many Alps enthusiasts as possible, and I believe a small kit with a low base cost and the widest possible coverage of the most popular layouts (in particular, 60s) is the best way to achieve this.

Assuming we'd be able to match the deal Badwrench made with SP for his modifier kit, we would be looking at a base kit of no more than 30 keycaps at a cost per base kit of roughly $50 (and $65 at the most), plus whatever addon kits receive enough interest.

Ideally I'd find a US based partner who would take 20+ kits and handle resale and shipping for CONUS and Canada, and I would do the same in the EU. Anyone committing to 3 or more kits up front would get a "backer's discount" (basically just getting the kits at cost), and we wouldn't take orders smaller than that until after the kits had been produced and sorted, to make sure noone is stuck waiting for their keycaps months after they've paid for them.

This structure would place all of the financial risk on myself and a few other backers, while at the same time helping to reduce the total shipping costs and distributing the burden of money collecting/sorting/packaging/shipping, a tedious process that historically has made a lot of GBs drag on for months. I'm not looking to make money off this, I'm just trying to make sure I don't get stuck with weeks of soul crushing labor all by myself.

Of course, if it turns out noone would be willing to partner up and take a chance on 20 of these kits, that might be an indication that the kit simply isn't good enough.


Possible Layouts

First, an ANSI 60% since that's what a lot of people have or want.
Image

Standard ISO 60% layouts are supported as well, although the right Alt legend should technically be Alt Gr. As an occasional ISO user myself I don't find this too annoying, but others may disagree. Is it worth the cost of one extra key in the set? Perhaps.

(here shown with an ISO-DE base set, but it should work the same with Scandinavian, UK, FR etc. base sets)
Image

The original HHKB Pro 2 has a 6u space bar and 1.5u+1u adjacent modifiers in the bottom row. This kit can't quite accomodate this, but we can get reasonably close. Also note that on this and several other layouts using the R2 Backspace, I swap the positions of the `~ and \| keycaps, but purely for aesthetic reasons (makes for a nicer colorway)
Image

The Leopold layout below requires a 6u space bar (available in gray or blue from SP) as well as the Ins/Del keycaps (or PgUp/PgDn if you prefer) from a standard fullsize Alps board. Also note that the kit doesn't include two 2.25u Shift keycaps, so the right shift has been 'split' for this example, although the extra Shift cap could always be acquired from someone using the kit in an ISO configuration.
Image

The popular and brilliant Whitefox deserves some Alps keycap love, although the three function keys on the right would require the Whitefox addon kit. The blue color is only to indicate that the keycaps are addons.
Image

And a personal favorite: a 60 with arrow keys, standard stagger, shift keys in pinky-friendly positions, and a cute dimple / beauty mark for a bit of character (can be outfitted with a 6u space bar to include a 'homing' gap next to the arrow cluster):
Image


Limitations
The kit does not support Pure Pro type layouts because these cause a nonstandard Row 4 stagger (using 2u Left Shift and 1u Right Shift) which apparently isn't easy to adjust to.

Because this would be DCS, it would not match the OEM profile of vintage Alps keycaps perfectly, but it does match them closely enough.
Mental note: make sure to specify the stem height profile to avoid cap height inconsistencies. Should specify 1Z for low sitting caps like the Badwrench mods or EX for high sitting like the Alpine Winter replacements.


Ideas / Possible changes
A) With just one more keycap (a 1u R5 Ctrl) it would support Whitefox Vanilla and Tada68.

B) The ideal bottom row combo for supporting 7u (and 6u) in a pleasing way (see row 2 and 3 below) will require adding a whopping 6 more keycaps. It's definitelypossibly the right thing to do, but without some other changes it might push the total cost of the kit beyond what a lot of people would pay.

Spoiler:
Image

I suppose one way to make it work is to add those 6 keycaps (2x 1.5u Ctrl, 2x 1.5u Alt, 2x 1u GUI) to the main kit and then move the arrow cluster plus the 1u Alt key into a separate kit (since some people may want the kit for classic 60% builds only, and others might use the arrow keycaps from a donor board for a bit of color contrast anyway).

In fact, it might be viable to simply drop the arrow keys from the kit altogether, since it's not too difficult to source an arrow cluster from a vintage Alps board (lots of leftover keycaps out there from 60% builds), and it's almost universal that custom boards have a contrasting color scheme on the arrow keys anyway. This would go a long way to making the kit affordable.


C) The ISO specific keys could be part of a separate kit?

D) Stepped CapsLock keycap - need to figure out where the mount point should be for maximum compatibility.

E) I was thinking of dropping the 1.75u R3 Control key entirely, and only supplying a logo keycap for that position, since it could work equally well for Control, Fn, Caps Lock, or Esc (you know who you are, vim people!). Of course that might intimidate some GH users, so we should probably design a non-community-specific logo for the modifier kit itself.

F) With just one more keycap (a second 2.25u R5 Shift) it would support the Leopold FC660 / Clueboard standard layouts
Last edited by Scarpia on 28 Nov 2016, 14:21, edited 4 times in total.
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Unread post07 Nov 2016, 16:56

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Unread post07 Nov 2016, 17:04

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For a little background: The current status (November 2016) in Alps keycap availability is: Matias sells a fullsize BoW set, Tai-Hao have produced a Dolch set (sold out) and a WoB set (sold out, but there's still some TKL leftover stock in the Clueboard shop). Then there's the 50-odd sets of Badwrench's Infinity modifier kit out there, and probably about the same number of Alpine Winter kits.

So we have black, white, blue and bluer, and Dolch, all pretty much only in standard sizes and mostly sold out.

Finally, there are rumors of Matias preparing some sort of PBT Alps offering in 2017, which is great news, and I will try to get confirmation of this before moving ahead with a Group Buy.
Last edited by Scarpia on 08 Nov 2016, 08:51, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread post07 Nov 2016, 17:06

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In addition to a doubleshot Alps Dolch, Tai-Hao also produce Olivette and White-on-Black. All three variants go on sale on Massdrop every couple of months. Currently the Olivette is still in stock at MechanicalKeyboards.com, which often has a subset of the range.

Matias have produced several variations. In addition to laser-etched black-on-white, they have also produced laser-etched white-on-black and black/white blanks. The printed sets come in localized varieties. Most are in stock at KeyboardCo.

The latest Alps versions of the KBParadise V60 and V80 keyboards now ship with a "Vintage" themed keycap option, which is basically the classic cream and beige look. This is a new one in addition to the existing white-on black and Dolch options.
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Unread post07 Nov 2016, 21:07

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It's great there is a lot of thought about how to maximize the possible layouts with minimum amount of keys. But I'm not sure there are so many layouts commonly used out there.

I think these are the most common Alps layouts:

* The KBParadise V60 and V80 both use the standard AT101W layout. These are the most popular new Alps keyboards that are not from Matias.

* The Infinity 60% board supports three layouts: Standard, Hacker, Alphabet. The newest one, Alphabet, is just the standard AT101W layout.

* Hasu's popular TMK Alps64 supports six layouts: AEK, AT101, AT101W, ISO, Infinity, BigAss. He has some nice diagrams illustrating the layouts.

* The now-shipping LZ Alps TKL supports three layouts: AT101, AT101W, AEK.

* The Clueboard 65%. Although the Cherry plate supports a lot of layouts, what I understand is that the Alps version doesn't have enough cutouts to handle all of them. Besides, are the exotic Clueboard layouts that common? Surely there is a lot of overlap with the above layouts in what people end up using?

Hopefully focusing more on a few common layouts can reduce the key count in the main set and also the cost!

I am more interested in the 60% kit myself. I would be happy to subsidize 65% layouts if that was the only way to get it made!
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Unread post07 Nov 2016, 22:24

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TL;DR: I think lots of people want to build 65s with Alps, or 45s, or HHKBs, or more exotic 60s, and right now none of it is realistically possible. This kit is intended to give us options - *and* look great on a standard 60.

Fair points infodroid.

AT101, AT101W and AEK layouts are by far the most common Alps builds among enthusiasts, that's clear when you look at the forums.

But I think you have the causality backwards, if your argument is that those layouts are widespread because people prefer them, and that the more exotic 65% layouts are rare because people don't actually want them. On the contrary, I believe the three layouts you mention are widespread *because* those keyboards are readily available, meaning a matching set of Alps keycaps can be harvested as long as you stick to one of those - and only those - layouts.

I think we've all just compromised with the regular 60s because we love Alps and we don't have the keycaps to do anything else.

This is exactly what I would like to change with this kit.

You can always build a 60 or a TKL with available Alps keycaps, and lots of people do (myself included).

Now, if we take the Cherry world as an indication of what people actually build when there is no shortage of keycaps, we are seeing a trend towards more creative, exciting and sometimes silly 65% (and 40%, and 75%, etc.) builds. This is not happening in the Alps world, and I think it's because people are restricted by whatever keycaps were on their donor board.

I would like to at least have the option of building something a little more daring. Maybe it still fits in a 60% case, maybe not. Maybe it's closer to a HHKB, maybe it's a full Whitefox. Maybe it's one of the dozen 65-ish layouts I've seen in the "Post your ideal keyboard layout" thread. But if we focus all our efforts on the three or four most common 60% layouts we'll never even have the option.

Of course, the other side of what you're saying is that this kit, if it is ever made, would certainly be used to spice up a lot of regular 60% builds as well, meaning we should obviously make sure the base kit will support those - and that we don't force a huge number of exotic keycaps on those who really just want to build a sexy 60% in an AT101W layout.
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Unread post07 Nov 2016, 23:58

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infodroid wrote:In addition to a doubleshot Alps Dolch, (...) The latest Alps versions of the KBParadise V60 and V80 keyboards now ship with a "Vintage" themed keycap option, which is basically the classic cream and beige look. This is a new one in addition to the existing white-on black and Dolch options.

Thanks infodroid, great info! I do wish that "Vintage" set from the KBParadise boards was available separately (hell, I wish they would just sell the V60 and V80 as kits so I could grab one and use Alps instead of Matias switches)
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 00:04

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@infodroid After thinking about it a little more, my reason for wanting to add the 1.5u bottom row modifiers was primarily to accommodate people who have a 7u space bar from their donor board. Of course, we could always just add a 6.25u space bar in the kit itself (or point those people to pimpmykeyboard.com which offers them individually), and drop support for 7u space bar layouts.

This would certainly reduce the key count, but would people miss the 1.5u modifiers? I personally wouldn't miss them (as you can see I even forgot about them in my first pass at designing the kit), but I figured there had to be a reason why both Badwrench and jdbair included them in their sets.

But that's why we do Interest Checks -- to validate our assumptions. If there isn't a demand for the "Tsangan" style bottom row, that just makes the kit cheaper for everyone.
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 00:17

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I feel like I would be most interested in a re-run of alpine winter; I think it is a great looking set that has a vintage look to it but modern in that it is a brand new keyset. Either way, I am definitely intrigued by this! Can't wait to see more. I would like to see if there is any interest in an ortholinear kit as jack has alps/matias compatibility on all the Planck/Preonic/Atomic.
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 00:20

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gnmar2723 wrote:I feel like I would be most interested in a re-run of alpine winter; I think it is a great looking set that has a vintage look to it but modern in that it is a brand new keyset. Either way, I am definitely intrigued by this! Can't wait to see more. I would like to see if there is any interest in an ortholinear kit as jack has alps/matias compatibility on all the Planck/Preonic/Atomic.

Alpine Winter is a great set, absolutely, with lots of options for 60s and 65s alike. The only problem with Alpine Winter is that it's a full 87-key set, pushing the price for the base kit to almost $100. My kit would be much smaller, similar to Badwrench's modifiers, with a goal to keep the price tag around $50 for the base kit.

Why do a modifier kit instead of a full kit?

  1. A much lower price means more people will be able to get it and there is a better chance of reaching MOQ (the #1 problem for Alps Group Buys)
  2. Everyone who is building or customizing an Alps board already has (or can easily get their hands on) a set of OEM alphas and numerics and a 6.25u space bar. Those are not really in short supply.
  3. Including alphas, space bars and numerics adds value to Alpine Winter, but not $50 worth of value. Nearly all the layouts you can do with Alpine Winter you could do with my kit. The main difference is that AW would give you a few more options for the colorway, having white `~ and \| keycaps. To me, that's not worth doubling the price of the base kit, though we could offer the alphas as a separate kit for those who really want it and see if we could reach MOQ.

As for an ortholinear kit, I'd need help to work that out - which keycaps would we need for such a kit?
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 08:27

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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 08:52

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JD40/JD45

As far as I can tell, JD45 would require quite a few extra keycaps.

R2 Esc
1u R2 Backspace
1.25u R3 Tab
1.5u Shift
1.75u Enter
(optional) another 1u R5 Fn
1.75u R5 blank / spacebar
1.75u R5 Backspace

That's 8-9 additional keys for a JD45 kit. More importantly, it would use just 7 keys from the base kit, meaning you would have to buy 20-some keys you don't need to get the 16 you do need. I just don't know if people would buy it.

The JD40 (w. standard bottom row) would be easier. It would need just 5 extra keycaps, but in terms of total cost, it would probably be cheaper to just have a JD40/45 kit custom made, since those ultramini boards need precious few keycaps in the first place. Even commissioning just a half dozen sets (at the highest possible cost per keycap) would be cheaper than buying a lower-cost-per-keycap set with 20+ keycaps you don't need.

Planck

From those links it looks like a Planck kit would require something like 21 additional keycaps, with only around 10-12 of the base+Whitefox sets being usable. If enough people want it (or if OLKB decided to place an MOQ-sized order), then sure, but they'd be paying for a pretty large overhead of unused caps.


I guess the additional cost for keycap sets is par for the course for the complete-redesign crowd, so the overhead cost may not actually be an issue, it's just me who gets overexcited about optimizing for the usefulness of every single keycap. Also, I adore both the Planck and JD's miniature layouts even if I probably couldn't get used to them.
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 09:59

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There're reasons why when people play with the smaller 40% boards, they prefer DSA profile - it's much easier to fiddle with the layout with just 1 key set. Personally for 60% and above, I prefer Cherry or DCS because they're designed for touch typing.
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Menuhin wrote:There're reasons why when people play with the smaller 40% boards, they prefer DSA profile - it's much easier to fiddle with the layout with just 1 key set. Personally for 60% and above, I prefer Cherry or DCS because they're designed for touch typing.

Absolutely - I would imagine DSA caps make a world of difference when playing around with ortho layouts.
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 11:23

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If the goal is to encourage experimentation with keyboard layouts on Alps boards then what would really help is having a go-to Alps DSA profile set. We might almost have this with the Light Cycle set next year.

I agree that if people really wanted more exotic Alps layouts, we would already see more of them in the Cherry world, where there are many DSA sets available and there are many more group buys for sculpted sets.

But focusing on 60% keyboards and over, I have not seen significant usage or interest in Cherry MX layouts other than the usual ANSI, winkeyless, 1800, HHKB, and leopold. Even in DSA.

While it is true that some people are experimenting with new layouts, this is often because they are working on quirky or smaller boards where they have to invent a brand new layout that makes sense for the size.

The problem in Alps land is that we don't yet have the basics, which is a good selection of sculpted and unsculpted keysets that covers the common layouts. This is where an Alps modifier kit can really help, putting sculpted vintage keysets to good use.

I don't think it's possible to make an ultimate modifier kit in a sculpted profile without also having a monster base kit, or else turning into a 7bit group buy with dozens of child kits!

I really don't envy the position of a keyset designer. There are difficult tradeoffs to make and you can never please everybody!
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 14:10

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infodroid wrote:If the goal is to encourage experimentation with keyboard layouts on Alps boards then what would really help is having a go-to Alps DSA profile set. We might almost have this with the Light Cycle set next year.
...

I'm saddened that Light Cycle group buy was not successful - I like its futuristic look.

However, if there will be a go-to Alps DSA profile set in 2017, I hope it's going to be in one of those classic design:

Granite or Dolch :oops:

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Scarpia wrote:After thinking about it a little more, my reason for wanting to add the 1.5u bottom row modifiers was primarily to accommodate people who have a 7u space bar from their donor board. Of course, we could always just add a 6.25u space bar in the kit itself (or point those people to pimpmykeyboard.com which offers them individually), and drop support for 7u space bar layouts.

This would certainly reduce the key count, but would people miss the 1.5u modifiers? I personally wouldn't miss them (as you can see I even forgot about them in my first pass at designing the kit), but I figured there had to be a reason why both Badwrench and jdbair included them in their sets.

I think one clue as to why there are 1.5u modifiers in the Alps DCS Infinity modifier kit is in the name... They are required for the Infinity 60% "Hacker" layout, which is probably why they were also supported in Alpine Winter. No doubt people also wanted to spruce up their vintage winkeyless keyboards, of which there are many out there like the Dell AT101 and SGI Bigfoot. It is also likely that people also had pre-existing 60% custom boards with the original modifiers and spacebar, and did not want to de-solder the bottom row just to have the option of trying out the modifier kit. There might also be people who just prefer the look or feel of a 7u spacebar with 1.5u modifiers. And there might be some resistance to using a PMK spacebar, which might not match the color of the alphas for example. Plus I'm not sure PMK had Alps DCS spacebars available for sale when the Badwrench kit was made.
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 15:03

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infodroid wrote:If the goal is to encourage experimentation with keyboard layouts on Alps boards then what would really help is having a go-to Alps DSA profile set. We might almost have this with the Light Cycle set next year

That's true, but again, that adds another 50 keycaps and takes us to a whole other price range. A major benefit of choosing DCS is to allow mixing and matching with the OEM alphanumerics that people already have, getting almost the same options for half the price.

If the Gods were to smile upon us and Matias released, say, a Granite fullsize or TKL set (plus a 1.75u Shift if he's really smart) in DSA profile, that would be a real game changer for Alps customs. But I don't think those molds exist. (If they do, someone please tell me so we can forget about modifiers and make that one instead!)

infodroid wrote:I don't think it's possible to make an ultimate modifier kit in a sculpted profile without also having a monster base kit, or else turning into a 7bit group buy with dozens of child kits!

Ultimate? Not a chance. Supporting ortholinears and JD45s and Pure Pros and datahands and ErgoDoxes would require hundreds of unique keycaps and there's noone who would buy them all and no chance of reaching MOQ for a dozen different child kits at once.

Not ultimate, but good enough for a handful of the most popular 65% layouts (for which you can even find cases, Alps-compatible plate designs, and in many cases even PCBs): Yes
infodroid wrote:I really don't envy the position of a keyset designer. There are difficult tradeoffs to make and you can never please everybody!

So true :lol: but hopefully it's worth the anguish.
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 16:05

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Scarpia wrote:If the Gods were to smile upon us and Matias released, say, a Granite fullsize or TKL set (plus a 1.75u Shift if he's really smart) in DSA profile, that would be a real game changer for Alps customs. But I don't think those molds exist. (If they do, someone please tell me so we can forget about modifiers and make that one instead!)

Wait a second.... the LightCycle GB was DSA?! So then... SP could actually produce an Alps mount DSA kit? That.. changes things. A bit. I mean, maybe. It's....

...

This is interesting.. :ugeek:
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 19:00

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Basically no-one already have DSA alphas for Alps that is not blank, right? (most of the infinitys had black dsa blanks from SP I think). So then it would have to be a complete set? I'm out of all DSA related buys, don't like the profile at all, but best of luck in any case :)
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 19:14

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Applet wrote:Basically no-one already have DSA alphas for Alps that is not blank, right? (most of the infinitys had black dsa blanks from SP I think). So then it would have to be a complete set? I'm out of all DSA related buys, don't like the profile at all, but best of luck in any case :)

Yep, for a DSA kit it would have to be a full kit - but in this case, the additional 50-plus keycaps would add a potentially enormous value in the form of extreme flexibility. If the community had a solid base DSA kit as a starting point, many many things would become possible.

Of course, LightCycle suffered and eventually failed not due to lack of interest or good management (Evan had both in spades) but due to an unfortunate combination of feature creep and an unforseen cost increase at the last minute. Both of which could be avoided next time around, now that we are aware of them.

Thinking.......... This is doable, this is doable... :idea:
Scarpia
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 19:39

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Applet wrote:Basically no-one already have DSA alphas for Alps that is not blank, right?

Well... If I am not mistaken, there are as many as 103 people who will receive a 40% Alps DSA Light Cycle keyset as part of the MiniVan kit. Though it will be missing some alphas needed for a full 60%.
infodroid
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 20:54

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If we really wanted to make a TKL-plus-nearly-all-the-things kit in DSA, we could actually make it a lot tighter than the LightCycle set by dropping the tenkeys, dropping some of the most exotic support (case in point: orthos) and limiting the ISO locales set to Wodan's NordEUk set.

Personally, I wasn't a huge fan of the LightCycle color scheme, but I grabbed the LightCycle set and took my hacksaw to it. The resulting kit went from 214 keys to 146 keys. And that still includes full TKL support, 2 space bars with bottom rows to match, all the 60s and 65s you can wave a stick at, color options, and the NordEUk ISO set.

How's this for a start:

http://tinyurl.com/hacksaw-keyboard

UPDATE - 'Ewok' color scheme and a few keycap changes: http://tinyurl.com/ewokboard

Note: This thread is still an Interest Check for the DCS modifier kit, not for a DSA full set. I was just thinking out loud a bit here...
Last edited by Scarpia on 28 Nov 2016, 14:51, edited 2 times in total.
Scarpia
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 21:36

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I feel confident that evangs will re-run LightCycle in the new year. But if it doesn't happen then it is only fair to make other arrangements.

If you really must run a DSA group buy, how about something a bit more immortal like a DSA Dolch set?

In the mean time I am still looking for more DCS Alps modifier kits... :roll:
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Unread post08 Nov 2016, 22:15

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If I were running a DSA group buy, it would be a full kit a la the link I just posted, and you can bet it would be either classic beige/gray or Dolch.
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Unread post09 Nov 2016, 13:03

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By the way, I like the color: it kind of reminds me of the color of the SGI O2.
Menuhin

Unread post09 Nov 2016, 18:30

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HHKB Pro 2 black blank // ThinkPad USB Keyboard with TrackPoint (SK-8855)
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Just wanted to state my interest in this.
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Unread post20 Nov 2016, 22:40

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I'm definitely buying this if it happens.
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Unread post21 Nov 2016, 00:36

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I'm interested - will get in on this if it happens (I've got a ton of standard Alps sets and no modifiers for them b/c I'm addicted to the HHKB-style layout).
sethbc

Unread post21 Nov 2016, 02:16

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Please count me in for this, should it come to fruit.
ShivaYash

Unread post26 Nov 2016, 21:22

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