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