Resin-casted artisan keycaps can range in price anywhere from about $10 all the way up to over $1000. I’ve seen folks who are perfectly happy to pay $250 for a resin artisan keycap from a maker they like, and I’ve also witnessed people complain very loudly and publicly about a keycap costing $20.
(I’ve already discussed polymer clay keycaps; please read the blog post on clay keycaps to obtain a better understanding of the process for unique one-off keycaps and why they cost what they do.)
So why do artisan keycaps cost as much as they do?
The answer is multi-faceted, so I’ll break it down into different factors that contribute to cost:
This is a straightforward one. Materials are costly. Some equipment is one-time startup cost (pressure pot, air compressor, sculpting tools, scale, etc.) and others are continued costs (resin, clay, silicone, dye, pigments, cleaning supplies, nitrile gloves, respirator cartridges, stir sticks, mixing cups, mold release, the list goes on and on).
Creation, Sculpting, and Mold-Making
Every resin artisan keycap started as an idea which then had to be brought into the physical world as a master (either hand-sculpted or modeled in 3D software), which takes hours if not days or weeks. Some even take months.
Once the master exists, silicone molds must be made of the master in order to cast resin. Mold-making isn’t particularly complex, but it is time-consuming. It usually takes 6+ hours of cure time to make a mold, and ratios of silicone need to be exactly right or the mold won’t cure properly and the time and materials are unusable. In rare (and very unfortunate) cases, a poorly-mixed silicone ratio can ruin a master sculpt, meaning the entire process has to start over from a clean slate.
Color Theory and Color Complexity
Colors need to be mixed in ratios and color theory knowledge plays a large role. Types of colors and associated techniques are also important: liquid pigment versus powdered pigment, translucent versus opaque, colors mixed into resin versus painted into the mold and bonded through the curing process, colorshift and interference colors, materials added for effects, etc.
When keycaps require multiple shots of resin into different areas of the mold, complexity of those shots contributes heavily to skill required and rate of failure. Casting complexity also contributes to time: each shot needs to cure before the next, but not too short (will form bubbles when de-pressurized) and not too long (won’t bond to the following shot). Particularly complex shots result in higher rates of failure and B stock, which cannot be sold — at the very least, not at full price. Failures of complex casts are particularly costly in terms of wasted time. Keycaps that require shots at awkward angles or depths also take longer to make and are more prone to failure.
Encapsulations are particularly time-consuming and often require multiple full casts, intricate hand-painting, and much longer cure times for crystal-clear epoxy resin.
When a particular casting / colorway is very challenging to repeat, this can also drive cost up because creating more of a particular colorway might result in a lot of additional time and failures. Repeating previous color mixes and complex effects can also be challenging, especially for those of us who do not have production-level mold-making equipment.
Time and Effort
Some folks make keycaps as their primary business. Other makers are multi-person teams. Still others (like myself) do it as a hobby on the side, while holding an unrelated full-time job. For those who don’t have time to dedicate more than a few hours per week to keycraft, the time cost of making keycaps can be very high.
You’re Buying an Artist’s Skill and Experience
When you purchase any kind of art, you’re not just paying for the physical object alone. You’re paying to show appreciation for the artist’s skill, experience, time, and effort. You wouldn’t want to pay $500 for a muddy footprint on a piece of printer paper because that didn’t require any skill, practice, or expertise.
I don’t buy things I could easily make myself in a short amount of time. Most people don’t.
I buy art to own and to appreciate someone else’s creativity, ingenuity, skills, time, and commitment to their craft. They went through trials and tribulations, successes and failures, blood, sweat, and tears to get to the point where they’ve become practiced enough and confident enough in their abilities to put their work out there and ask for compensation for it.
Most keycap artists aren’t charging a premium for their art just to gouge people, or to try to make “easy money.” Artisan keycaps are priced by the artist at a value that they consider worth the time and effort it takes to create them.
Thank you so much for your support!
Finally, I would like to thank you for your support — and I don’t just mean support in the form of keycap purchases. Your support in visiting my Instagram, website and shop, reading blog posts, and interacting with me is extremely rewarding.
For the folks who do support me by purchasing my work, I sincerely hope that I’ve been able to deliver something you can enjoy and that I’ve been able to include free gifts to increase the value of your purchases.
Every view, like, comment, raffle entry, shop visit, DM, request for advice, link click, etc. is greatly appreciated. I’m hoping to create some new types of content to share (process videos, tips reels, etc.) as well as new projects — hand pain notwithstanding. 😬
I hope I can provide value and fun things to look at and to learn. Thank you! 😊