[IC] Open Source Keyboard Designs - Cases, Plates, Artisans, and Novelties

I get asked fairly regularly if I can share my 60% and other case designs and have been contemplating a way of using either Patreon or Kickstarter or both to go fully open source.

I have around thirty designs for a 60% layout that I typically sell, but I’ve also finished the basic designs to fit several other PCBs (NovelPad, PaladinPad, Minivan, Planck, Preonic, TADA68, KBD75, GK61, Instant60, etc).

I prototyped some resin printed artisan keycaps based on a low poly space theme, and I think by sharing STL files, they have more potential if people were able to print them at home.

Even the minor accessories I’ve made, like the Keyboardbelle Wedge, would work better if I open source a few dozen variants for people to 3D print at home. Almost any keyboard build could benefit from simple way to add a specific typing angle.

If I could figure out a way to do open source, I’d like to start next year with buying a Prusa Mini printer and challenging myself to only design for that size build envelope. Dozens of smaller macro pad and split cases would absolutely be possible for a hobbyist 3D printer and with a little skill, I could split and dovetail my 60% case designs and publish a guide on how to glue and sand them yourself to make a 60% case on a smaller 3D printer.

One of the most frustrating aspects of when I taught myself how to use a 3D printer was when I would download a design that did not fit or work for its intended purpose. All of my case designs are hand tested before I release a design.

For reference, about 50% of my design work is pictured on my Instagram: keyboardbelle_prints

In all, my potential files to open source are about three years worth of design work and I’d like to see how many new designs I can complete next year.

When designing the 1980s themed cases, I’d really like to take permutations of the number and thickness of vents and create enough to where two different people can choose a more unique case based on what they consider to be aesthetically pleasing (even if it is as simple as a case with five vents instead of eight, or a smooth polygon look instead of a low polygon count).

Also, if you Google image Keyboardbelle, you can find photos that customers have taken with the prints I’ve sold.

As is, I can only cover a small fraction of potential designs by solely 3D printing myself and I think if I open sourced, then the design possibilities are exponentially better. I’m also behind on my box of PCBs that I simply don’t have time to go through and design cases for.

I also dabbled in laser cutting with a Glowforge and made my own 6mm “out of spec” acrylic plates. I made them specifically for Nouvelle, but I could cover several more potential layouts and sizes if I could simply upload my files and someone else made what they wanted at home or at their local hackerspace.

I supposed I’m polling to see what potential value these designs would have for the community. I wish I could stick designs on my website for a few dollars per download, but since they’re digital, it would be impossible to guarantee they stayed off free download sites like Thingiverse.

Postscript:

I also am behind the trends with PCB mount cases and I have some designs that may could compete with gasket mounts - but between running the shop and trying to keep 3D printers maintained, it’s not possible to iterate many new designs to ensure a high quality.

TLDR:

How much is access to the art and design files of lots of interesting aesthetics worth to you?

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Would it be feasible to open a store on Shapeways or some equivalent 3d printing platform, or maybe find a local 3d printer using something like MakeXYZ? That way, in theory, you could contract out manufacturing and/or store management and focus more on your designs (which are great, btw).

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The cheapest Shapeways price to get something like the Nouvelle 3D printed is $275.

Even a smaller macro pad case design costs $146 from Shapeways, so the open source approach to creating designs to be printed by hobbyist 3D printers makes sense.

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Personally, I think those designs are your IP and see no reason to provide them for free. You’re not just a printing service, and if people want a case of your design they should have to go through you. I think open source projects (software, 3d models, etc) should be designed for non-profit from the get go, and have a specific purpose in mind. If people want your design so they can print it or have it printed more cheaply than you can provide, they can just spend the time you did learning how to 3d model, and put in the legwork themselves. TLDR: fuck that noise.

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This is absolutely correct. However, if enough people wanted to back a Kickstarter, it could definitely pay me for all of my design time. It’s similar to a musician’s dilemma, how to get paid for a song that could be freely traded online?

I’m also curious in the relationship between being a designer and a community supported donation method and what potential fans could create if given access to raw files.

I have several potential design concepts that would help the whole hand-wiring custom workflow be much easier for someone without design experience.

The YouTube keyboard and printer people are supported through ad money, but could I accept enough donations through Kickstarter to make more designs and layouts? I have several things in my design files that I’ve never even had time to print and refine.

I also have a goal to release a daily design for an entire year, which I could possibly achieve with more free time.

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I dont own a 3D printer and i dont have one of your products (yet - but def planning on picking one up). However on a theoretical level i think you could provide a pay-per-file service with trust in the consumer not to share abundandly for niche layouts or projects that are out there compared to your established catalouge.

Also i dont think there is any shame in just giving it a go and then If its not your cup of tea just go back to the previous system that worked.
Whatever you do i’m exited.

Thanks! The base motivation for art and design is making things that people get excited about.

Have you considered staged releases? Let’s say you started a patreon and started getting a regular amount of income from that. Initially only pateron members would get access to your 3d designs. Then every 3 months or so you could open source one design under CC non-commercial. That would prevent people from selling it commercially, but still allow them to use it for personal or educational uses.

You could also just do what koduh did with the kayak design and charge people a fee to access the design. I very much doubt the kinds of people who can afford a 3d printer are also too cheap to pay you a minimal fee to get access to the design. They already spent hundreds on a printer, tuning and what not, so even a 20usd fee per design is hardly a burden.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/

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Staged releases make sense. I’ve gotten a lot of interesting feedback, so I’m trying to weigh my options between Patreon and Kickstarter.

I had fewer time constraints last year, so if I can get someone to help with shipping and a few other storefront things, I can create more designs.

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I would agree with @yanfali for something along a delayed staged release …

It sounds like you have no shortage of designs and ideas – your main issue is going to be splitting time between designing, testing, scheduling prints, and babysitting whatever printer you’re dealing with.

Your first big question is going to be whether you want to focus on printing or on designing?

Maybe something along the lines of:

  • Prints of special designs – pre-order or group buy
  • Prints of regular designs and special designs after pre-order stage – in your storefront at slightly higher pricing
  • After 3 (?) months in the store, designs for the prints become available as Patreon exclusive
  • And then 3 (?) months later, designs get released CC non-commercial

There’s also the off-beat side ideas to keep in mind:

  • “Beta Club” – pay for access to early prints – opens up your testing base, more people with more PCBs and plates to provide feedback (since no one can afford to purchase every plate/PCB combo just to try out fitting)
  • “Down-the-line Prints” – someone who’s gotten hold of one of your designs and made their own modifications and either don’t have a printer or don’t trust their designs to “Budget Shaky Printer 0.3”
  • “Bespoke Designs” – one-offs, specialty filaments, custom designing, higher resolution printing – along with a nice premium price