By now you should know that I’m a retro-junkie. Signature Plastics SA keycaps are the closest we can ask to a vintage looking set but I’ve always seen it as an “hack”, not to mention that it is mostly an ABS set.
Few years ago Topre released the Hi-Pro keyboard which featured a wonderful set of high profile keycaps in a retrolucious beige colorway. I knew it had to be mine!
The keyboard was indeed sexy but the keycaps seemed still wrong, too high, too sharp and anyway still limited to topre switches. That got my maker-sense tickling and it is basically how the MT3 profile idea was born.
It was June 2015. I asked the community for help in designing a high profile set that was pleasant to see and comfortable to type on. We started reverse engineering old keyboards and we soon realized that a 1:1 replica was simply not possible. Not only that but the whole idea of making “the perfect” high profile set was purely idealistic. There were no aftermarket keycaps back then, the caps were integral part of the whole board, they were designed specifically for one typewriter or terminal. The plate, the case, the switches, the keycaps were shaped in unison to create a wonderful piece of art and engineering. Good times!
Back to reality. We can’t make it perfect, but we can still make it better than what the market has to offer.
The design process
So, let this be clear: MT3 is NOT a Signature Plastic SA clone! It has been designed from scratch, we created the 3D models by hand piece by piece, we did not 3D scan an existing set. Our CAD expert, Tom “photekq” Radley, is not only incredibly talented with Solidworks but he is also a member of community. His understanding and love for mechanical keyboards were crucial in designing this set and I’m grateful he accepted to be part of this project.
The whole idea is that the angle of the (in-)famous ROW 3 should be flat or the top side parallel to the desktop. If you look at modern keyboards they usually are on a 5 to 7 degrees angle, meaning that to have a flat R3 you should actually put the keycap top on a negative angle. And that is what we did.
The picture above has been rotated by approx 6° and you can see that the keycap on row 3 (the forth from the left) is parallel to an hypothetical keyboard bottom. The closer you get to a 5-7° angle the more optimized MT3 will be for you. If you instead like dead flat keyboards, the set won’t be any worse than –say– SA anyway.
That is the reason why we can’t create a “perfect set”, each keyboard is different and we can’t foresee every scenario. What we have here is what I think is the best compromise.
Of course it is not all about row 3.
A long dispute occurred regarding the bottom row and the spacebar. The original idea was to offer an angled spacebar only, that should make the bottom ridge faster to reach but it also makes it sharper and possibly less comfortable after long typing hours. We couldn’t find an agreement so we decided to develop two versions of the bottom row and offer both a flat and an angled option. Admittedly we will be using all those who bought the first batch as beta testers to decide whether we should pick one or maybe keep both.
Below the two versions side by side.
The rest of the key set came along. All left to do was to follow the row 3 profile to create a pleasantly curved shape. Please also note that ROW 0 (the function row) has it’s own very steep angle for easy access.
Two years and five prototypes later we are finally ready for production!
Massdrop and facing reality
Up to this point was all unicorns and rainbows. We were designing something we loved with the help and input of other enthusiasts. The problem of course was to find a way to turn the dream into reality.
Initially I wanted to fund the tooling myself and maybe looking for some partners in Europe, but dealing with manufacturers, mass production and logistics is something that I couldn’t really do myself.
Fortunately the guys at Massdrop were super excited about the project and willing to help both monetarily and with their invaluable know-how in working with China. I won’t never be able to thank Yanbo (from MD) enough for his continued support and patience dealing with a perfectionist asshole such as myself.
I won’t sugar coat the pill, guys: as soon as you put money on the table you have to sell your soul to the devil. It’s excruciating to see your wonderful dream torn by the reality of production and a company that has to deal with deadlines and turnover. Yanbo, like a perfect funambulist, was able to mediate between my designer’s extravaganza and MD’s big corp logic.
Massdrop believed in me and invested in this project, but they want it all and they want it now. The drop went live too soon. For the designer is always too soon and at some point you just have to release but my work is far from finished.
I still need to greenlight the final colors and the surface texture, that is why the estimated ship date is five months from now. It should be enough to fix any problem that arises, sure is we have a very little margin of error.
Material and legends
Keycap material is another good reason for debate (oh! you oughta love the internet). MT3 is PBT material with dye-sublimated legends only. No ABS, no PC, no double-shot.
(╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ Please before flipping the table follow the reasoning.
This set has to be manufactured from zero, meaning that we need a new mold for each key. If you are not familiar with the process a mold is a chunk of CNC milled metal where the plastic is injected into. In keycap production each mold goes in the range of $1000-4000. Just to give you an idea, MT3 so far has 31 different shapes hence 31 molds.
Double-shot needs a mold for the external keycap shape and one for each legend. To cover a standard keyboard you need the above 31 molds plus one tool for each legend, so we are in the range of 140 molds excluding the numpad, international kits, etcetera.
You understand that the investment for a double-shot set is rather important also considering that Massdrop core business is not actually keycap manufacturing.
That being said, I wouldn’t have used double-shot even if it were inexpensive to produce. The reason is PBT.
PolyButylene Terephthalate is a very durable corrosion and UV resistant polymer. PBT does not yellow over time and it takes much longer than ABS to corrode (we all hate shines on our spacebars!). A PBT keycap set will very likely outlast you and will look sharp and crisp like the day you bought it. Why should I settle for anything lower than that?
PBT also lets us use one of the best form of legend printing there is: dye sublimation. The ink is heat-and-vacuum printed inside the first few microns of plastic. The pigment fuses inside the keycap and becomes part of it.
Dye-sublimation is incredibly flexible and durable, we can print anything we want in any color we want, including icons and drawings. We can change the font at any time, we can make corrections if we find any error at no additional cost.
The only thing that we can’t do is light legends on dark background. In sublimation the legend color is added to the base color, in the same way you can’t paint with a yellow marker on black paper, you can’t sublimate a white legend on dark keycap.
That of course limits our color options, but it’s a small price we have to pay to get an otherwise sublime set. So, please, before submitting ideas for new legends consider the limit imposed by the technology.
/dev/tty is the very geeky and very hard to pronounce name of the very first keycaps set developed with the MT3 profile.
MT3 is inspired by old terminal keyboards; TTY was used to refer to “teletype” or “teletypewriter” but it has come to refer to any type of text terminal. As a linux user the temptation to call the set /dev/tty was simply too strong to resit. Just for the few Windows users out there (wink-wink), in *nix systems
/dev/tty is a special file representing the terminal for the current process.
Of course the colorway had to be beige but I wanted to give more colorful options so I added the Triumph modifiers. They are of course inspired by the Triumph Adler but the color is much lighter than the original to better serve the black dye sublimated legends. I apologize about the inconvenience, I understand that I introduced some confusion and some thought that the color was an exact replica of the original, but it’s not.
Regrettably I haven’t received the color samples yet so I can’t show you exactly how the keycaps will look like, but the above picture should be close enough.
Goes without saying that /dev/tty will be (hopefully) the first of a long list of sets designed under MT3. The profile will be available to the community to use, so if you have ideas for a high-profile set feel free to start prototyping, but please understand that it will take some time before we can actually release new sets (presumably the end of the year).
And now some old fashioned FAQ.
Where can I buy it? Are there other distributors apart from Massdrop? Where can I buy it in Europe?
The set is available only on Massdrop.
Massdrop has exclusivity on the MT3 profile and also owns the molds, so it is very unlikely that you’ll be seeing it elsewhere.
What keyboards does /dev/tty support?
- Standard Tenkeyless (TKL), full size and 60% are covered by the Base kit + mods kit, add the numpad kit for full size keyboards. As a reference standard layout keyboards are: Filco Majestouch 2, Ducky One, Poker 3, KBParadise V60, WASD V2 and Code. Any keyboard with standard 6.25u spacebar and 1.25u modifiers.
- Winkeyless keyboards are supported by Base kit + mods kit + winkeyless kit.
- For 75% keyboards like the WhiteFox add the Extra Mods. Remember that some keyboards have not-standard spacebar or not standard stem position. Double check that before buying.
- If you want to swap the Caps Lock key with Control (or FN) the Extra Mods kit covers that too.
- If you need 1u modifiers again the Extra mods kit is what you need.
- Apple fans should take the Apple kit and possibly the Novelties kit. The latter is not strictly needed but nice to have.
- Cherry 1800 enthusiasts should also grab the Novelties kit.
We also support Planck and other orthogonal keyboards, Dvorak and Colemak layouts and a variety of international languages.
What kits should I buy?
To make your set future proof and maintain a high resell value you should get: Base kit + Mods kit + Extra mods. Of course if you have a full size keyboard also grab the Numpad. Everything else is up to your taste.
Remember that anyone needs at least the Base kit and the mods kit. The base kit alone does not cover a full keyboard! If you are a pro-user you know what the exceptions are :P
What spacebar sizes are available?
6.25u in the base kit, 7u in the Winkeyless kit.
Why no 6u or 6.5u spacebars?
Spacebar molds are expensive. This first batch will only include 6.25u and 7u spacebars. Please double-check that your keyboard has a standard spacebar before buying. The next time we might add more spacebar options.
What kits do I need for an ISO layout?
The base kit and the mods kit already include ISO Enter. If you are okay with a region-less ISO layout, that’s all you need. Of course if your language is supported by the International kit, you should totally get it!
Is this an SA clone/replacement? Is it more like a Topre Hi-Pro?
No and No.
This set is designed from scratch, it is not mutually exchangeable with anything on the market. The look is close to an IBM beam spring, but it’s not a clone of that either.
From the picture below you can see some of the differences between SA and MT3.
The dish is slightly deeper, keys are generally shorter and –apart from R0– the angle is completely different.
Why will it take so long for shipping?
This is the first batch, we want to be sure that the manufacturer does things right, so we took some extra time to fix possible errors.
Will future drops take that long too?
Possibly not. This time around we have to pass through a very strict quality control before mass production.
Will there be a second drop?
No one can tell. The first drop has to be very successful to consider more batches in the future. If I had to guess a very optimistic estimate would be Christmas.
Is there a 100 MOQ on the kits?
If the set as a whole sells very well, I believe we should be able to include all kits (MOQ or not). Of course if a kit has just few buyers, that might be dropped.
Do I also need to buy the base kit if I get Cyrillic?
No, Cyrillic is a replacement for the base kit.
Why Cyrillic has no Latin letters?
Cyrillic is an “Otaku kit”, it’s mainly for touch-typers who don’t need to look at the legends and they could easily use blanks instead.
Why so few secondary and no tertiary legends? (Especially in the international kit).
This is a fair question.
Massdrop had to rush the drop and I don’t have yet a sublimation sample. Being the top of the keycap pretty deep the legends could stretch during printing as closer to the edges they get. To prevent possible issues I tried to keep the text in the middle of the key where the deformation is minimal.
Future drops might have more or bigger legends depending on the ability of manufacturer to deliver straight text. Being the first drop I preferred to stay on a safe spot.
Regarding the international kit, removing the tertiary legends saved us almost $20. I preferred to add more languages at the expense of the tertiary legends.
What is R4 and R5? Why the mods are offered in both R4 and R5?
R4 is an angled bottom row, R5 is flat. You have the option to try both and decide which one you prefer.
Why no Ergodox?!
Ergodox needs 1.5u modifiers for each row. We don’t have yet that many keys for MT3 but we might add them in future drops.
What will be the finish/texture on the keycaps?
The sides are smooth, the top satin/slightly grainy.
Does this come with a keyboard?
Don’t be silly.
How can you guarantee quality if this set is made in China?
Okay. First of all. 99% of production in consumer electronics happens in China. Would you say that Apple product are low quality? Well, they are made in China.
When you pick the right manufacturer, it’s quality control that matters and I assure you that I won’t be accepting anything lower than perfection.
Is the set backlight compatible?
Well, it works but it is not certainly optimized for backlighting. The light bleeds from the sides.
I feel like [a kit] misses the [xyz] key, can we add it?
At the end of the drop, if we can show very good numbers I’m sure I can squeeze in a few keys here and there.
What is the wall thickness?
I will be posting better pictures as soon as I get the final product, but it’s safe to say that they are “pretty thick” (around 1.8mm).
What are the color codes?
We don’t have a final set of colors yet. I’ll post pictures as soon as possible.
How do you pronounce /dev/tty?
/dev stands for “device”, /tty for “terminal”. So you can either call it “device terminal” or “dev-t-t-y”.
I have more keycaps than keyboards to put them on, what can I do?
Don’t we all? Buy more keyboards, or keycaps, or both!
Thanks for the write-up, it’s interesting to actually have the designer’s perspective! I can’t wait for October now.
Topre never gets any love.
A nice read, thanks! How is surface smoothness when compared to SP ABS and PBT?
Can you post more renders of the Triumph mods? There’s currently only 1 on the Massdrop page.
Great work and Thank You.
Please consider to add keyset in black on Black(dark grey) scheme as same as that on Realforce keycaps, while there is round 2.
I like the dark on dark scheme a lot, but people don’t seem to agree that much with me. Every time I made low contrast sets they didn’t sell that well
I would love to see a dark on dark scheme made with the profile of some of the higher end sets! Of course, being one of only a few doesn’t lend to actual production.
As others have said, great write up. Thanks so much for your hard work, I’ve definitely been thinking about joining the drop. I hope this does really well so we can expect more drops in this profile in the future!
One question: would these keycaps change the tactile response on a NT that currently has a Granite set on it? I’ve tried cheap abs keycaps with a taller profile and the bump is definitely less clear and snappy. Did you have the chance to try them on a novatouch yet and if so, how do you feel about this keyset vs granite re the topre bump. Thanks a ton in advance and keep up the great work!
I tried the keycaps but only in the prototyping material. To give you a definitive answer we have to wait for the pro-production samples to arrive (that will take a month or so).
Generally speaking, keycaps change the overall the feel of a keyboard, at the moment, though, I can’t tell you more.
Ok thanks for the info. I guess it’s gonna be a leap of faith then.. the drop ends in 8 days and the keycaps look so yummie… damn… :-D
With the birth of this new set (dev/tty), also suddenly reminds me and many of the loss of the GMK RETRO keyset….
Couldn’t ever afford the early SA set, and to witness the downfall of the GMK set really is just rubbing salt into the wounds….
Please drop the bombs earlier when MT3 is delivering in the Retro+PETSCii+Burgundy colorway please Matt3o!
that can’t really happen with dye sublimation…
Hmmm, I guessed I missed the dye-sublimation part.
Definitely hoping the profile stays for good.
And congratulations on realizing such an independent project happening!
Thanks for the writeup. One keycap missing for me – the CapsLock repl. of Command for an Apple OSX board. Throw it in if you can with either the Apple Mod Kit or the Extras Mod Kit!
this is actually a good idea. Let’s see what I can do.
I’m in for a base, beige modifier, and apple kit so if you can please try to throw it in for me and other apple geeks out there! Thanks so much :)
it is a bit more complicated than anticipated because the Apple kit would require 4 more keys and the Extra kit can’t be expanded any more.
No worries. Thanks for researching.
Amazing set. So, I know you can’t dye lighter colors on darker keys, but if you made a set with side legends, couldn’t they be pad printed with lighter colors? It’s not like they are going to wear off.
yeah, side printing might work
Well, if it did, it would certainly open up the colorway spectrum. Plus, front printed caps are dope.
can you add TAB and CAPS-LOCK to the RGB/CMY options? Then a base-kit and color kit should be enough for a 60% layout. And add the /dev/tty cap for R1 to the color kits.
Will the Base, Beige and CMY kit be enough for the WhiteFox?
From what I could see the only thing missing from Base and Beige was the 1.75 shift?
And the CMY included that
if you have vanilla layout, yes. that would be enough. For the True Fox you also need the extra mods.
Does dev/tty fit on the wasd p3 61 keyboard?
I don’t see why it shouldn’t work, but I don’t personally have it, so I can’t be 100% sure.
The keyboard naming is very confusing. What is the “Base kit” by the way? If the Base kit is enough why require the Mods kit? You do not have a single picture of a keyboard that identifies what is what! All you have are pictures of keyboards — without a typeset identifying each. Again, is the Base Kit a TKL with 80% coverage? Please — name your keyboards!!
What? Due-Sub? I mean even cheap keycaps from aliexpress have a double-shot
Question — I missed out on the Elven kit on Massdrop, I must have closed the window without scrolling all the way through the drop… I did not see your gorgeous green and elven lettering keycaps or I most certainly would have joined the drop… arrggg… it is sooooo beautiful.
I found out about it today in a thread on Reddit… then went back to massdrop and I see that that drop doesn’t ship until July 2018. Is it possible to sneak in one more order for me?
I’m sorry, that wouldn’t be possible… Massdrop is very strict in orders past the due date
Sad face…. but thank you for replying.
Second drop, when?
Looking forward to a new drop! Just got into mechanical keyboards, and these are DEFINITELY the most beautiful and complete sets I’ve seen (ISO + Nordic caps = awesome). Would absolutely love to buy this set.
This set is what pushed me over the edge to a mechanical keyboard of my own.
But… I’m still waiting eagerly for the second drop.
you mean a third drop :)
Please. Do it again.
Please release again this is the only set I keep trying to buy!
Wow, gutted I just found out about these. They’re so beautiful! My pipe dream is to get these but blank 🙏🏼🙏🏼
Will MT3 profile keycaps ship to Malaysia?
I don’t know, you have to ask Drop.
Curious, how far down does the keycap switch stem extend in relation to the bottom edge of the keycap? Are they equal? I have some WASD keycaps and the stem face is about 2mm recessed into the keycap vs the lower edge of the keycap allowing the keycap to sit closer to the keyswitch. Then I have a SA sample keycap which is taller and the stem face is at the same alignment as the lower edge of the keycap. I ordered a set of the Matt3o MT3 keycaps off drop and I’m stoked. Just curious what the bottom side looks like and if there is a difference between the end of the stem and the lower edge of the keycap. Thanks!
it’s just very slightly recessed.
Thank you for defending Chinese manufacturing. People seriously forget (especially stupid weebs) that their favourite East Asian country also used to have a notorious reputation for cheap and bad quality products. Developing quality in manufacturing also takes time. I’ll take a Huawei phone over any kind of American-produced junk any day of the week.
These are amazing keycaps – thank you for your hard work on them. I too am a retro junkie, daily linux user and a perfectionist. As a result, I’ve bought more sets of these than I care to mention. Will there be another run of the Ergodox sets any time soon? I somehow snoozed on the recent one.
yeah I bet we’ll have more (glad you like them!)
I bought the /dev/tty and Susuwatari sets from Drop and they are my favorites. I use /dev/tty every day on my Alt for work, and have a Tofu 60 that I custom painted to match the letters on the Susu alphas, not to mention both sets in ortho for my Planck. I’m desperately trying to get my hands on Zambumon’s Sekira for an endgame Think 6.5 build. Thank you for making this profile. I love you.
aaaw! thanks for taking the time to write! Stay tuned we have more great stuff coming!
For the /dev/tty set, are there any future plans to release extra+ mods kit for an all grey function key row? So F1-F4+F9-F12 match F5-F8? Like in the Susuwatari Extra kit?
yeah it may happen in the future, but no ETA sorry
I love this profile and have a few /dev/tty sets. I have two questions. 1. Are 1u row5 keys symetrical? For example, are they arrow keys on ortho sets all the same key? (I hope so because I haven’t been able to differentiate them!) 2. Are row 2 and row 3 just inverted versions of each other? I’ve used row 2 blanks in row 3 by flipping them upside down and it seems to work perfectly. Thansk for the great work on these keycaps!
1) yeah they have a side, check the sprue mark on the bottom side, that should be the back
2) yeah r2 and r3 are the same shape, just flipped
I love this kit, however, to make this *perfect* at least in my eyes the numpad keys need to have the nav layer printed on them. Mostly because I’m selfish, and while I can touch type, I never really learned the nav layer of the numpad, preferring to use the actual cluster. I’ve become intrigued by nav clusterless layouts so that’s why I bring it up. Any chance of something like that happening in the future? Of course I don’t know how long I can resist purchasing the /dev/tty set as is, we shall see.
Does anybody know where to get black MT3 profile keycaps, size 1.25U and size 1.5U, for my redox keyboard?
I love this profile! BUT there is only one complaint.
I love 2u left shift, but I have to use a 0 cap for the numeric keypad when applying the MT3 profile.
The overall design will be a little out of balance.
If possible, would you please develop a 2u left shift for MT3?
Hey! What’s up with BIGass enter key (both for ISO and ANSI)? Is there any way we will see it in future?
that would be nice indeed :)
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