I realized that 7 years have passed since we started working on MT3 and many might not know the story behind this profile. Also information is scattered on this blog and various forums and it’s not easy to find, so I think it’s time to refresh our memory and put everything together.
I always liked high profile (tall) spherical top (scooped) keycaps; the only thing we had at the time (around 2014) was SA by Signature Plastics. I’m not a big fan of it, SP had the tooling for just a few keys and they hacked around a full set (often with the help of the community, 7bit from Deskthority paid for quite a few keys and made them available to everyone).
My obsession with a high profile reached its apex when Realforce release the Hi-Pro keyboard. I had to do something, the world needed true retro keycaps. I started working on few concepts and talked to Drop about my idea (still Massdrop back then). They seemed interested but their involvement wasn’t certain.
In 2015 June 02 at 11:47 hours I initiated a discussion on Deskthority and I started drafting the profile.
The general consensus was that we should have tried to create something that resembled an IBM beamspring keycap.
The design process
Muirium sent me an incomplete set of keycaps from what I believe was some beamspring keyboard. From that it was clear that it wasn’t possible to make a set out of it. We needed something that could work on any modern keyboard so we took that as inspiration and built something new.
Two years later Drop finally greenlighted the project and it was then that I met with Tom “photekq” Radley who is skilled with 3D software and shared my vision for the high profile keycaps. Unfortunately I don’t have an official date but the actual “bringing to life” moment was around March 2017.
At the end of April 2017 Drop had the first prototype 3D printed and sent to me for inspection. I posted an impromptu video about it right away but we were still far from perfect.
The shape was fine but we had various issues, the angle of each key top for example was a bit off.
The red line is how it should be (and actually is today). The fingers hit the wrong spot when touch typing and I couldn’t bear it. So I contacted Photekq and we went back to the drawing board.
The goal was to create a set that worked perfectly on a 5 to 9-ish degree angle. That was the sweet spot where row 3 becomes parallel to the ground.
Drop was pressing to go production, we had just a few days to make the modifications but we did it!
2017 August 07 I got the first round of injected prototypes and briefly talked about it on this blog.
It was around that time Photekq involvement ceased. He started a new job on top of the studying so I believe he couldn’t dedicate more time to it. He was paid for his contribution and he moved on. I don’t think he did anything else for the profile or at least Drop didn’t tell me and I haven’t heard from him since August 2017. If he had not parted then we would be writing this post together today.
As for the payment the agreement I had with Drop was different, I was going to get royalties after the release of the product based on its success (or lack of) but I was going to keep the ownership of the profile.
Anyway the work was far from done. The surface texture wasn’t finalized yet, we still had to fix a few keys and of course I had to design the first set for it, which was /dev/tty0.
The MT3 Name
It was time to find a name for the profile. We didn’t even have a temporary production moniker for it.
A few ideas were thrown on the table but I knew Drop would have eventually stripped the creation from me so in a precautionary move I suggested MT3 as an homage to the profile original creator (yes, that’sa me, Matt3o).
There was some reluctance at first, but I believe I have to thank Yanbo for letting it fly under the radar of the high floors and ultimately they agreed to it. Huge win but I was sure that one day they would have claimed the naming back, as it happened.
The impossible reach for perfection
Initially I wanted to fund the production of MT3 with my own money, but I thought that the experience Drop had with manufacturing in China was going to be beneficial for the project.
The investment Drop has done (and still does) is substantial, probably more than they anticipated and when you put so much on the table things start to get ugly.
The lack of experience and professionalism of the manufacturer created an incredibly frustrating situation where each prototype I got was wrong or incomplete or worse than the previous. Especially when working with surface texture and colors.
It was January 2018 and we were terribly late, I received what I was let to believe was a production prototype so I rushed reviewing it to send my report back. As soon as I checked my email and the socials I saw people posting pictures of /dev/tty.
They told me we had still time to fix things, but they had actually already shipped the keycaps out to customers. I understand I’m very passionate about my work and apparently they feel “intimidated” by me…
… But that doesn’t mean I’m unreasonable, just tell me the truth.
Anyway, the set was still great and I loved every piece of it and we subsequently perfected the production process.
PBT vs ABS
I’ve always been a PBT guy. It’s more durable and you have complete freedom with the legends. The only downside is that you can’t do dark sets.
Drop reached out and asked if I was interested in working on the ABS doubleshot version of MT3. People love the variety of colorways 2-shot offers and I was excited to work on a new MT3 project.
It was the summer of 2018 when I started working on the legends. In contrast to dye-sublimation that lets you choose and change your legends any time you want, double-shot is forever. I had to choose a font that would have been the face of MT3 ABS for the years to come.
I wanted a typeface that was simple but recognizable, I received a lot of feedback from the community and other designers including oblotzky, Mito and many others.
Ultimately I chose Barlow, with a few hand made tweaks. I find it to be a font with a “not pretentious” character and I still love it. In a few weeks we managed to finalize the legends and start production… or so I thought.
At the end of 2018 Drop collected pre-orders but by the summer of 2019 we still knew nothing about Susuwatari (the first set to be released in MT3 doubleshot). I don’t know what happened exactly, Drop basically stopped talking to me, I believe they had to change manufacturer because the previous one wasn’t able to deliver. Unfortunately I don’t have details and Drop is not willing to share.
What I know is that 2020 arrived and our lives changed forever. Covid hit China and Korea first then Italy (where I live) and the rest of the world.
Susuwatari was the most complicated set to get the colors right for. I don’t know why it took so long but I have dozens of injection tests and color chips and they’ve never been able to reach the desired result.
In an incredibly difficult situation and with months (years?) of delays Drop managed to bring Susuwatari to life by the second half of 2020. Considering all that happened in 2020, that was quite an achievement.
This is the story to the best of my knowledge of the MT3 profile. I’m sorry if I forgot to mention someone involved in the process, please let me know if I did, it’s very likely that Drop didn’t actually tell me about you.
During the years many designers created wonderful sets for MT3 and I’m honored they chose my profile for their works.
Unfortunately (again) Drop don’t tell me what they do with MT3 so I find out about new creations mostly by mistake, but the success of the profile is thanks to all the support from the community.
In April 2021 Drop announced a cherry-clone MT2 profile. It is completely unrelated to MT3 and I’m not involved in its development. While doing so they reclaimed control over the naming that now looks unrelated.