How to Design and 3D Print a Mechanical Keyboard

3D printing has been gaining popularity in more recent years with its ability to benefit a variety of industries across the globe. This 3D printing technology has assisted in manufacturing items as simple as a toy car to that of a human limb.

Today we’re going to be taking you through the process of how you can design and 3d print your own mechanical keyboard.  You can create your own custom keyboard for home use, office work, gaming, or even hacking and programming.  By creating your own keyboard you’ll have a custom design and ergonomic shape unlike any other, and you’ll never have to pay for broke parts.

6 Steps to 3D Print a Mechanical Keyboard

So, what exactly is 3D printing? 3D printing is what is referred to as additive manufacturing. The most common method for printing is known as selective laser sintering or SLS, which is a process in which the 3D printer expels a liquid photopolymer resin onto the surface inside of the printer, where the printer’s laser light melts the resin which then cools to solidify into a one dimensional pattern. These layers are as thin as a piece of paper, 0.05mm- 0.15mm thin. Once the printer completes the desired pattern, it moves onto building the next layer of patter on top of the previous. This will continue until the product is a functional, 3-dimensional object. So go try it out yourself!

Here are 6 quick steps to learn how to design and print a 3D keyboard model on a 3D printer:

1. Decide what kind of keyboard to print

Ultimately we are going to be 3d printing a keyboard, but that might be a bit advanced.  For the sake of being a beginner in 3-D printing, you will probably want to start with designing and printing something simple for yourself. 3-D printing can help you make some simple household items like a soap dish, or a functional tool like a hammer. So, decide what you would want to see be created before your eyes in a matter of hours.

mechanical keyboard

Steps you can take to figure out what it is you would like to print is a quick brainstorming session. Is there a holiday, birthday or event coming up, where instead of purchasing something from the store, you could make it yourself! Or maybe you have an idea for an invention that would cost you more to outsource the manufacturing of a prototype to a company, and instead you can cut costs by making it yourself! Whatever the reason! Many are simple enough for even a beginner!

2. Find experts to help guide you

There are plenty of online 3D resources that can be useful to check out before diving into 3-D printing a keyboard. These resources can be find through YouTube videos, blogs, tutorials by experts and other articles. If you are looking for more hands-on, in-person assistance with your printing needs, simply research where to find a 3-D printer at a local library, perhaps, or university library nearby. School such as Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, USA has an entire area of their university library on Cook-Douglass Campus dedicated to 3-D printing. Here, students and members of the library are allowed to use the printer during library hours, where 3-D printing experts are available on-site to assist with any questions or functionalities of the software and printing hardware. At the university, for example, the printers use compatible software such as MakerBot, Replicator 2, and Makeware, and all prefilled to print PLA plastic. On-site experts can help you design and create your item and help you preview your model before printing. This can also give you a better idea of any costs that will be associated with the print, for example, to print at Rutgers University the cost is $.25/ gram.

3. Find a software for your needs

Depending on whether you wish to create your own design or use already existing designs, there are different software to suit both needs. Sites such as Thingiverse, YouMagine, and Cults3D makes designing a 3-D model easy for beginners, allowing users to choose form a library of designs that can be printed for free! These high-quality designs will allow the user to simply select and print designs that they can call their own. If you are just getting started in the 3-D printing realm, and simply want to get a feel for designing and printing models, pre-created designs might be a good starting point! Other commonly used software includes Autodesk 123D Suit, TinkerCAD, SketchUp, and Scultptis. Most of these softwares are compatible with both Mac and Windows devices and most have free printing and design functionalities, so check out their sites! These sites allow for users to customize their own designs to print.

4. Find a printer

3d printer

Next, you will have to determine whether you want to purchase a 3-D printer for yourself, or use a service for your printing needs. Depending on the size and advanced features of a 3-D printer for purchase, prices can range from as little as $200- $6000. So, it is important to determine whether your need for 3-D printing is a long-term or short-term fulfillment. On the other hand, 3-D Printers can be found often at the nearest university library, Staples or even the UPS store. Many of the sites to find software that were previously listed above also allow for users to create a design and they will then print and ship the model right to your home!

5. Select materials and mechanical key switches

3-D printing site services such as those from Staples, for example, allow for users to choose a particular filament to use in their printing. Common materials are PLA plastic or nylon, but can also print edible and metal items. If you are using an online service for your printing needs, sites will vary in what materials are offered to users. If you end up at the local university library, you might find that most commonly, communal printers are filled with PLA plastic materials for universal modeling designs, but while you are there, see if it is possible to use your own filament in their printers for your customized model, depending on what the printer itself is compatible to print.

You can find mechanical key switches in a variety of colors from a wide range of sites online, and you’re personal preference will determine which you want to use for your keyboard.

6. Print the model

Finally! Now that you are more educated on 3-D printing and what it can do, you have chosen a software platform to self-design or choose a template design for printing, and you have located a physical printer or printing service, you are ready to print! The printing process described earlier is easily explained in our guide on how 3d printing works.

As your design is being printed through this additive manufacturing processes, the user can see their design being built before their eyes, layer by layer. Depending on the size and complexity of the model, 3-D printing can take minutes to a number of hours. As seen in the video, those 10 homes were printed in Japan in just 1 day! It is simply amazing what 3-D printing technology can create for you and for the world!

How A 3D Printer Works

What is 3D Printing?

Making a three dimensional solid object from a digital file by using additive manufacturing is called 3D Printing. In these additive processes, objects are created by laying down layers of material in a successive manner until the objects are created.

Normally, each of the layers is seen as a thin slice of the cross-section of the eventual object. In recent years, 3D printing has moved from being theoretical to practical or reality. Further, these printers are available in different models.

3D printing has the following qualities:

· Objects are created by depositing layers of material and no cutting out some pieces from a block of material.

· The computer with details about your desired model has to be converted into slices which the printer will be able to create one layer after another.

· It can take hours or a few days to finish a three-dimensional object. However, this will depend with the size and complexity of the object.

· Expenses are based on the amount of material used besides other factors. If for instance you are using a certain piece of wood to create your object, you’ll pay for this original piece of material.

How 3D Printing is used:

This technology is used when making objects for students, business people and anyone who needs small objects to demonstrate their skills and ideas. Fundamental examples include replacing the plastic back of your TV set, creating medical implants, creating frames for glasses among other fashion activities.

How 3D Printing Works

You first need to make a virtual design such as a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file of the object you want to create. The CAD file is created using a 3D scanner or modeling application which copies the existing object. A 3D scanner readily produces a 3D digital copy of the object.

3D Scanners:

They seem like science fiction but they are indeed real. You can think of 3D scanners as intense cameras that create 3D renderings rather than videos and photographs.

Further, they collect information from objects placed in a visual field. Unlike the usual cameras, these scanners gather the object’s information about their position instead of appearance and color. They achieve this by calculating the distance between them and the surface of the object.

There are two types of 3D scanners, that is, contact scanners and non-contact scanners.

· Contact Scanners- as the name suggests, these type of scanners need direct contact with the object being scanned.

· Non-contact Scanners- they use laser light or radiation like ultra-sound or X-ray to collect information about the object.

The major drawback with 3D scanners is that they can only gather information from the visible parts of the object which is in line with the line-of-sight of the camera.

For you to get a full 3D rendering, you’ll have to make several scans from different points and aggregate them into a single file. However, recently advanced scanners are tailored towards taking many scans in the shortest time possible.

Many commercial 3D scanners use laser light. The laser is directly shone onto the desired object. Some have several linear projections while others have one laser point. Now, the scanner has a sensor that collects data from the object and uses a 3D scanning software to decode this information.

3D Modelling Softwares

There are a variety of 3D printing softwares to cater for different 3D printing needs ranging from 3D modeling to slicing and from beginner to professional.

· 3D Modeling Tools- these modeling softwares are categorized into CAD tools, modeling and sculpting tools. Each tool has a different input. For instance, CAD tools are mostly used when dealing with geometrical shapes to create models.

Freeform modeling tools are used to develop freeform shapes while sculpting tools are essential when creating items that you can pull, push, pinch or grab to model.

· 3D Printer Hosts and Slicers- this involves such actions as rotating, scaling or placing the object on a print bed. Slicing provides a G-code which is necessary in your printer.

Cross section tools available in this section are important in your 3D printer which doesn’t have a native software. Cloud based solutions require internet connection just like slicing, mesh repair and print queue management.

Best software picks for free include Autodesk 123D Design for CAD, the SketchUp Make designed for developing polygons and the Scuptris for sculpting.

3D Printing Process

3D Printing Model

Printing a three-dimensional model is not easy like printing on a 2D printer. Here’s how to print your 3D model:

– Create model with any of the suitable softwares above.

– Prepare the model for printing. For example, ensure it has no gaps.

– Create a file that will convert your model into a code that the printer understands using a similar software.

– Print the model and adjust the printer as required.

Materials used in 3D Printing:

Many non-resin 3D printers use ABA or PLA plastic which later becomes solid when heated. Other thermoplastics may also be used if necessary. Some of these printers use metal wire. Recently developed 3D printers can print ceramics with foodstuff.

The printer’s spool that has plastic or other material is usually fed with desired materials.

Resin printers use formulated plastics which are poured into a tank. The resin hardens when light hits on any of its parts because this material is light sensitive.

There are different 3D printing technologies and processes. Some methods use softening while others employ melting to produce the layers. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) are the most common printing technologies. However, Stereo-lithography (SLA) is widely accepted because it uses photo-reactive resin with UV laser.

The laser beam traces a cross section on the surface of resin. UV light helps in solidifying the pattern that has developed on the liquid resin that joins each layer and this is how the object is formed by this project.

Stereo-lithography needs supporting structures to attach the elevator platform and to hold the object which floats in the resin-filled basin. These are normally removed manually after the process of creating the object is complete.

3D printing is a technology that has been around for the last twenty five years. It is possible that the process will take part in humongous manufacturing activities like creating cars and other technologies in the near future.