Almost a year and a half ago I took an in depth look at different ways that you can customize your mechanical keyboards. In that article we took a look at custom keycap sets, novelty caps, custom keysets, even ways to spice up your USB cable and keyboard case. While doing all of that I took a quick look at Artisan keycaps but at the time the only example we had were the molar keycaps and frankly the teeth creeped people out more than it peaked their interest. In the time between then and now I have been following the community and have picked up a few Artisan keycaps along the way that I found interesting. I’ve picked up keycaps from Martin at Hot Keys Project multiple times now and I thought it might be interesting to talk to Martin and find out a little about HKP and then check out their caps. He was nice enough to include a pair of caps along with my last order and answer a few questions I sent over as well. So let’s dig in and find out what Hot Key Project is all about.
Product Name: Hot Keys Project Artisan Keycaps
Review Sample Provided by: Hot Keys Project
Written by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
What is an artisan keycap
Before I get into the details about HKP, it is important to understand what artisan keycaps are all about. For starters I want to distinguish artisans from the novelty keycaps that you can sometimes find that say things like the “anykey” or the LanOC keycaps that we have given away at our LAN events in the past. Artisans are typically sculptured or painted keycaps that come in various sizes, shapes, and quality. There are discussions in the keyboard communities on what should be included or not when it comes to 3D printing but the general consciences seems to be that much like any other form of art, artisan keycaps are art if you feel they are. There are various people who make them and they range from painted keycaps, sculpted and molded plastic keycaps, as well as 3d printed keycaps as well. Some of the people who make them have become extremely popular on Geekhack and r/mk and with that when they do sales they have to raffle or have crazy first come first serve sales that last seconds. This of course has led to copies or clones being made and also keycaps selling for huge amounts of money on ebay and in other trading forums.
I know it might sound crazy to someone looking from the outside in, but anywhere you have custom made products with very limited production capacity and high popularity you will see this happening. Some people buy them to collect them, others only pick them up to get that perfect cap that matches their keyboard, and of course there are always people who pick them up just to hopefully sell or trade them as well.
About Hot Keys Project
Today I’m talking with Martin, the man behind the curtain at Hot Keys Project. He is based out of Hong Kong and has been in the artisan keycap market for a little over two years. Originally Martin ran everything under the name Gas Mask Keycap. This is because his original design was a gas mask, when he started to expand the product line the new name was introduced. You can see some of the original designs by browsing through THIS forum as well as the newer HKP designs in THIS post, both over at GeekHack. You will notice that Martin, like a lot of the artisans don’t run their own websites or stores, they run all of their sales or raffles through forums like GeekHack and over on r/mechanicalkeyboards on Reddit. HKP does this with a Google form just about once a month. HKP also works with mechanicalkeyboards.com to sell a few designs exclusively over there as well.
Unlike any other artisan HKP does do one thing very interesting though, he doesn’t limit production on any sale. You can order as many keycaps as you would like in each sale where most only sell a few and have to raffle to pick who will even be able to buy it. This makes Hot Keys Project a bit of an oddity in the market and also one of the easiest artisans to access. Of course once a sale is done none of the keycaps will be available again so there is still a bit of rarity, especially on the older caps.
Hot Keys Project caps come in a few different designs currently, you will typically see the Warmaster, the Raven, The Trooper, and The Armor V2 in the sales. The Gasmask hasn’t been available recently as well as the original Armor. Typically, sales have themes related to holidays so near Halloween there were orange caps, white red and green for Christmas, ect.
When prepping for this article I did send over a list of questions to Martin as well, rather than filter through everything I figured it would be better to see his direct answers.
How long have you been making keycaps? How did it start? Do you do this full time? What did you do before HKP?
I started making keycaps over 2 years ago. I am in Interior Design. I love designing and creating things and it is through my designing days that I had started to develop an interest in designing keyboards and keycaps. I felt that in a profession where the use of keyboard is so important, it makes work easier if we had a more interesting and lively keyboard to work with, hence the idea in developing different types of keycaps for this purpose.
Why do you do a larger production runs in comparison to other artisans? In regards to the larger runs in comparison to other artisans, do you produce your caps in a different way that allows for more of a mass production?
I don't know how others produce their products but, compared to the other makers who do more limited production runs, I am a bit different in that I want more people to be able to have access to my keycaps. I enjoy seeing people being able to have a nice keyboard and be able to use the collection of keycaps that I have designed. All in all it comes down to self fulfillment and satisfaction in seeing others use my products.
Do you have any new designs that you are working on? Can we see them (I have to try) lol
I'm working on a few new designs and you will see them very soon. Stay tuned.
Is there anything specific that inspired the keycap designs you came up with?
The inspiration for my designs comes from all the online video games that people are playing. I felt if the younger generation enjoys war games and FPS games.
Seeing that the keycaps are targeted for this particular clientele, it was pertinent to find a common theme and design which will appeal to them.
What is your favorite keycap that you have designed?
My favorite design and colorway of my own collection will be the Raven. The black over red creates a stimulating color tone for the keyboard, and the fact that additional parts can be added onto the keycap makes it more interesting and fun
What is your favorite artisan that someone else designed?
I like the designs of Brocap as his designs are unique and specialized.
What keyboard is your daily driver?
Recently my favorite keyboard are Smart 68 and Pure, of course, I still have other different keyboards (such as: Maxbird, K70 RGB, Realforce......) By the way, I am 60% Keyboard big fans, LOL
I used to like blue switch, but I recently changed to red switch.
It wouldn’t be much of an article if we didn’t actually take a look at the keycaps that Hot Keys Project has to offer right? So like I said earlier I ordered a few of the Christmas keycaps and Martin included a couple other caps for us to check out as well. Being the Christmas sale he packaged up the keycaps in small drawstring baggies with Christmas trees, reindeer, and wrapped gifts on them. Inside the keys themselves come individually wrapped up in tiny zip lock bags to keep them safe.
So what I really like about HKP keys is the level of detail and the clean styling. Some Artisans get very detailed but most also have imperfections and tooling marks. HKP keycaps are more like small toys.
The Raven is an especially good example of this. This is the only artisan that I know about that has a movable part built in. The cap is a guy with a mask similar to the mask Immortan Joe has on in Mad Max. The eyes are more like goggles and then there is a flip down section that covers the eyes like night vision goggles. The movable part ships disconnected from the keycap but you can snap it on quickly. Each colorway of the Raven is different and the colors Martin has used cover a wide range. I personally have a few that are transparent with all of the parts the same transparent color but sometimes each part might be different. This is possible because HKP actually makes each of the Ravens components individually then they are put together. The Raven for example has the base, mask, eyes, and eye cover.
When we look from under the keycap we can see where the eyes and the mask connect to the cap. Also from this view we can see that the caps have a good thickness all around them, especially the stems. HKP brands each cap with an H makers mark inside as well.
Here are a few shots of the Raven on a keyboard as well. You can go with something that will match your keyboard or you can add a touch of your own style with something like the bright orange Raven on my white pok3r. I might be bias, but I love how the orange one looks especially.
I think my personal favorite Hot Keys Project keycap is the Trooper. My first HKP keycap was the black and red Trooper and ironically enough Martin actually sent another for us to check out. I’m a big fan of the bright colors and transparent caps, but the black and white caps like the two Troopers I have below are most likely to look great on your keyboard. The Trooper design is much simpler than the other HKP caps. The name sort of implies it looks like a storm trooper but for me I think it reminds me of the Transformers Autobot design. It is smoother and is the closest in size to a normal OEM profile keycap as well. The design has two sunken eyes that come in different colors as well as the colored strip up on the forehead.
The Warmaster is a little more aggressive and I wasn’t a fan of at first. It has an angular shape where the Trooper is rounded in most areas. It has grown on me though, especially the bright green Warmaster. It has similar eyes to the Trooper but they are angular not rounded. The mouth area is shaped a lot like the front of the Darth Vader mask. Next to the mouth area are the angled groves that make the cap look so aggressive to me.
The Armor v2 is the only HKP keycap that is on it second revision currently. Both the original and the v2 Armor are heavily inspired by Iron Man. The original had what looked like the round arc reactor in it and the newer v2 has the triangular shaped vibranium arc reactor. The keycap is very blocky and is a bit larger than the others adding to its armor theme. The Armor v2’s middle piece is typically transparent in some way to let it glow like an arc reactor would. The Christmas Armor v2 that I have pictured below is a little different because both the main portion and the center portion are transparent and it is infused with a little gold glitter. Sadly, I don’t have an original Armor on to show what they look like as well.
I do also have what I consider to be the best Armor v2 as well, the double colored red and gold Iron Man Cap. This one looks great especially on black keyboards but I did photograph it on my white pok3r just to show off what the armor v2 looks like with backlighting when the rest of the cap isn’t also transparent like the Christmas edition.