Project Ursa is a fresh keycap profile for Topre boards | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

Listen, I don’t want to be the guy who always posts about weird keyboard stuff. I have other interests. But I need to tell the dozens of Verge readers with Topre keyboards about these keycaps. Ursa is a new spherical doubleshot keycap profile for Topre that is available for group buy until May 15th.

Reactions to the previous sentence will likely fall into three camps:

  1. I recognize some of those words
  2. Already smashed that checkout button
  3. A keycap group buy? In 2024? In a new profile? For Topre boards? What could go wrong?

I am usually a group three, but today, I am in group two. If you’re in group one, here is what some of those words mean. Topre keyboards, like the Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional, use different switches than standard mechanical keyboards. They use little rubber domes with a snappy, top-heavy tactile feel that you can’t really get anywhere else (I’ve tried).

But Topre is a tiny slice of the massive mechanical keyboard market. Unlike standard MX-style mechanical keyboards — where keyboard, switch, and keycap options each number in the thousands — there are only a handful of Topre boards out there and a very small number of ways to customize them.

In addition to the HHKB, Topre switches are also found in Realforce keyboards and a few Leopold boards, like my beloved FC660C. With a few exceptions, they don’t work with regular MX-style keycaps, and pickings are slim.

There are the stock keycaps, which are very good dye-sub PBT but only come in a few color options. There are a few extremely expensive high-profile keycaps from discontinued keyboards and some janky aftermarket sets. Most people who want to change out the keycaps on their Topre boards end up putting in MX-compatible sliders.

(If you are wondering why people would spend hundreds of dollars on a keyboard that is perfect right out of the box and then spend a bunch more money changing everything about it, we all have brain worms.)

So, back to Ursa. The Ursa profile was developed by designer Andreas Chlupka and manufactured by FKCaps. I’ve been following its development for a couple of years now, because I am a creature who likes pretty keycaps. And these are pretty, with nice sculpted spherical tops and centered legends. They’re the first doubleshot PBT keycaps available for Topre boards that I’m aware of.

The Ursa keycaps are available in classic gray and off-white, black with white legends (with optional red or blue modifier keys), and a Minitel 1-inspired retro brown, green, and cream. $80 will get you a set that can cover an HHKB or an FC660C; it’ll cost $120 to cover a full-sized Realforce. If you don’t need legends (the part that tells you what key it is), a full set of blanks in either black or classic will cost $60.

They’re estimated to ship in Q1 2025, which seems like a long way away but is relatively short in keycap group buy land.

These Ursa prototypes are 3D-printed. The production versions will have the same shape but only English legends to start.
Photo: Andreas Chlupka

What could go wrong?

Plenty of things could go wrong! The FKCaps team seems pretty clear-eyed about the challenges. The most immediate is that if they don’t get enough orders to pay for the double-shot tooling, they can’t make the keycaps and the group buy will be canceled. Personally, I do not prefer this outcome.

Then there is the group buy model itself, which is common in enthusiast communities but does require paying for a product well before it’s actually made and trusting the vendor to pay the manufacturer, the manufacturer to make the thing and get it to the vendor, and the vendor to send it to you. Many a group buy has foundered at one of those stages!

Simon Tarchichi, co-founder of FKCaps, told me via email, “We understand the conditions are not good for a group buy, and we certainly would have done it differently if we could. That being said, we have experience in producing new keycap profiles, this is our 5th venture (after MBK, HEX, MNT Pocket and SLK) and despite the fact that this one is more complex because they are doubleshot, we wouldn’t be collecting customer’s money if we weren’t 100% confident in the outcome.”

The next challenge, of course, is actually making the keycaps. Right now, aside from 3D-printed prototypes, FKCaps only has single-shot keycap samples from their manufacturer, and some of the stems are crooked. This is a common problem with aftermarket Topre caps like the KBDfans set I’m using right now. PBT is a tricky material to work with, with lots of shrinkage, so it may take a few tries to get the stems straight and the legends right, which is why FKCaps built in five months to create and refine the tooling. Tarchichi told me that the manufacturer is the same one that makes their other keycaps and that it has experience making doubleshot PBT caps, which is reassuring.

I am not going to tell you to buy these keycaps. Group buys are risky, and manufacturing is hard — FKCaps only resorted to a group buy after it couldn’t find an investor to front the money for what is, after all, an incredibly niche product. And nobody needs to spend this kind of money on keycaps for an already expensive keyboard.


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