A custom keyboard for my drawing apps - Sourcing the Parts

Posted on October 9, 2020

For the artist who works on both their desktop and iPad, you know what a hassle it can be to have multiple keyboards and multiple shortcuts settings for various drawing apps. Not all apps allow customization of hotkeys. Stretching your hand across a full-sized keyboard also isn't very optimal. On-screen interfacesand menus can be a slower way to switch between tools, taking you away from the drawing to fiddle with settings.


So this is part 1 of a 3 part article to talk about how we built a custom keyboard (a pair, actually) specifically for my hotkeys.

Part 1: Sourcing the Parts

In July, Mateusz Urbanowicz posted a video about how he built and uses his custom keyboards for Procreate.


Previously, I had been using a tiny game 8BitDo controller for my frequent hotkeys in Clip Studio on my iPad, but it wasn't as reliable as I'd like - not knowing when it turned off and I'd need to resync/charge it. I also have a Clip Studio Tabmate, which works for the desktop version of the app, but not the iPad (as of this writing.) (Note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases via links from this site~!)


(Note, if interested in checking out these options - only the 8Bitdo Zero 1 will work, as it has specific keys mapped like a keyboard. You may then go into your Clip Studio preferences and map those button presses as your new shortcuts. (You can see what letters are what and what I assigned them to on my post-it notes for reference. For full disclosure, the link above will take you to an Amazon listing - I bought mine about 2 years ago for $25.)

I needed something a little more robust with more key options and Mateusz's build seemed like a perfect fit. Mateusz linked to a shop called Yushakobo in Japan and named the needed parts:

  • Helix Pico PCB - just 1 side
  • Kailh low profile - switches (25)
  • low profile "choc" keycaps (25)
  • Arduino Pro Micro (1)
  • Pins for the Arduino (2) twelve pins long
  • Diodes type 1N4148 (25)
  • Small button for reset (1)
  • Rubber feet (4)

The Helix is an ortholinear keyboard - a full-sized, 5 row keyboard, broken into 2 parts. The Pico is a 4-row model - same basic components, just more compact.

We searched for US shops for available parts, but remembered we were in the middle of a pandemic and parts were not in stock. There were some alternatives like the 5-row Helix PCB and kits via Little Keyboards or KeyHive.

We bit the bullet and ordered all the parts from Yushakobo, as they have a ready-to-go kit for a full Helix Pico keyboard, that comes in neon red, green, yellow, and some with fancy designs on the acrylic parts. (They also have a variety of other keyboard kits and parts, so it's worth taking a dive and reading up about the various options available!)

The kits come with the boards, diodes, and other basic parts, but NOT THE KEYCAPS OR KAILH SWITCHES. You must order them seperately as those are entirely up to your preference.
For a full board set, I ordered 5 packs of the low-profile blank, white "choc" keycaps and 5 packs of the kailh low-profile switches in brown. (The switch colors refer to the responsiveness of the switch springiness and clicky sound. You don't even have to order the low-profile switches or keycaps - but just make sure the kailh switches and keycaps are compatible.)
You can order these parts anywhere to your preference - just do a quick google search or check out the OLKB subreddit for ideas.
We placed the order and shipped to a forwarding shop in Japan, which then shipped to us via ... extremely slow mail. The forwarding company estimated 2 months delivery time. It took a little over 2 months to arrive, so unti the pandemic is over and flights resume as usual, you may need to be patient.
While we were waiting, Scott did some research and decided to also pick up a pair of OLED Display modules for the Arduino chip via Amazon. (They come in blue or white - I chose blue.)
★ ★ ★ ★
Next up: Scott's going to talk about THE BUILD.
Share this:

Upcoming Events

Events 2023

Mini Con 12
McCully-Moiliili Public Library
September 30, 2023