Artisans are a niche within a niche, when it comes to the keyboard community. Little bits of material that command the attention of many enthusiasts and often are valued much higher than you might believe. At the most basic level, an Artisan is a keycap that has been created to add artistic flair to one’s keyboard, by placing the cap(s) on the stems of your switches. Depending on who created the artisan keycap, there is a wide array of options, styles, and personalities, from menacing skulls to cute little animals, and everything in-between.
The caps themselves are usually created via one of several methods including, but not limited to, resin-casting, 3D printing, CNC-machining, and even clay sculpting/baking. Resin-casting is arguably the most popular method and is used by pretty much all of the community’s most prolific keycap artists. After completing a limited number of these special caps, the artists often hold raffles of varying styles, where you can win a chance to purchase one or more caps. You heard me right – win a chance to purchase. Most artists only produce a fairly limited selection for a raffle, so when there are only 50 caps available and 500 people want them, raffling tends to be the most fair option to distribute them to the public.
It’s not uncommon for popular artists to get well over 1000 entries for a raffle. With the caps being so limited, this causes a massive influx of people trying to obtain them on the aftermarket, which in turn drives up the value of the caps. Just like keyboards, there are some that are easy to obtain (often relatively inexpensive) and some that are very hard to obtain (often quite expensive). The same is true of artisan keycaps, for the most part. Some people pay $500-$1000 USD for just a single rare keycap they’ve been searching for months or years to find, while other caps can be almost instantly had for pennies, in comparison.
Furthermore, a lot of rare caps don’t even get sold, because the owners refuse to sell them. There is an unofficial and unwritten rule among experienced enthusiasts that high-value caps are to be traded, not sold, usually out of respect for the artists, as they don’t actually get to have any of that money from massive aftermarket markups, because they raffled or sold the caps for $20-$50 a cap, a fairly standard range for top-tier artists. Trading does tend to be more common for these high-end caps, which can make purchasing one an absolute horrific test of patience. Most enthusiasts you see with a large collection of artisan caps have usually won a lot of raffles and completed a lot of trades.
When trading, most enthusiasts agree to a rough theoretical range of each cap’s worth. Since retail price is the only rock solid price to go on, people can only ballpark its worth on the aftermarket, based on demand and rarity. It’s not unusual to see one cap traded for many caps, or even rare keyboards, since a single cap can be worth a ton of value, especially to the right person. Because of this, artisan caps are almost a currency in a way, as they’re sometimes the only way to get the caps you truly want.
Artisan keycaps are art, there is no getting around that. Just like other art communities, this one isn’t always the nicest. Because of the value some caps possess, some people are willing to lie and steal for what they want, so it really helps to be as knowledgeable as possible about the caps and really determine what they mean to you and what they could mean to others. On the flip-side, there is no shortage of nice people here, too, often willing to give people caps, sell them at retail, or accept trades that others might consider unfavorable for them.
Either way, this niche can have a hard barrier of entry if the more in-demand caps are the ones piquing your interest. Joining raffles is the best first step, but don’t be afraid to make friends with other enthusiasts. It’s surprising how tight-knit this community can be, and helping people will often get you help in return.
If you’re curious on where to find sales, here are some resources to get you started:
Keeping up to date with those three sources will basically mean you’ll never miss an artisan raffle.
Lastly, if you’re looking for an Artisan Archive, here are two great resources https://www.artisanarchive.org/ by /u/Rocketgruntjake & the Handmade Artisan Keycap Directory by Bambino. Please note that these resources are community maintained and are not complete. Please submit data if you have the time, cheers!