A DIY Optimus Maximus keyboard For GIMP, Photoshop or Lightroom

DIY Keyboard For Image Editing Software If you have not heard about the Optimus Maximus keyboard, let me fill you in.

The idea is simple: Use OLED technology to place a tiny monitor on each key; Make each such small monitor completely configurable, and updatable in runtime; have each button display any image depending on what you are currently doing with your computer.

The easiest example to grasp is that pressing the shift key will turn all “engravings” on the keyboard to CAPS. But a more interesting application would be a keyboard that displays the icons from your favorite image editing software. No more having to memorize what Ctrl + Shift + Alt + S does (it save for the web). Each key will display an image of its action. Isn’t it nice?

Well, you are about top learn how to make an Optimus Maximus keyboard yourself.

Uwe  Mayer (flickr, site) and Markus Dollinger (if you read German) show us how to make a keyboard that well, kinda does the same. Actually, this DIY keyboard is more like the awesome keyboard you get from RPG keys, but you can make one on your own and it will only cost about 30-40$. (See demos here). I just could not pass on the Optimus introduction.

You can use this keyboard to expedite your Lightroom workflow, your Gimp experience or your Photoshop speed-keying.

Which Keyboard Is The Right One?

To make the keyboard easy and fun to use, there are you have to be kidding just a few simple requirements on my list:

  • keys should be exchangeable – that means that you can reprogram the keys as you like
  • The most comfortable keyboard size is 60 to 80 keys
  • customizable labeling of the keys – that means you can change the label on the keys from “blue mountain cheese” to “Image Size
  • the keyboard must be fully programmable
  • support and software must be available by the manufacturers website (which automatically brings you to the big players in the cash register keyboard biz)
  • The keyboard should connect either via USB or PS2 (or if you have any other trick up your sleeve, like wireless IR it is also fine)
  • The keyboard  should work under Windows as well as Linux (and be plug and pray play)
  • Robust design

Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown

It was clear right from the start that it will be a keyboard from a cash register. A quick investigation brought up: PrehKeyTec.de is not only the market leader, stuff from Preh is also available on eBay.

The next quick investigation focused on if Preh is offering Support and Software for even older keyboards – they did. In fact you can use the software package from the website to program all of the programmable Preh keyboards

Actually buying The Keyboard

Find a reputable seller on eBay, decide what fits your requirement specification and make sure it’s complete (search for Preh – keyboards will pop up)

  • Is keyboard cable included?
  • Are all keys and key-caps complete?
  • Is the keyboard in working condition?
  • Does the keyboard include pre-labeled keys (like your normal keyboard does) or are all keys customizable

Creating a Plan

Select your buttons

Make decisions which actions and tools you’d like to have on your keyboard.
The first thing is to decide on the buttons that you want to have

  • What shortcuts do you frequently use?
  • Which commands are hidden in some menus
  • What are the complex keyboard macros

Plan the layout:

  • Which hand will operate the keyboard; In my case I operate the keys with my left hand while I use a tablet with my right hand, so I planned to place the keyboard to the left.
  • How would you like to position the keys? Which will be at the center which will be at the top (the one you use most), which will be near your thumb?
DIY Keyboard for Image Editing Software

TADA!! The Keyboard Arrived

When the keyboard arrives it is time to execute your plan. Here are the steps you’ll need to take:

  • The first thing is to measure the size for the key labels.
  • Now when you know the actual size, you can start to prepare the labels; 
  • I did that with a table in an open office text document and positioned graphics, text and symbols in a table (I took the symbols from a screenshot of GIMP, and for that – hey! even MS Paint will do)
  • Now Print the labels on a paper and cut out the key labels
  • For each of the keys, remove the upper key cap, position the label and put the key cap back on.

Putting It All Together

This is where all the hard effort you put is coming together. After completing this step you’ll be a certified keyboard operator.

Connecting the keyboard:

  • Download the software package from the Preh website (it is located here)
  • Install the software (you’ll need both the drivers and the programmer)
  • Connect the keyboard and follow the instructions in the software (there are some very good manual here, if you feel confused, just get the first one – this is what you need)

Start programming the keyboard:

  • The software will enable you to select your keyboard, so first select the right keyboard
  • Let the software verify that it’s the right one
  • Select a key to start with – The best way here is to be methodical, work from right to left, from bottom to top – this is how the Preh programmer works.
  • Record a macro by pressing the right key (or sequence of keys)
  • Use the software options for assigning simulated keystrokes, sequences, macros (depending on the keyboard you can program multiple functions on one key)
  • After programming all / most of the keys you must download the     configuration in the keyboard – there’s a simple menu command for that
  • Hey, programming is really easy, because every shop owner with such a keyboard should be able to change the programming of these things. Working with a layer mask in Photoshop or GIMP is far more complicated.

Behold And Use The Wonder

This is where you run your photo editing software and try it out. 

After a while playing around with this thing you get used to the new keyboard design and have new ideas for key sequences. Now you can go back to the design stage and make some adjustments (the Agile way). Or push it one step farther and add another set of commands with the Control key pressed.

And know what? You can even daisy chain two or more keyboards …