What's a good way to label keys?
May 26, 2010 6:35 AM   Subscribe

What's a good way to label keys?

Does anyone know a good way to label keys? I have a few sets I use, some more myself, some for the occasional house guests. I'd like to be able to label them all in a way that's reasonably self-evident (ie: "F" for front door "B" for back door, as opposed to, say, a color-coding system that'd need to be explained).

Is there any reasonably permanents, reasonably easy, reasonably cheap way to do this? Stickers seem to come off quickly in regular use, ink from sharpies rubs off just about instantly. Any ideas?

(My current "best" solution, which I don't love, is this: I write on the key using a sharpie, and then stick packing tape over the writing, and cut the tape with an exacto knife, to protect the writing. It lasts a while, bu eventually the tape comes off. Also it's sort of hassle....)
posted by ManInSuit to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Nail polish can work. If you sharpie the label and then put a clear coat of nail polish over it, it might work well.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:37 AM on May 26, 2010

Scratch the letter deeply onto the key with a dull knife or screwdriver. Then smear Sharpie all over the area, and wipe it off. There will be some ink left in the scratch. You can make double letters (each stroke of the letter is two parallel lines) to make it more visible.

I do this with memory cards, the labels of which are made of a magical, indelible surface.
posted by notsnot at 6:41 AM on May 26, 2010

"F" for front door "B" for back door, as opposed to, say, a color-coding system that'd need to be explained

What I've done is put a little spot of paint or tape just above the lock on the door itself to denote which color key to use. The color system becomes completely self-evident this way.
posted by Hiker at 6:48 AM on May 26, 2010

You could get a set of letter punches, which will let you tap letters into the keys using a hammer. A little pricey for a one-time use, but they're the kind of thing that would be neat to have in your workshop for other home projects, like making plant stakes in the garden or other crafts.

(I should note that I have not used the particular kind I linked to, they're just an example)
posted by bcwinters at 6:58 AM on May 26, 2010

Another vote for Sharpie + nail polish. I've done this in the past. What helps to make it easier to see is apply a coat of white nail polish, use the sharpie to label, then go over with a coat of clear nail polish.
posted by geekchic at 7:01 AM on May 26, 2010

If you have or can borrow one of those rotary tools, you could etch it in.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:08 AM on May 26, 2010

Any particular reason why key tags are out of the question? Even if you keep multiple keys on a ring, you can easily attach a tag to each individual key, too.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 7:43 AM on May 26, 2010

sciencegeek, geekchic - That nail polish idea sounds really good!

Does the clear nail polish provide a reasonably durable protection for the sharpie-marking?
posted by ManInSuit at 8:03 AM on May 26, 2010

This is also not as elegant as labeling the key itself, but I get one key made color-coded at the key shop, and then put them on a keychain that says "Blue key: front. McGee cell: xxx-xxx-xxxx." That way whether I give them to the neighbor kid feeding my cats while I'm on vacation or to a houseguest, they both have the colorcode in front of them and know how to reach me if there's a problem.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:06 AM on May 26, 2010

Keys on a ring are forever going to be banging against each other, and any paint-type solution is going to chip and wear.

I'd suggest spray-painting the top half of the key and marking the target lock with the same color; a lot of years will go by before it's no longer apparent which is the red key.

Or, use a file to notch the edge of the key, then put corresponding notches or numbers on the lock. Back door says "2" on the lock; the key is the one with 2 notches filed into the edge.

A set of letter punches can be had for as little as $5 at Harbor Freight.
posted by chazlarson at 8:10 AM on May 26, 2010

McGee has a good point. Key blanks are often available in many colors and designs. Maybe you can come up with a code by looking at the key rack at the hardware store.
posted by chazlarson at 8:12 AM on May 26, 2010

Letter punch is the way to go, any decent locksmith will have a set and can mark your keys if you don't want to buy the punches/hammer/anvil.
posted by Mitheral at 8:55 AM on May 26, 2010

You can also buy inexpensive plastic/rubber key sleeves in a bunch of colors or just have keys made up color coded.
posted by leslies at 9:05 AM on May 26, 2010

Clear nail polish is probably your cheapest option, and lasted a year or so for me. A spray-on shellac would also work and probably be more durable.
posted by geekchic at 9:50 AM on May 26, 2010

Sharpie also makes oil based paint markers.

I'd think that'd work pretty well for keys. It doesn't rub off of slick surfaces like the usual sharpie markers. I use them to mark climbing hardware (carabiners and such), and find the markings to be reasonably durable.

Though nail-polish might be cheaper.
posted by zen_spider at 10:31 AM on May 26, 2010

I'm about to rent out an apartment which needs 4 keys: front door to building, security lock to apartment, normal lock to apartment, cellar/storage space. The security lock is easy, because it's a totally different size and shape, so that leaves three. I've got the key shop to use coloured blanks to make up a set for the new tenant, and will tell them: think of a traffic light - red, yellow, green in that order. Red to get into the building, yellow next for the apartment door, green last in case you need access to the storage space.
posted by aqsakal at 1:29 PM on May 26, 2010

I am, right now, applying nail polish to keys, and waiting for them to dry...
posted by ManInSuit at 3:15 PM on May 26, 2010

Key Caps
posted by invisible ink at 5:13 PM on May 26, 2010

Dymo labels from a handheld label punch seem to hold; my university uses them and their keys see a lot of action.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:07 PM on May 26, 2010

All these answers are great! Letter punch might have been cool, were I not a bit short for time. I marked nail polish as best because it's what I end up doing. The keys look nice, and the markings seem reasonably durable. We'll see how the hold up over time. Thanks, everyone!
posted by ManInSuit at 7:07 AM on May 27, 2010

For anyone checking this thread after the fact:

It's now a little over 7 months later, and the nail-polishing labeling is holding up great! Looks good as new - if current wear is any sign, I'd expect it to still be there in a year.
posted by ManInSuit at 3:18 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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