How to remove keyboard lettering?
May 18, 2005 4:59 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by this, I want to remove the lettering from my iBook's keyboard. What is the best method to do this cleanly?

My goals are: 1) no damage to the functionality of the keyboard or computer! 2) totally clean removal of lettering. 3) as little trace as possible that there ever was lettering. The computer is a ~3 year old 12" iBook with translucent white keys (newer ones are opaque) and black lettering. In 3+ years of daily use, the lettering hasn't worn down at all, although you can feel that the lettering is slightly raised so i'm pretty sure it will come off with a little work.

In the process of contemplating this, I've also realized that my keyboard is pretty grimy, so cleaning tips would be appreciated as well. Around the edges of most keys is a thin layer of stuck on dirt, and beneath the keys there is more than a little lint, hair, dust, etc.

Alternately, is there anywhere to just buy a blank replacement keyboard?
posted by rorycberger to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My dad's old iBook has the letters a and s completely rubbed off, just from "select all" and "save" keyboard shortcuts. He caused this in about a year.

Just rub at them. They'll go away.
posted by interrobang at 5:20 PM on May 18, 2005

fine-grit sandpaper?

some sort of dremel tool?
posted by fishfucker at 5:31 PM on May 18, 2005

I second the fine-grit sandpaper suggestion. I removed the Microsoft logo from my keyboard long ago (nothing against them, I just don't like logos), and it has stayed nice and blank since then. If the keys are already translucent, sanding them shoudn't mess them up, provided you use the right sandpaper. (no 150 grit! Try starting with 220-240, and work up to 600 grit. Should be able to find a mixed pack of sandpaper fairly cheaply.)

As for the cleaning, a can of compressed air works wonders for clearing out dust and keyboard chow. Depending on how complex your keyboard is, you might be able to pop off the keys and stick them in the silverware tray of a dishwasher. I did that for a keyboard once, was surprisingly effective.
posted by sysinfo at 5:44 PM on May 18, 2005

Response by poster: Sand paper was my first instinct too, although sanding all those little keys sounds like kind of a pain. Any chance there's a chemical I could use that would make it more of a "wipe" job? Maybe rubbing alcohol or something?
posted by rorycberger at 6:14 PM on May 18, 2005

Teeny weeny bits of nail polish remover on a Q-tip?
posted by puddinghead at 6:42 PM on May 18, 2005

Anything you use that would wipe off the letters may also react with the keys. Except maybe goo-gone. That is usually ok with plastics.
posted by jmgorman at 6:44 PM on May 18, 2005

Just as a followup to sysinfo's comment -- do not pop off the keys of an IBM thinkpad. Ever. They pop off fine, but are not designed to pop back on again, and hence it's new keyboard time.

This may be the case with your iBook.
posted by coriolisdave at 6:46 PM on May 18, 2005

I've got a black translucent Powerbook keyboard, they go off and on just fine.
posted by onalark at 6:54 PM on May 18, 2005

jmgorman's right. Nix the nail polish remover.
posted by puddinghead at 6:56 PM on May 18, 2005

Taking a cue from what my 5 year old daughter has done to customize my old iBook g4 (using nail polish) i recommend painting all the keys. that's why god invented Krylon "Fusion" (tm) paint, which bonds beautifully to plastics. Don't spray it directly on the keyboard, of course. Spray it into a (metal or glass) container and try various brush applicators (probably a little foam detailer will do). Heck, like my kid, you could paint keys different colors. (You might want to work outdoors with that Krylon, btw.)

Be aware that a replacement keyboard may run you more than a hundred bucks, and if I recall correctly, on the iBooks the wiring harness ribbon runs under the heat sink cover and cannot be replaced without removing that cover, and possibly more (to get into the same area on a G3 Pismo, which I recently disassembled, requires removing the daughterboard card, but I think there's a RAM module right there on the iBook.) So you will need the infamous number 8 Torx driver (if you need one, they are cheapest at Sears online) or a computer repairman to replace the board. And that KB may only be available aftermarket and used by now (it's hard to order new parts directly from Apple as an end user anyway

That keyboard was always one of the cheapo touches on the iBook, and remains so IMHO. That and the damn rubber feet. Why they cannot come up with rubber feet that will stay on, when every other laptop manufacturer seems to have solved this problem, is beyond me. Lost one on my new iBook G4 today, so it's on my mind.

Warning: Krylon Fusion may void any AppleCare warranty.
posted by realcountrymusic at 7:40 PM on May 18, 2005

I know that lego enthusiests have discovered that they can remove the printing from the plastic bricks without damaging the bricks by using a cloth, brass-o, and some elbow grease. Acetone (nail polish remover) damages many plastics, including lego, but give the brass-o a go. It's not instant (some rubbing is involved). Perhaps use it with a soft-cloth dremel buffing head?
posted by -harlequin- at 8:29 PM on May 18, 2005

Sorry, it's called brasso, not brass-o.
It's a metal polish, you can buy it at supermarkets.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:35 PM on May 18, 2005

Having spilled Coke on my iBooks keyboard mere days after getting it, I can verify that with a little care, the keys are both removeable and replaceable.

Coke does not, incidentally, remove the lettering.

My G3 iBook is now quite mature, and not one of the letters has even faded. They are frighteningly permanent.

Brasso is an abrasive polish, so it's possible that tooth polish, lapping compound or jeweller's rouge would work too.
posted by Crosius at 8:48 PM on May 18, 2005


I tried the brasso thing, and it seems to work at least as much from whatever solvents it contains as from polishing. Eg I left some brasso sitting on the plastic for a while, and the printing was easier to remove than if rubbing it immediately.


Note that if the key surface is textured instead of smooth, and you can't find the perfect solvent, you'll probably have to polish the keys smooth to remove the ink in the tiny dips of the texture.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:14 PM on May 18, 2005

Maguilar (?) makes a polish for restoring scratchy clear plastic on automobiles. Should you sand your keys, you could conceivably polish the abraded surface with this stuff. Per an early thread, the ibooks have flakey lettering to begin with. At least mine does. I was contemplating a replacement keyboard but your idea sounds cooler.
posted by mecran01 at 9:20 PM on May 18, 2005

In response to coriolisdave, the keycaps for ThinkPads can be put back on, at least for the ones I have used (A31, etc.) It takes some time and effort. And thought. And maybe taking off some more keycaps to figure out exactly how they fit together. I've had to do this for all my laptops (including PowerBooks) at one point or another over the years. Small children, etc. Don't be scared, gentle readers.
posted by amarshwren at 9:24 PM on May 18, 2005

Threadjack: what are we using for replacement rubber feet, and is there a thinkpad-quality bluetooth keyboard out there? thanks...
posted by mecran01 at 9:57 PM on May 18, 2005

addendum: there are two "goo gones" out there. Don't use the aerosol version that is composed mostly of xylene.
posted by mecran01 at 9:59 PM on May 18, 2005

jmgorman: Goo Gone reacted with my plastic pinball ramp, so I'd recommend using a small amount on a test area of any plastic that you're planning on cleaning with it.

This was the non-aresol variety.
posted by Four Flavors at 9:47 AM on May 19, 2005

If it was me I think I would buy the keyboard that you linked to. It is usb and should work fine with your iBook. Use it at home. Easier to use that the iBook keyboard.
posted by snowjoe at 10:01 AM on May 19, 2005

I'd give rubbing alcohol a try, i's the best method for stripping the paint from the interior of the casing.

Just pop the keys off and let them soak overnight. Try it first with the enter key beside the right-hand splat, because who cares what happens to that key?

The keys pop on and off ibooks pretty easily, with possible exceptions being shift and space bar which have those infernal bars that have to be reattached, but even those ones aren't too bad.

Easier to use that the iBook keyboard.

I love the iBook keyboard.
posted by cCranium at 12:54 PM on May 19, 2005

Response by poster: Yeah, I love the iBook keyboard as well, could never use an external. Thanks to all for the suggestions. I think I'm going to try brasso first, then maybe i'll give rubbing alcohol a try, but i'm worried it will do more than just remove the lettering. Fine grit sandpaper will be a last resort. Keep the suggestions coming please if you have any more thoughts!
posted by rorycberger at 2:34 PM on May 19, 2005

I've had my enter key soaking in rubbing alcohol for about 45 minutes at this point, and near as I can tell the text is as crisp as when I started, and possibly crisper since the rubbing alcohol has cleaned it up a bit. The key itself is definitely not damaged.

(my ibook sounds of the same era as yours -- it's a 12" 600MHz G3)
posted by cCranium at 3:25 PM on May 19, 2005

Clarification of an ambiguity that only just occured to me - When I said I tried the brasso thing, I meant I tried it on Lego plastic - not an ibook keyboard, as I don't have an ibook.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:27 PM on May 24, 2005

Here's somebody who posted some DIY instructions on how to do this [via Gizmodo]:
posted by matildaben at 11:10 AM on May 27, 2005

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