Introduction: Restore Painted Letters on Keyboard Keys

Picture of Restore Painted Letters on Keyboard Keys

My laptop and our new desktop computer have cool looking black keys with white painted letters. After a while, certain keys lose their painted letters from fingernail strikes. Note the A, S, D, H, L, E, R, T, O, N, and M keys. In low light it can be hard to find the right key. There is a way to restore the damaged keys without paying the price of a new keyboard for caps.

Step 1: Use Your Word Processor

Picture of Use Your Word Processor

Type the damaged letters in your word processor. Use the Arial font. I set the font size at 22 points. I elected to have the color of the letters as white and the background color black. In Writer you pull down Format and select Character. Then look for Background and Font Effects.

Step 2: Blacken Around the Letters

Picture of Blacken Around the Letters

After printing the letters you need, use a felt tip marker to blacken a bit more border around them.

Step 3: Apply Clear Tape to the Letters

Picture of Apply Clear Tape to the Letters

Paper letters would not wear well on a keyboard. Cover them with a good quality of clear tape. The light areas over the A and between the E and R are from light reflecting off of the tape.

Step 4: Add Double Sided Tape to the Back

Picture of Add Double Sided Tape to the Back

Pull the long leader from a roll of double sided tape and apply the tape to the back side of the letters you printed. As you can see, I used a piece of scrap paper for this project.

Step 5: Cut the Letters Apart and Apply

Picture of Cut the Letters Apart and Apply

Cut the letters apart one by one with a scissors and apply them to the keys as you cut each. The reflection of the flash makes the new letters appear especially light in shade, but that is an illusion.

It works better to make the letters a bit smaller than the key surface. Notice the T. Smaller is better than an edge that extends beyond the key surface and continually catches on your fingers as you type. If a letter is poorly aligned after you apply it, peel it off and apply it again.

Refurbishing painted letters damaged by fingernail contact makes your keyboard easier to use, even though you know how to touch type and even though they are not a perfect replacement. They also seem to wear well and the touch of your fingers on them is nearly identical to a keyboard without the new additions to your keyboard.


Lanilea (author)2016-04-29

I used my french manicure pen.The white tip on it is perfect to paint the letters on your keyboard.Wipe your keyboard off with alcohol, let it dry.print your letters on,let dry for a couple minutes, use clear polish when your paint is dry..easy.

matt392 (author)Lanilea2017-10-02

Lanilea -
Made an Instructable from your idea; gave you full credit:

MoobL (author)Lanilea2017-01-06

OMG! Haahaa I just came down here to write the same thing. I happen to have it on my desk at the moment and used it rather than the instructable. We're great minds. :)

sugarmountain (author)MoobL2017-01-31

MoobL or Lanilea - Can you please tell me which french manicure pen you used? I was going to buy Sally Hansen White Tip Pen but the reviews weren't great. Thanks!

MoobL (author)sugarmountain2017-02-02

I'm almost positive mine was Kiss brand. I bough it from a store here called Fred's. It's a Pharmacy and a small store. Basically a store like Walgreens, CVS, etc. Kiss is an inexpensive brand. If you're looking for quality for your nails, I suggest Essence. I've never had chipping or flaking with Essence pens.

Good luck.

Phil B (author)Lanilea2016-05-17

Thank you.

flashj (author)2015-04-16

Good Instructable! Though I had no idea how fiddly double sided tape is! I think I spent more time trying to peel the tape and position it on the keys than I would have if I'd replaced the keyboard. ;)

giraffe825 (author)flashj2017-03-27

I made a mistake. I meant to say to make a VERTICAL slit, not diagonal. Just find a corner and slit 1/2" into the corner , so straight down.

giraffe825 (author)flashj2017-03-26

I had the same problem, especially when the cut letters are so small. I solved the problem by turning over the cutout letter, taking an exacto knife and making a half inch diagonal slit into one corner. You don't want to go all the way through, so you need not press hard. Then I slid the exacto point under one side of the slit. It raises that part and you can peel off the back.

Phil B (author)flashj2015-04-16

The double sided tape I used came on a roll in a dispenser. There is no backing on it, but the adhesive is not very strong, either.

Some keys on my wife's notebook computer lost their lettering. I now have Brother P-Touch label maker. I got a black tape (white letters) cartridge for it and replaced damaged letters on my wife's computer. The label tape is holding up well and looks great. If you can, try this. I think you will be pleased. (To remove the backing from the P-Touch labels, gently fold the finished label lengthwise. The backing slit runs down the middle and will begin to separate from the label so you can remove it very easily.)

flashj (author)Phil B2016-09-14

Thanks Phil, I'll try that on the next keyboard.

davidchretien (author)Phil B2016-09-12

Well I did it with the P-touch I use at work, but the label is composed of 2 folds and after a while the top fold get away and you get sticky keys. I will try the clear nail polish with the printed letter on the Text Processor.

Phil B (author)davidchretien2016-09-12

I have a P-touch labeler now, but have not tried it on keys. I have used it on all sorts of things, but have never had part of a label come loose. I even put a label on a mug and it goes through the dishwasher.

davidchretien (author)Phil B2016-09-14

Well by pressing on key with a finger pressure, heat, humidity from the air and the "acid" of the perspiration of the fingers, believe me, the top fold of the P-touch labels will slowly but surely go away, letting a sticky surface on the key. You get the "letter" label (which has move on the key) still on the key but the clear fold get away.

I just finish renewing my laptop keyboard with printed letters with clear nail polish... Superb ! I will see how long it will last.

And by the way I customized some keys, by erasing some symbols I never use, or by erasing the second language text on some keys.

Clean keys with alcohol, put some polish on the key, adjust printed letter on the key, recover the all with a layer of polish.

I will probably put a second layer of polish tomorrow.

So a big big thank you for your tip !

I posted a picture of my renewed keyboard. Some key are not dry enough but I get my "I" "E" "S" back !

sabbott (author)2017-03-16

An oldie but a goodie. Some great ideas in the thread comments as well. I have been buying stick-on decals, but they wear out too, and it's annoying when you only need a few keys. Will be trying the label-maker approach next.

b1russell (author)2009-09-16

Um, great idea, but I'm terminally lazy - I mean, efficient! I fixed mine by using my P-touch label maker. Can anyone tell me why manufacturers insist on labeling the keys off-center? I AM, after all, old enough to remember typewriters. LOL

NokoMomz (author)b1russell2016-03-29

b1russell, I believe it's meant to prevent their rubbing off so quickly. The keyboard I have now has the letters in the center and they've worn off faster than any keyboard I've ever had, within a very few months of buying it brand new. Seven years later, you may not stlll have this question but perhaps it'll help someone else.

Phil B (author)b1russell2009-09-17

A P-touch label maker would be a very good idea. Can you get black tape and make white letters on it? I have only an old-style Dymo raised plastic letter label maker from the late-1960's.

KennethM30 (author)2015-09-21

Instead of using a double sided tape on the back, I use the same clear tape that I used on the front. I affix the letters with clear nail polish. After the letters dry, I cover the front of the letters with clear nail polish too. The letters are nearly indestructible.

I just did this on my keyboard using your idea to not use tape on the back of each letter/symbol, but rather affix and cover with clear nail polish. Brilliant! So excited that I can now see my letters AND they will not wear off. Finally! And typing them in Arial 22 pt font was good advise too. Just perfect.

Janey Murray (author)2013-07-13

One of the best instructables ever, and there have been many, many before this. If the first attempt is not perfect it will be easy to do it over, and with practice we will learn little tricks to try until we perfect the application. Thank you for this.

Phil B (author)Janey Murray2013-07-14

Thank you. I now have some label tape with black background and white letters. The letters on my wife's notebook have worn away. We will give this a really good test on her computer. Thanks for looking.

verdastel (author)2009-05-20

Outstanding! It's simple yet it has never crossed my mind before. Thanks Phil, i have the same problem and i will try it right away

Phil B (author)verdastel2009-05-20

Thanks. It is not a perfect solution, but far better than enduring blank letters on a number of keys. Over time some of the corners on the letters have curled up, and I trimmed those corners off with a sharp knife. I have had to do this fix on two keyboards. The double-stick tape began to fail on one key. I simply put a piece of transparent tape over it and let the ends of the tape attach to the sides of the key.

verdastel (author)Phil B2009-05-23

I have done it to my keyboard keys :) I see the problem you mentioned...but hey, do you think it will help if you trim the corner into round shapes before sticking them to the keys? I'm sure it will help, though i don't know how significant it is. However, putting transparent tape from side to side is also a good solution. Anyway, thanks for sharing, Phil! (sorry for my weird english, not a native speaker, heh)

Phil B (author)verdastel2009-05-23

Your English sounds very good to me. I wish I could do as well in the 2nd language I am trying to learn. Making rounded corners might help. I began with square corners and when one began to curl I sliced that corner off on a diagonal when it began to get in the way of my typing. I think my double-stick tape is a weak variety. Somewhere I got the idea they make some tape with more adhesive power. I am glad this Instructable was useful to you. I just do not function well with keys I cannot read, even though I learned the keyboard many years ago.

verdastel (author)Phil B2009-09-22

it's already 4 months now, and none of mine has failed :) bottom line is, it's really worth it. Oh and in my place there are several kinds of adhesive tape with different qualities. It seems that mine is considerably good, it's clear, thin and has strong adhesive.

rimar2000 (author)2009-05-21

Very clever solution to a boring domestic problem. Bravo, Phil! BTW, I have suffered the same problem that some mine instructable was published a week late or something. Thus, we enter every day to see the latest, we lose some interesting things. I believe the managers should address this problem.

Phil B (author)rimar20002009-05-21

Thank you, Rimar. The Instructable I mentioned did eventually gather viewers. After each weekend I try to review the last three or four pages in the Recent category. Frequently I find an Instructable I did not see, even though I was watching for new Instructables.

mowdish (author)2008-12-18

Thanks for the idea. I had a similar problem and used a white correcting pen to draw new symbols on the keys. It works, but the correction fluid wears off quickly and a printed ampersand, '&', will be much better than what I drew which looks more like this '8'.

Phil B (author)2008-12-17

This is a shameless plug. If you own a home duty circular saw with a weak base that flexes, take a look at my Instructable on Too Much Flex in a Circular Saw Base. By the time it was available for viewing, it was buried under five pages of newer Instructables. Thank you.

gmjhowe (author)Phil B2008-12-17
Hey phil, i know your having some pain with your ibles, i suggest the following.

  • Contact one of the Admins directly, they can make sure that there are no problems with your account.
  • Upon publishing an Instructable, if it does not show up in the recent list within contact one of the Admins - Noah, or Fungus are the best two, and tell them its stuck in the filters

Personally, i have found that when one of my Ibles gets stuck in the filters, once it has been 'released' it actually appears first in the list.

A list of the Admins can be found HERE
Phil B (author)gmjhowe2008-12-17

Thanks. The 'ible on flexing saw bases got listed, but where no one much finds it. It has gotten 21 views since 18:00 hours UTC.

gmjhowe (author)Phil B2008-12-17

Also, although every good ible is equal, some are 'more appealing' than others, eg, one of my photoshop based ibles only got a few 100 hits, but, my Steampunk Sniper rifle mercury bow, got alot more, part of it is in the content, part of it is in the naming and the picture. Its just the way ibles works.

Phil B (author)gmjhowe2008-12-17

I had noticed things like that. Things that really helped me a lot gather small interest from others while things I was almost embarrassed to submit gathered a lot of views and maybe even came to be Featured. A person just never knows what will strike another person's fancy. But, I just enjoy posting things I have found helpful and hope someone else will get the benefit of an easier way to do something or a way of saving some significant money. I pretty much know who I am by this point in life and do not depend on acclamation to feel OK.

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Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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