glowing keyboard stickers

The problem

The keyboard and the screen are THE two important user interfaces between humans and their computers. Whenever I buy new hardware, I try to include these two parameters in my list of important criteria – especially since both my active machines do not come with a backlit keyboard (which is really sad).

So unless you’re the proud owner of an Apple MacBook (Pro) or Dell Latitude notebook with a backlit (!) keyboard, you’ve probably asked yourself why your notebook doesn’t come with a backlit keyboard, or how you could change that.

As far as I know, only these two manufacturers (Apple and Dell – but maybe also MSI and some Sony models) offer backlit keyboards on their laptops/notebooks, and there’s no comfortable way of installing a backlit keyboard unless you’re into some hardware hacking and/or have access to a light emitting foil and transparent keys.

The alternatives


My HP Elitebook 6930p comes with an illuminated keyboard, which is a little LED light that pops out on top of the display (bezel) – very similar to what you may already know from IBM ThinkPads, but slightly better (because it doesn’t blind the eyes like the ThinkPad light on many new Lenovo ThinkPads & has an extra hardware button).

It’s ok and works, but not really a 100% satisfying solution. A backlit keyboard would be the better alternative.

On my Asus eee PC 1000HG, there’s no such light. Also, the keyboard on this netbook PC is rather thin, so any hardware modding would require extra space – and an LED that pops out from the bezel would probably only add another irritating light source (I’ve tried to hack one onto my netbook, but failed in doing so and had to realize that only a commercial solution would deliver sufficient results).


So I bought these external (USB) & flexible lights which kind of do the job for the time being, but also add another bulky gadget. Plus: the USB version blocks a USB port.


You can see from the picture that the 2nd external solution is clipped to the display bezel and delivers a very bright light.

Both these external keyboard lights can be adjusted, but luminance can’t be set and they are actually wayyyyyy to bright. Not nice.

So I kept on looking for a better alternative and stumbled upon these “glowing fluorescent keyboard stickers” (which you may already see in action on the pictures above) from this dealer on eBay:


At ~ 6,- EUR for a set of stickers, I couldn’t resist and ordered these directly from the US (~ 10 days from the USA to Germany).

Now, these stickers DO NOT GLOW and AREN’T FLUORESCENT, but – as the dealer writes on his website:

“Glowing characters pick up any source of light coming in/ through ( such as light from your own monitor, laptop, or even USB light etc, etc) – allowing keyboard characters to brighten up immediately by reflecting the light, yet, stickers are not the source of light themselves. It is just the same effect* as a road signs reflection, or strips on uniform worn by construction workers or police.”

I think this best explains how these stickers work and why you won’t see glowing stickers on the following snapshot of the keyboard:


The main difference, and a reason why I’ll stick to these stickers on the keyboard for now, is that the letters are bigger and much more visible in darkness. So even though they aren’t glowing in the dark – like a clock dial – they do add some value and an improvement to this rather darker netbook keyboard with its tiny lettering.

I didn’t fix the stickers on the F-keys (top row) – and if you look at the pictures above of the attached stickers on my netbook, you’ll realize that this top row with its Function keys isn’t really readible in any kind of darkness. With netbook keyboards already being too small for the average user, I don’t understand why the lettering also is this poor.

Other than that, the flat surface of the stickers also adds some sort of chiclet touch to the keyboard (flat & single keys on modern Apple/ Sony/ MSI/ Asus/ Acer etc. keyboards). And while there’s a BIOS update available for the Asus eee PC 1000H that allows the use of a chiclet keyboard as found on the Asus eee PC 1000HE, there’s no such luck for 1000HG owners like me. So unless there’s a much better hardware mod for backlit keyboards available in future (Hello Chinese copy masters, inventors of cheap touchpad covers – how come you never ventured into this?), I’ll probably have to stick to these not glowing, not fluorescent but somehow OK’ish stickers.

(* it’s not the same effect, maybe similar effect. The same effect would require these stickers to be much more expensive because the technology used on good road signs is high-tech. This is the material used on these stickers, and the company that produces these adhesives also produces the retro-reflectors on traffic signs…)

the LED phone hack

The following post is dedicated to Samuel & Juliana – both connoisseurs of mobile phones that come with an integrated flashlight (such as the Nokia 1208).

An integrated LED flashlight? What’s the big deal?

Well, if you happen to live in a country with frequent power failures and favour all-in-one devices, an integrated flashlight comes in handy for those moments when it’s too windy or otherwise inappropriate to use a lighter as a source of light. Dedicated LED-based flashlights are nice and proven – I have mine on the keychain – got it free from some years ago.


Sure, you could even use the brigtly illuminated screen on your phone to satisfy any quick needs for a source of light, but it just isn’t the same comfort and also isn’t right on one single spot. There btw is a fancy app for the iPhone which provides a blank white screen to substitute a flash (says @mzeecedric). Quite a ROFL-factor but more like a gimmick. Other recent Nokias with S60 and LED-flash for photography can be modified on the hardware side, e.g. cutting a wire on the printed circuit flex cable. Those “flash lights” weren’t made for constant illumination needs, hence it’s highly recommended not to do that.

I’d been thinking about a DIY alternative for a phone that could be realized by any average phone fundi out there and consequently didn’t want to come up with any SMD-type solution that would probably do a much better job, but instead come up with a simple hack that – most importantly – may be reversed to preserve any warranty on the phone.

The actual need for this project arose late last night after Samuel’s tweet on how he misses the flashlight. Besides, I had urgent work to finish so I needed an external incentive to push me through the evening until I could eventually put my hands on this “hack”.

The players:


an older Nokia 6230 I rescued from eBay some time ago (my 6230i walked away in a Were-sense…). Here you can already see the thin back cover which can be replaced anytime and is thus perfectly made for hacks.


an old LED with batteries from a dead lighter

So let’s start with….

1. the cheap solution :-)


A quick ‘n’ dirty solution that will just do the job.

Not very sustainable though. Which gets us to…

2. the slightly better option

Many Nokia phones come with an exchangable cover, so it’s obvious to make use of the plastic cover which can be exchanged any time. And since there isn’t much space for a bigger battery, we’ll also use the phone’s own battery. After all, it’s based on LithiumIon technology which means relatively high energy density.

The LED is in blue colour, but basically any stronger LED will do the job. Your fundi may be able to resuce one from the usual e-waste found in popular places. I am also not using any resistor or any other passive & active parts to keep it really simple. All we need to do is to sacrifice the back cover for this hack (coz the LED has to go somewhere) and get a direct connection to the battery.

So I’d asked myself:

  1. Where do I put the LED?
  2. Will I need a switch to activate it?
  3. How will I manage to connect it to the battery, given the narrow space in between the cover and the battery?

To worsen the situation even more, I currently do not have access to my usual tools, but then again, that’s the challenge after all – trying to find a decent solution under limited conditions. All I currently have are scissors, my Leatherman Wave, a (really!) cheap voltmeter and a monsterous 30W soldering iron. My Gadgetimoja-toolbox is somewhere else on this planet…

Trying to find a short piece of relatively thin wire turned out to be the hardest part – I have lots of that stuff at home – but where is it when you need it??

So I did what everyone does in such situations: improvise – and take it from somewhere else. In other words: look for another electronical device and see if you can “borrow” some 10cm of wire from that.


Pole sana, dear electrical thermometer. It’s friggin cold outside anyways so at least I’ve provided you with a few indoor minutes. And thx for the cable!

Improvising also means that you do things by trial & error and try to avoid any hardware modifications by simulating the scenario in your head. Will this work? Where will I put the LED? Can it still fit? And what about that damn switch??


It works!

I’d made good experience with “drilling” decent holes into plastic (mis)using a cheap soldering iron in the past, so I just continued “drilling” a hole (don’t try this at home, kids) using this method. Just make sure you actually clean the iron afterwards and while it’s still hot.


SANY1868 SANY1871


As you can see from the pictures above, the cables are just loosely joined with the wonderful battery dock on the phone so that you can remove them any time. The LED is rather big but “somehow” fits onto the edge of the back cover. Also, the cable is still too thick and the back cover will not close the way it is supposed to (also because my phone….ahem…let’s say: had already survived a few other “operations” in the past + remember I’d previously aquired it in an awful condition from eBay).

A “switch” is also missing but this was just version 0.1 to show it’s doable to pimp an ordinary phone into a flashlight phone. It’s a jua kali hack for prototyping, I’d say.

Do you have any ideas for a switch? How would you design it? Maybe integrate it on the side? And is it locally available (= keep it cheap and simple)?


The activated LED with the back cover just put on top.

I will try to organise two more back covers so that I can play around and see what else is possible. Ideally, I’d like to see someone else from Nairobi pick this up (if not already done – sijui if this already exists in Nbo these days?) and modify it into a commercial add-on for wanainchii. After all, phones with flashlights just rock and should imho be on any phone out there. This solution here won’t jeopardize the gadget itself – and such a plastic back cover is cheap, especially this one (with a Vodafone branding, yuck!).