Apple Extended Keyboard II Overlay Generator

for Mac OS X

Quick download

Apple Extended Keyboard II


From October 1990[1] until its replacement by the AppleDesign Keyboard in 1994[2], Apple sold a keyboard named the Apple Extended Keyboard II. Many people, including myself, consider this to be the best keyboard ever made for the Macintosh.

Among the many advantages of the Nimitz (for that was its code-name) over other keyboards were two small pegs, next to the Escape and Power keys. These two pegs were for hanging the plastic overlay that came with the keyboard, whose purpose was to be an easy reference for the functions of the 15 function keys.

This is a photo by Flickr user penmachine of an Apple Extended Keyboard II with Apple's overlay, cropped to show the corner of the overlay hanging around the Power key.
Photo by Flickr user Derek K. Miller.

Apple's overlay was only marginally useful back then: it defined F1–F4 as undo, cut, copy, and paste (for reasons I don't know), and made you write in any functions you actually used. It's even less useful now, because any apps that did use F1–F4 for those functions are now long dead.

At the start of May 2008, I was waiting for a Griffin iMate to arrive so I could restore my Extended Keyboard II to its rightful place under my fingers. (It has since arrived.) During this wait, I decided to create an updated overlay for systems running Mac OS X.

Photo of my new Mac OS X overlay, installed on my Apple Extended Keyboard II.

  1. Wikipedia: Apple Keyboard (section: Apple Extended Keyboard II
  2. Wikipedia: Apple Keyboard (section: Apple Design Keyboard (M2980)

The Generator application

After creating my overlay, I also created an application that I call Apple Extended Keyboard II Overlay Generator. This app fills in a template that you can then print out, cut out, and assemble.

Included with the application are two overlays:

You're welcome to modify them or create your own.

Once you've chosen an overlay (or finished making or modifying one), you have three choices for what to do with it:

Saving as EPS has a couple of advantages over saving as PDF: first, it saves up to 1 second faster, because saving a PDF works by generating the EPS and converting it; second, it adapts to font availability on different computers (see Fonts, below).

System requirements

Assembly instructions

  1. In the Overlay Generator, either print out the overlay (on US Letter or A4 paper) or save it to an EPS or PDF file.
  2. If you saved it to an EPS or PDF file, print that (again, on US Letter or A4 paper).
  3. Using an X-Acto knife or scissors, cut out the two halves of the overlay. (It's 18+¼ inches long, so it won't fit on a single page in one piece.)
  4. On the left half, fold over or cut the shaded portion.
  5. Tape or glue the halves together. For best fit, do this in situ—that is, on the keyboard itself. Do the upper joint first (because it's less critical), then the lower joint, making sure all the while that the overlay still rests comfortably around the pegs.
  6. (Optional) Use removable double-sided tape (Scotch #238 or #667) on the lower two corners of the back of the overlay to fix it in place.
    (Don't use permanent tape, in case you ever want to change the overlay, or whoever inherits the keyboard from you wants to change or remove it.)

If you've done it correctly, the text under F9 should look like one piece, as if the overlay itself were one piece.

This photograph shows the correct alignment of the two halves of the F9 label.
This photograph shows an incorrect alignment of the two halves of the F9 label. The alignment is so wrong that one letter on each row of the label is repeated.


The font used on Apple's keyboards is Univers Condensed Oblique, according to Wikipedia's section on Apple keyboard fonts. Linotype will sell you a copy of this font for $29 USD.

Both the Generator and its EPS output will use Univers Condensed Oblique if you have it; if you don't, they will try Univers Light Condensed Oblique; if you don't have that, they will fall back on Arial Narrow Italic, which is close enough to Univers at a glance.

However, you may not need to buy the actual Univers font. As of both Mac OS X 10.4.10 and 10.5.2, the Quartz PostScript renderer substitutes Helvetica if you don't have Univers. The result looks good enough that I can't tell the difference at a glance. (The app itself does fall back on Arial. Only the output—whether EPS, PDF, or printed—receives this substitution.)

Screenshot of the word “eject” set in Arial Narrow Italic.
Arial Narrow Italic
Screenshot of the word “eject” set in Helvetica, as adjusted by Mac OS X to imitate Univers.
Screenshot of the word “eject” set in Univers Condensed Oblique.
Univers Std 57
Condensed Oblique
Screenshot of the word “eject” set in Univers Light Condensed Oblique.
Univers Std 47
Condensed Oblique

Note that the EPS file does its font checks when you render it, so you can save the EPS file on a machine that doesn't have Univers, then bring it to a machine that does, and it will (definitely) use Univers on that machine. (Hooray PostScript!) PDF files are static, so if you save as PDF, the font choice in that file is frozen, and won't change from one machine to another.

.aek2overlay documents

The Generator application is document-based. It opens and saves .aek2overlay files, which contain all the information it needs to reproduce the overlay. These are not only much smaller than finished EPS or PDF files, but also editable.

Two documents come with the application; I described them above. You can make your own overlays (e.g., for your own software, or for an entire office or computer lab) and distribute them.

The format is simple:

As of version 1.0, the only keys that the Generator will label are F1 through F15.

The application, in a zip archive.
MD5 hash: e50a8fd943b09cb74ce45004c89a77f1
SHA-1 hash: ecc7b4dd77ed8db2e211e8f75b6a62b33d8ececb
Objective-C source code and an Xcode 2.4 project, in a bzip2ed tarball.
MD5 hash: 926be86392e7e7e1212c384b2bb6e846
SHA-1 hash: d2123690a029a13e599f96ce55fcd8aecc9b41db
The application, in a zip archive.
MD5 hash: e254b4f046bc718dcdf5e4fe3c2ceef4
SHA-1 hash: fc379a15cecfe8fde9a0235c57c66da796d663c9
Objective-C source code and an Xcode 2.4 project, in a bzip2ed tarball.
MD5 hash: 45d71d40efe882474f6a40bac4c03d81
SHA-1 hash: 9a62e42761808e1c2a53c66521ea7bb242125f8e

MD5 and SHA1 signatures were created using the md5sum(1) and sha1sum(1) utilities from GNU coreutils.

Mercurial repository

If you want to contribute bug-fixes or enhancements to Apple Extended Keyboard II Overlay Generator, the easiest way to do that is to clone the Mercurial repository for Apple Extended Keyboard II Overlay Generator. To do this, type this command into a terminal:

hg clone AEK2-Overlay-Generator

I provide Apple Extended Keyboard II Overlay Generator—the application, and its source code—under a three-clause BSD license. For more information, see the file named LICENSE.txt that comes with it.

Version history



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