Vim hjkl arrow keys T-shirt design

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Back in 2018 I found a T-shirt featuring vim’s hjkl arrow keys but stocks were sold out. I therefore had a dab at designing my own.

vim hjkl arrow keys on ADM-3A
ADM-3A keyboard’s hjkl keys with arrows. Image credits: Peteris Krumins’ blog.

In early 2018 I stumbled upon a blog post about the history of the vim hjkl arrow keys. The post explained why vim uses the hjkl keys as arrow keys1, showed the keyboard which inspired their usage, and presented a T-shirt that the blog’s author had designed. Unfortunately, only 100 were ever made and since the blog post was from 2012 they were long since sold out.

I remember thinking: “that’s a cool T-shirt; I wouldn’t mind one!”, so I designed my own.

To derive the design I found a high-ish resolution version of the ADM-3A keyboard so that I could trace lines around the keys and try to rebuild the letters and arrows on the keys. Then, after spending quite some time splitting hairspixels in Inkscape, I finally came up with this:

vim hjkl arrow keys design

This is one of the first T-shirts I’ve ever designed myself, so be gentle on me! Although this design doesn’t 100% match the one I tried to imitate (I think the original design does a much better job of recreating the letters and arrows on the keys), I thought someone might be interested in having this design on a T-shirt, a coffee mug or even a throw pillow. Enjoy!

For those interested in a deep-dive about the history of vim’s hjkl keys, Hillel Wayne has a really interesting historical thread about the hjkl keys on Twitter:

Why does Vim use hjkl for navigation? The usual answer is “it keeps your hands on the home row”, while the historical answer is “because Bill Joy developed vi on the ADM-3A, which didn’t have arrow keys”. But we can push the history further back: why did THE ADM use hjkl?

  1. It’s because vi, the predecessor to vim, was developed by Bill Joy on a computer terminal–the ADM-3a–which didn’t have didn’t have dedicated arrow keys and instead located them on the hjkl keys on the home row. Also handy to keep your hands on the home row when touch-typing. 


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