It can be difficult to navigate the world of mechanical keyboards if you don’t have knowledge of the different switch types. With all of the switch brands and colors, it is definitely confusing to figure out what will suit you best.
Today, we will give you the run-down on two of the most popular switch types: tactile and linear switches. Whether you are looking for a keyboard for gaming, work, school, programming, or writing, the switch you choose can either enhance or detract from that purpose.
The different switch types are designed to have a unique typing feel, sound, and actuation force to appeal to a variety of preferences. For example, some switches are loud and clicky, which a writer might like because they can receive the tactile and audible feedback of pressing a key. However, this same switch would be a poor choice for someone who wants to bring their keyboard to work or a library, because the loud clicks would be annoying to those around you!
There are many sub-categories for switch types, but the main three are linear, tactile, and clicky.
Clicky switches are the super loud type that I previously mentioned, and are definitely more of a niche choice. They have a tactile bump and a loud noise when pressed. Though the bumpy feel isn’t for everyone, these switches are fun to use and the sounds are satisfying (for you, definitely not for others!).
It is pretty easy to decide if clicky switches are or aren’t for you, but choosing between linear and tactile switches can be trickier. Keep reading to learn more about these switches and their best uses!
If you’re interested in learning about our favorite mechanical keyboards, check out this article!
What Are Tactile Switches?
Tactile switches are a favorite among many mechanical keyboard users. With a tactile bump, you can tangibly register that a key is being pressed. Switches with tactile bumps kind of feel like you are pressing a little button on each key you hit.
While tactile switches do produce sounds, they are still one of the quieter switch choices. You should be able to bring most keyboards with tactile switches to the office with no complaints from coworkers.
Are Tactile Switches Right For You?
If you are looking to purchase a mechanical keyboard for the first time, it’s likely because you seek a more satisfying typing experience. Tactile switches are my go-to recommendation for beginners because they showcase how fun mechanical switches can be to use.
Beyond being just for beginners, tactile switches are widely used in the mechanical keyboard community because of their versatility. These switches are great for typing and would be decent for gaming too.
If you type a lot, tactile switches are definitely the route you should take. Clicky switches also offer tactility, but it comes with loud clicking that can be unpleasant for those in your close proximity.
If you are looking to upgrade to a mechanical keyboard, tactile switches are a great starting point and are sure to turn you into a fan.
What Are Linear Switches?
Without a tactile bump, linear switches have a smooth actuation. When you press a key with a linear switch the feeling is consistent, a sharp contrast to the “button” feel of tactile or linear switches.
Linear switches tend to be quieter than other switch types too, so you don’t get as much feedback when certain keys are pressed.
Are Linear Switches Right For You?
There is a tradeooff that you make between linear and tactile switches, and it has to do with the feedback you receive when typing.
As discussed earlier, a tactile switch provides sound and tactility, which helps you register that you have pressed a certain key. This is important when typing a lot because you want to have more awareness and control over the keys you press.
However, tactile switches can slow you down if you are gaming at a high level and want to respond as quickly as possible. The smoothness of linear switches is what makes these the preferred switch type of gamers.
The accuracy linear switches allow can present an advantage while gaming, and there are even specially designed speed switches as a subcategory of linear switches.
The high accuracy of linear switches can present challenges to mechanical keyboard newbies though. If you purchase a mechanical keyboard with linear switches for just general use, you may find yourself making more typos than normal. It is hard to register mentally what keys you are pressing with such little feedback.
Many beginners who opt for linear keyboards tend to experience annoyance or discomfort with bottoming out. Since these switches are so smooth it can be difficult to adjust to the new feeling, and bottoming out by pressing the keys “normally” can hurt your fingers.
While linear switches may not be the best choice for first-time buyers, they are definitely an optimal choice for gamers who want to maximize precision.
What Do the Switch Colors Mean?
If you have been browsing mechanical keyboards, you notice that many offer a few switch choices that are each denoted by a color. This color represents that switch type or “feel.”
Most mechanical switches are cloned off of the original Cherry MX brand and generally switch colors have a consistent design and feel across companies. A Cherry MX Red is a linear switch, and you will find a Gateron Red, Outemu Red, Kailh Red, etc., to also be linear switches.
For a general guide on the most popular switch colors, see below.
|Brown||Tactile switches with a moderate noise level and medium resistance.|
|Red||Linear switches that are quiet and have light resistance.|
|Blue||Clicky switches that are loud and have medium resistance.|
|Black||Linear switches that are quiet with heavy resistance.|
While each switch brand produces similar switches under the same colors, it is important to note that they are not the exact same. Switches definitely vary in feel and quality based on the company they are produced by.
There are many detailed reviews and guides about the world of switches, so if you are interested in learning more check out this guide.
Other Important Considerations When Choosing Switches
Aside from the different types of switches, clicky, tactile, or linear, there are additional attributes that you will want to be sure to consider. Switches can have different lifettimes, spring forces,
Low Profile vs. Normal Switches
When searching for a keyboard, you may come across options that are low-profile, meaning the keycaps and switches are shorter.
There are. a couple of reasons some people prefer this style of keyboard- for its sleek, thin looks, alleviation of wrist pain, and the shorter switch stem can mean quicker actuation.
A low-profile keyboard can improve accuracy while gaming or improve your typing speed, but only marginally. I personally think normal switches are more enjoyable to use than low-profile switches, but again it is up to personal preference.
Between brands and switch types, switches have different lifetimes. If you are purchasing a keyboard that you want to get tons of use out of, you might want to pay attention to the durability as indicated by the number of keystrokes.
Cherry MX switches have a lifespan of 100 million keystrokes, which makes them one of the most reliable and long-lasting options available. Most other switch brands have a longevity of 50 million keystrokes.
A switch’s lifespan isn’t the most important consideration when picking a switch type, as the length is determined by the amount you type. Someone who spends their days writing may have to replace their switches/keyboard sooner than someone who uses their keyboard for gaming occasionally.
I can’t say how long a switch will last at 50 or 100 million keystrokes because it depends on your use habits. In the many years I’ve been using mechanical keyboards though, I haven’t reached an “end” point where switches stop working properly.
Each switch has a specific spring force or resistance that also factors into how it feels while typing. This is an area of additional customization depending on whether you are a heavy or a light typer.
Heavy typers should opt for switches with a higher spring force, so you don’t experience a quick bottom out that can be painful. If there is a little more resistance, it remains comfortable to type as you normally do.
On the flip side, a light typer should look at options with lighter spring forces, so you don’t have to strain your fingers to press keys.
The basic switch color options available on keyboards are typically suitable for everyone, so don’t stress about the spring force aspect. When keyboards have tons of switch options, then you may want to look at the spring force to see if there is something that will suit you even more.
Why You Should Consider a Hot-Swappable Keyboard
If you are fear making an investment into a keyboard and ending up disliking the switch feel, getting a hot-swappable keyboard would alleviate those concerns.
Hot-swappable keyboards are designed to where you can easily take out/put in switches, allowing you to completely transform your typing experience on the same keyboard.
Traditional mechanical keyboards require a long process of desoldering to be able to change out switches, which to many is not worth the time or effort.
With a hot-swappable keyboard, all you would need to do is order a set of different switches and replace the originals, which is way less expensive than a whole other keyboard.
Hot-swap keyboards are typically pricier, but there are budget options that would be great for beginners trying to figure out what they like best. Increasingly companies are incorporating this feature into their designs, which is great because it is super convenient!
To find out our favorite hot-swappable keyboards, check out Best Hot-Swappable Mechanical Keyboards of 2021.
Choosing the right switch may seem daunting, but if you do a little research you can make an informed decision to find whats right for you.
Mechanical switches offer a whole host of benefits over a normal membrane keyboard, and all of the variations available exist to suit different user preferences.
Remember, tactile switches are a great multipurpose choice that will not disappoint. Linear switches are excellent for gaming but might have too little feedback for everyday use.
If you want to test out the different switch types to find what you like best, remember that hot-swappable keyboards are an available option.
Thanks for reading, I hope this guide was helpful for those struggling to choose a switch type for their keyboard!