How to Choose Switches for Your Custom Mechanical Keyboard Project

March 25, 2024

Starting your custom keyboard project is an exciting venture. An important key element to focus on is the switches. These components are the essence of your keyboard. They affect everything, from the force needed to register a keystroke to the sound it produces.

Are you a fan of Cherry MX switches, or are you drawn to the cost-effectiveness of Gateron switches? An understanding of the different switch types and how they alter your typing experience can help you make a well-rounded decision on what switches you want to install on your mechanical keyboard.

Understanding Mechanical Keyboard Switches

The visible core of any mechanical keyboard is the set of mechanical switches. Mechanical keyboard switches are the individual mechanisms beneath each keycap that register key presses. These are different from standard keyboards that use silicone dome membranes that use a pressure pad and a membrane layer beneath the keys.

Various types of mechanical switches exist in the market, but they generally share common principles on how they work.

  1. Keycap and Stem: Each key on a mechanical keyboard has a keycap, the visible part you press. There is also a stem, the part beneath the keycap that interfaces with the switch.
  2. Switch Mechanism: The mechanical switch is a self-contained unit positioned beneath the keycap. It consists of several key components:
      • Actuator/Pushrod: The part that moves downward when the key is pressed
      • Spring: Provides resistance and helps in key return after a press
      • Contacts: Metal components that come into contact when the switch is pressed, closing an electrical circuit
      • Housing: Encases the other components and guides the movement of the actuator
  3. Actuation and Reset Points: Mechanical switches have two crucial points: the actuation point and the reset point.
      • Actuation Point: The point at which the keypress is registered. Different switches have different actuation points.
      • Reset Point: The point at which the switch resets, allowing for a rapid keypress.
  4. Electrical Contact: When you press a key, the actuator pushes the contacts together, closing the circuit and allowing an electrical current to flow. The keyboard's controller detects the closed circuit, signaling a keypress.
  5. Durability: Mechanical switches are known for their durability. They are rated for tens of millions of key presses before they start to show signs of wear.
  6. Customization: Mechanical keyboards often allow for customization. Users can choose different types of switches based on their preferences for typing feel, actuation force, and noise level.

Different Types of Mechanical Keyboard Switches

an image of a mechanical keyboard switches

There are several types of mechanical keyboard switches in the market, each with its unique characteristics. The modularity of a mechanical keyboard makes these switches perfect for customization. These switches are often categorized based on their actuation type, tactile feedback, and audible click

  1. Linear Switches provide a smooth and consistent keystroke without tactile bumps or audible clicks.
  2. Tactile Switches provide feedback---a noticeable bump at the actuation point. This gives the user a tactile feel to each key press.
  3. Clicky Switches Combine tactile feedback with an audible click sound upon actuation, providing both physical and audible confirmation of a keypress.
  4. Actuation Force Variants: Different switches within the same type (linear, tactile, clicky) may have variations in actuation force, affecting the amount of force required to register a keypress.
  5. Custom/Unique Switches: Some switches are designed with unique features, such as electrostatic capacitive switches that combine aspects of mechanical and rubber dome switches.

Some popular mechanical switch brands include Cherry MX, Razer, Logitech, and others. Let's list down some of these brands and models: 

  1. Cherry MX Switches
    • Cherry MX Red: Linear switch with a smooth keystroke and no tactile bump. Requires low actuation force.
    • Cherry MX Black: Similar to Red but with a higher actuation force.
    • Cherry MX Brown: Tactile switch with a noticeable bump at the actuation point. Popular among typists and gamers.
    • Cherry MX Blue: Tactile and clicky switch with an audible click sound. Well-suited for typists who enjoy the clicky feedback.
  2. Razer Switches
    • Razer Green: Tactile and clicky switch, similar to Cherry MX Blue.
    • Razer Orange: Tactile switch with a quieter keystroke, similar to Cherry MX Brown.
    • Razer Yellow: Linear switch with a smooth keystroke, similar to Cherry MX Red.
  3. Logitech Romer-G Switches
    • Logitech Romer-G Tactile: Tactile switch with a discernible bump.
    • Logitech Romer-G Linear: Linear switch with a smooth keystroke.
  4. Corsair Switches
    • Corsair MX Red: Similar to Cherry MX Red, a linear switch.
    • Corsair MX Silent: A quieter version of the MX Red switch.
    • Corsair MX Brown: Similar to Cherry MX Brown, a tactile switch.
  5. Kailh Switches
    • Kailh is a third-party manufacturer producing switches similar to Cherry MX. They offer a variety of switches, including linear, tactile, and clicky options.
  6. Gateron Switches
    • Another Cherry MX alternative, Gateron switches are popular for their smooth keystrokes. They offer various options, including linear, tactile, and clicky switches.
  7. Topre Switches
    • Topre switches are electrostatic capacitive switches that combine aspects of mechanical and rubber dome switches. They provide a unique feel with a tactile bump.
  8. Matias Switches
    • Matias switches are known for their Alps-inspired design. They offer various tactile and clicky options.

Which Type of Mechanical Keyboard Switch Is For You

So which is the right mechanical switch for you? Well, it depends on several factors---how you want your typing or gaming to feel, your personal preferences, typing habits, and the tasks you frequently perform. Let's give you a brief guide to help you decide which type of switch might be ideal for you:

  1. Linear Switches (Cherry MX Red, Cherry MX Black, Razer Yellow, etc.)
    • Ideal for gaming and tasks requiring rapid key presses.
    • Preferred by some programmers and gamers who don't want tactile bumps or audible clicks.
  2. Tactile Switches (Cherry MX Brown, Cherry MX Clear, Razer Orange, etc.)
    • Suited for typists who prefer a noticeable bump at the actuation point.
    • Provide tactile feedback without an audible click, making them a good compromise for various tasks.
  3. Clicky Switches (Cherry MX Blue, Razer Green, etc.)
    • Great for typists who enjoy both tactile feedback and an audible click sound.
    • May not be suitable for shared or quiet environments due to the noise.
  4. Actuation Force: Consider the force required to actuate the switch. Some switches offer variations in actuation force, allowing you to choose based on your preferences. Lighter switches may be preferred for fast typing, while heavier switches can reduce accidental keypresses.
  5. Typing Environment: If you're in a shared or noise-sensitive environment, go for quieter switches to avoid disturbing others. Quieter options include some linear and tactile switches without audible clicks.
  6. Consider Your Usage: If you're primarily gaming, you might lean towards linear switches for their smooth and quick keystrokes. For typing-intensive tasks, tactile or clicky switches may enhance your typing experience.
  7. Hot-swappable: Some mechanical keyboards offer hot-swappable switches, allowing you to change switches without soldering. This feature can be valuable for users experimenting with different switch types.

Switch Modifications

an image of lubing a keyboard switch

Changing mechanical switches is not the only way to modify your keyboard. In fact, you may want to modify the switches themselves! Here are some common switch mods:

  1. Lubing
    • Purpose: To reduce friction between moving parts, resulting in a smoother keystroke and potentially quieter operation.
    • Process: Apply a thin layer of lubricant to the switch components, such as the sliders, springs, and contact points.
  2. Switch Stickers/Silencing Clips
    • Purpose: To reduce or eliminate the "bottom out" sound when a key is pressed fully
    • Process: Attach stickers or silencing clips to dampen the impact between the switch slider and the switch housing.
  3. Spring Swapping
    • Purpose: To adjust the actuation force of the switch
    • Process: Replace the original spring with a different one, either lighter or heavier, to change the force required for keypresses.
  4. Keycap Modifications
    • Purpose: To customize the appearance or feel of the keycaps.
    • Process: Swap keycaps for different materials, profiles, or designs. 
  5. Switch Film Installation
    • Purpose: To improve switch stability and prevent wobbles.
    • Process: Place a thin plastic film between the switch housing and the top of the switch, providing a more secure fit for the moving parts.
  6. Spring Swapping
    • Purpose: To adjust the actuation force of the switch
    • Process: Replace the original spring with a different one, either lighter or heavier, to change the force required for keypresses.
  7. Switch Stem Swapping
    • Purpose: To combine the housing of one switch with the stem of another to create a custom switch feel
    • Process: Carefully disassemble switches and exchange the stems while ensuring compatibility.
  8. Sip Socket Installation
    • Purpose: To enable hot-swappability for switches without soldering
    • Process: Solder sip sockets onto the PCB, allowing for easy switch replacement without desoldering.
  9. Sound Dampening Mods:
    • Purpose: To reduce the noise generated during keypresses.
    • Process: Apply materials like foam or silicone to dampen vibrations and sound within the keyboard case.

Conclusion

There are a gazillion options when choosing and replacing your mechanical keyboard switches. Linear, tactile, clicky, or a mix of switches can truly make your mechanical keyboard look, feel, and sound your own.

With this guide, we hope you're inspired to choose the right switches that allow you to type and play games to your heart's content.

Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Pinstack

Pinstack is a dedicated online media platform focusing on selling and reviewing mechanical keyboards. Our commitment is to provide comprehensive reviews, in-depth guides, and much more. With our active presence on YouTube and our website, we strive to deliver top-quality content across multiple platforms, aiming to bring the best to our audience.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscription Form
We care about the protection of your data. We’ll never share your details.

Pinstack is an Amazon Affiliate. All earnings from this website are from qualified purchases. Learn more about our affiliate disclosure terms.
2023 - Copyright, All Rights Reserved
magnifiercrossmenu
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x