Mechanical keyboard enthusiasts are constantly---and happily---exploring ways to enhance their typing experience. One popular modification that has gained traction among keyboard aficionados is the application of switch films. These thin, unassuming accessories are designed to fine-tune the performance and feel of mechanical switches, offering greater stability, reduced wobble, and even a subtle impact on the sound profile.
You're about to elevate your typing experience with switch filming. It's an innovative tweak that'll transform your keyboard's performance, sound, and feel.
Whether you're a seasoned enthusiast or just starting out, this guide will walk you through the process. You'll learn about different switch films, tools needed, and how to set up your workspace.
Let's customize a keyboard that's uniquely yours through switch films.
What is a Switch Film
Let's start by understanding what a switch film is.
A keyboard switch film, also known simply as a "switch film" or "switch liner," is a thin material placed inside mechanical keyboard switches to improve their performance and feel. These films are typically made of various materials such as polycarbonate or polyethylene. They are designed to fit between the switch housing and the bottom of the switch stem.
Switch films are indispensable for those seeking the ultimate typing experience. They not only stabilize your keys but also enhance acoustic performance, making each keystroke sound crisp and uniform.
You'll find various types on the market, each offering unique benefits.
Benefits of Using Switch Films
Diving into the benefits of using switch films, it's clear they significantly enhance your keyboard's performance and feel. These simple yet innovative tools reduce switch-top wobble, leading to a more stable, consistent typing experience.
Enhanced stability: Switch films improve the stability of keyboard switches, reducing wobbling and sideways movement of the keycap during keypresses. Mechanical switches can exhibit a slight wobble when pressed off-center. Switch films help mitigate this wobble by providing a smoother and more even surface for the switch stem to act against.
Improved tactile feedback: Depending on the thickness and material of the switch film, it can alter the tactile feedback of a switch. Some users prefer a crisper or softer tactile feel, and switch films allow for customization of this aspect.
Quieter keystrokes: Another benefit from switch films is that much like foam, switch films can dampen the sound produced by mechanical switches.
Consistency: Switch films contribute to the consistency of switches within a keyboard. By reducing switch wobble and other variations in keypress feel and sound across different switches, they ensure that the entire keyboard feels and sounds uniform.
Extended switch lifespan: Switch films can help reduce friction and wear inside the switch, potentially prolonging the lifespan of the switches by protecting them from excessive wear and tear.
Enhanced typing experience: Overall, switch films contribute to an improved typing experience. Whether you prioritize stability, sound, or tactile feedback, switch films allow you to tailor your keyboard to meet your specific preferences.
Drawbacks of Using Switch Films
While switch films offer a lot of benefits, they also come with potential downsides including installation complexity, compatibility issues, and cost. Users should carefully weigh these factors against their desire for a customized typing experience before deciding to use switch films.
Installation complexity: Applying switch films can be a delicate and somewhat intricate process. It requires disassembling the keyboard, removing keycaps, and carefully placing the films inside each switch. Novice users may find this process challenging, and there's a risk of damaging switches or keycaps if not done correctly.
Compatibility issues: Not all mechanical keyboards and switches are compatible with switch films. Users must ensure that the films they choose are suitable for their specific switches and keyboard models. Compatibility issues may arise if the films are too thick or don't fit properly.
Inconsistent results: The impact of switch films on the typing experience can vary based on factors such as the type of switch, the quality of the films, and individual preferences. It may take some trial and error to find the right combination of films and switches to achieve the desired feel and sound.
Cost: Switch films are an additional expense for keyboard enthusiasts. While they are relatively affordable, the cost can add up if you're customizing a full-sized keyboard or using premium films.
Time-consuming: Applying switch films to a full-sized keyboard can be time-consuming, especially for those new to the process. It requires careful attention to detail and patience to ensure each switch is properly fitted with a film.
Voiding warranty: Modifying your keyboard with switch films may void the manufacturer's warranty, so users should be aware of this potential consequence before proceeding with the installation.
Limited availability: Switch films may not be readily available for all types of switches or in all regions. Users may need to purchase them from specialized keyboard vendors or online stores, which can lead to longer shipping times or limited availability.
Aesthetic changes: Depending on the thickness and color of the switch films, they may be visible through the keycaps and alter the keyboard's aesthetics. Some users may find this undesirable if it doesn't match their preferred look.
Choosing the Right Switch Film
Choosing the right switch film isn't just about picking the first one you see. It's key to understanding the different types of films and what they offer.
Let's consider some factors you'll want to think about when making your selection.
Different Types of Switch Films
Understanding the different types of switch films is important when you're deciding on the right one for your keyboard switches. The market offers a variety of films, each with unique characteristics tailored to enhance your keyboard's performance. Buy switch films that fit your requirements and preferences for your custom keyboard.
Polyethylene (PE) films: Polyethylene switch films are a common and affordable option. They are known for their thinness and flexibility, making them relatively easy to install. PE films provide a subtle improvement in switch stability and sound reduction.
Polypropylene (PP) films: Polypropylene switch films are similar to PE films but may offer slightly different characteristics. They are known for their durability and resistance to wear, which can contribute to a longer lifespan for the switch.
Polycarbonate (PC) films: Polycarbonate switch films are often preferred for their ability to enhance switch stability and reduce wobble significantly. They come in various thicknesses, allowing users to choose between more subtle or pronounced effects on the typing experience.
Tangerine films: These films are made of polycarbonate designed specifically for use with Tangerine switches. They are known for their unique feel and sound characteristics when paired with these switches.
Thick films: Some switch films are thicker than the standard options, and they provide a more noticeable change in the typing experience. Thick films are often chosen by users who want a more pronounced tactile feel and sound reduction.
Thin films: Thin switch films are designed to provide minimal impact on the switch's feel and sound while still improving stability. They are a subtle choice for users who prefer a more traditional typing experience.
Tactile films: Tactile switch films are specialized films designed to enhance the tactile feedback of mechanical switches. They can make the tactile bump of a switch more prominent, appealing to users who prefer a sharper tactile feel.
Silent films: Silent switch films are designed to reduce the noise produced by mechanical switches. They often have additional dampening properties to make keystrokes quieter, making them ideal for users in quiet environments.
Custom films: Some enthusiasts experiment with creating their own custom switch films using various materials, thicknesses, and shapes to achieve specific typing characteristics. Custom films can be tailored to personal preferences.
Popular Brands of Switch Films
Several brands of switch films can be found online or offline. Here are some of the most popular ones.
TX Switch Films: TX Keyboards is well-known among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts for producing high-quality switch films. Their switch films are known for their consistency, precision, and compatibility with a wide range of mechanical switches. TX Films are favored by enthusiasts who seek to improve switch stability and reduce keystroke wobble.
Thicc Switch Films: Thicc Films is another popular brand that specializes in producing thicker switch films. These thicker films are designed to provide a more noticeable effect on the typing experience, enhancing tactile feedback and reducing noise. Thicc Films are favored by users who want a more pronounced modification to their switches.
Deskeys Films: Deskeys is known for offering switch films designed to improve switch stability and reduce switch stem wobble. Their switch films are available in different thicknesses, allowing users to choose the level of modification they desire.
KeBo Switch Films: KeBo Films is known for producing switch films that are compatible with a wide range of mechanical switches. They offer both regular and thick switch films to cater to different preferences.
Keyreative Switch Films: Keyreative is a well-known manufacturer in the mechanical keyboard community, and they also offer switch films. Keyreative switch films are often praised for both quality and compatibility.
Durock Switch Films: Durock, also known as JWK, is a respected name in the mechanical keyboard world. They manufacture switch films in various thicknesses. These films are compatible with many popular switches.
HOT Keys Project (HKP) Switch Films: HOT Keys Project is a company that produces various keyboard accessories including switch films. Their films are designed to enhance switch stability and reduce wobble.
PrimeKB Switch Films: PrimeKB is a retailer that offers a selection of switch films from different manufacturers, allowing users to choose from a variety of options based on their preferences.
Keebwerk Switch Films: Keebwerk is a European-based brand that produces switch films designed to improve the feel and sound of mechanical keyboard switches. They are known for their attention to detail and quality.
JUJU Switch Films: JUJU Films is a relatively new entrant in the switch film market. They offer a range of switch films, including thin and thick options.
Considerations When Selecting a Switch Film
When deciding to install switch films, keep these key considerations in mind when choosing a switch film:
Switch compatibility: Ensure that the switch film you choose is compatible with the specific switches you have on your keyboard. Remember that different switches may have varying housing designs and dimensions. Thus, not all switch films will fit all switches.
Material: Switch films can be made from various materials, such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polycarbonate (PC), and more. The material can affect the feel and sound of your switches. For example, PC films are known for enhancing switch stability, while some users prefer the feel of PE films.
Thickness: Switch films come in different thicknesses, ranging from ultra-thin to thick. Thicker films tend to have a more pronounced impact on the typing experience, including tactile feel and sound. Thinner films offer a more subtle modification.
Tactile feedback: For better tactile feedback in your mechanical switches, consider switch films that are made to enhance or preserve the tactile bump of your switches.
Sound reduction: If you want to lessen the noise as you type, look for switch films that have sound-dampening properties. Polycarbonate films, for example, are often chosen for their noise-reducing effect.
Quantity: Switch films are usually sold in packs, and the quantity may vary from brand to brand. Ensure that you purchase enough films to cover all the switches in your keyboard, including any spare film for future modifications.
Brand and quality: Consider the reputation of the brand when choosing switch films. Brands known for their quality control and consistency are more likely to provide reliable and effective films.
Aesthetic impact: Depending on the thickness and color of the switch film, it may be visible through the keycaps. Consider whether the aesthetics of the switch films align with your preferences and the overall look of your keyboard.
Install Switch Films
Now that you've chosen the right switch film, let's get your keyboard switch ready. Adding switch films to custom mechanical keyboards entails some specific steps for a successful installation.
Gathering the Necessary Tools
You'll need several specific tools to prepare your keyboard switch for filming.
Adding switch films to mechanical keyboard switches requires a few basic tools and materials to ensure a successful installation. Here are some of the necessary tools and materials:
Keycap Puller: A keycap puller is essential for removing the keycaps from the switches. There are various types of keycap pullers, including wire pullers and plastic ring pullers. Choose one that you find comfortable to use.
Tweezers: Tweezers can be handy for holding the switch films and placing them inside the switches accurately. They can help prevent fingerprints and ensure precise placement.
Separate containers: Use compartmentalized or separate containers to store switch parts.
Lubing supplies: If you plan to lubricate your switches during or after the film installation, you'll need the appropriate lubricant, a brush or applicator, and a lubrication station.
Switch opener tool: Some mechanical keyboard enthusiasts use switch opener tools to access the switches for lubing and filming. These tools can make the process safer, faster, and more efficient.
Removing the Keycap and Accessing the Switch
Start by gently prying off the keycap with a keycap puller. Be careful not to yank it; you don't want to damage the stem.
To access it, you'll need to unscrew the keyboard case and carefully lift the plate and PCB assembly.
Removing the Switch
After removing the keycaps, you need to remove the switch. This depends on the type of keyboard you have.
If your keyboard has through-hole switches (most mechanical keyboards do), you'll need to desolder the switches from the PCB. Heat the solder joints of the switch with the soldering iron and use a desoldering pump or wick to remove the solder. Be patient and make sure to remove all solder from each joint. Be careful as the components are delicate
Once the solder is removed, gently wiggle and pull the switch out of the PCB. Use the switch removal tool or your fingers if possible.
If you have a hot-swappable keyboard, you can remove the switch without desoldering the switches.
Opening the Switch
To apply the film, you need to open your switch first. Use a switch opener for this task. Using your switch opener, you can easily---and safely---pry open the housing.
Place the switch into the switch opener tool, making sure it's secured in place. The switch opener will typically have a slot for the switch to fit into. Gently close the switch opener tool to open the switch. Hold your switch, applying even pressure to both sides to avoid damaging the switch. The switch's top housing should separate from the bottom housing.
Once the switch is open, you can access the various components inside, which typically include the stem, spring, and leaf contacts. Be extremely careful when handling these components; they are small and can be easily lost or damaged.
Organize the different parts. Consider using individual containers to keep everything in place and avoid confusion.
Now, you're ready to apply the switch film. Using your fine-pointed tweezers, carefully pick up the film and position it on the bottom housing.
Applying the Switch Film
Once you've removed the keycap and accessed the switch, prepare for the application of the switch film. Handling the switch films can be tricky, so here are a few tips on how to make it easier for you.
Take a single switch film from your supply. If the film has a protective backing, remove it to expose the adhesive side. Use tweezers or a switch opener tool to hold the switch film. Be gentle to avoid damaging the film.
Carefully place the switch film between the top and bottom housing of the switch. The film should be positioned in such a way that it lines up with the sides of the switch housing and the legs of the switch stem.
Ensure the film is aligned properly inside the switch. Try to have it evenly positioned and cover the switch's internal components without causing interference.
Once the film is in place, gently press the switch film down onto the switch's internal components, ensuring it adheres to the housing. Be very careful during this step to avoid damaging the film or the switch.
After applying the film, test the switch to ensure it still registers keypresses correctly and feels as expected. If the switch does not function correctly, you may need to reposition the film or remove it and try again.
If you are applying switch films to multiple switches, repeat the above steps for each switch individually.
Applying Lube if Necessary
If your keyboard's switch needs a smoother feel, it's a good idea to lube your switches before proceeding with the film application. Lubing your switches can significantly enhance their sound and tactile response, bringing about a transformation that's both enjoyable and rewarding.
Consider Krytox 205g0 as an excellent option for lubing due to its unmatched performance. It's a simple process---apply a thin layer of lube to the switch's stem, spring, and the inside of the housing. Be careful not to over-lube, as this can adversely impact the switch's performance.
Once lubing switches are done, you're all set to proceed with the switch film application as described above.
Reassembling the Keyboard
After you've put the film on the switch, start putting your keyboard back together. Before reassembling the keyboard, check your switches to ensure they are correctly filmed and that they function as expected.
Place each switch back into its respective position on the keyboard's PCB. Make sure the pins on the bottom of each switch align with the holes on the PCB.
Gently press each switch down onto the PCB to ensure they are securely in place. You should hear or feel a slight click when they snap into position.
Re-solder the switches carefully. You don't have to worry about this if your keyboard is hot-swappable.
Take your keycaps and begin installing them on the switches one by one. Line up the keycap stem with the switch stem and gently press down until it clicks into place. Repeat this process for all the keycaps.
If you removed the keyboard's case during the disassembly process, reattach it. Secure all screws or clips to ensure the case is properly closed.
Testing the Functionality of the Filmed Switch
Now, it's experimentation time! Connect the keyboard to your computer. Start typing, and pay attention to the feel of the keys. You're looking for a firm, consistent press with each stroke.
Test the keyboard once more to verify that everything is functioning correctly, including any additional features like backlighting or programmable macros.
Use compressed air or a soft brush to remove any dust or debris from the keyboard's surface and keycaps.
If you do notice some inconsistencies, don't fret. It's all part of the process. Remove the keycap and recheck your work. Sometimes, the film might need a tiny adjustment.
Even with careful planning, you might encounter a few hitches while putting film on your keyboard switch. Don't worry, it's not just you; common issues often arise during the switch filming process.
Let's discuss some tips for troubleshooting switch film problems to help you overcome these hurdles.
Common Issues When Filming Switches
Surprisingly, you might encounter some common issues when filming switches. To mitigate these common issues, it's essential to follow proper installation procedures, be patient, and double-check your work.
Film misalignment: One of the most common issues is a misalignment of the switch film. If the film is not correctly positioned between the switch housing and the switch stem, it can cause interference with the switch's movement, leading to inconsistent keypresses or even getting stuck.
Switch activation issues: If the film is too thick or positioned improperly, it can interfere with the actuation of the switch. This can result in switches not registering keypresses reliably or requiring excessive force to actuate.
Stem binding: The switch film may bind with the stem, causing a gritty or scratchy feeling during keypresses. This can negatively impact the typing experience.
Inconsistent feel: Applying switch films inconsistently across different switches in the same keyboard can lead to variations in the typing feel.
Film damage during installation: Switch films are delicate, and they can tear or become damaged if mishandled during installation. This can render the film ineffective or cause issues with the switch.
Keycap fitment issues: Thicker switch films can sometimes lead to keycap fitment problems, especially with keycaps that have tight tolerances. The added thickness may cause the keycap to sit higher or not fit properly.
Sound changes: While some users seek to modify the sound of their switches with films, improper film installation can lead to unintended sound changes, which may be undesirable.
Incompatibility: Not all switches are compatible with every type of switch film. Some films may not fit properly in certain switches or may cause compatibility issues with other components of the switch.
Excessive lubrication: If you've applied lubricant to your switches along with switch films, over-lubrication can sometimes lead to performance issues and a gummy feel.
Voided warranty: Depending on your keyboard, modifying it with switch films may void the manufacturer's warranty. Be aware of this before proceeding.
Troubleshooting Switch Film Problems
In the process of applying films to your keyboard switches, you'll likely come across some hitches. But with a few troubleshooting tips, you can easily overcome them.
Check for misalignment: Misalignment of the switch film is a common issue. Inspect the switch films to ensure they are positioned correctly between the switch housing and the switch stem. If a film is misaligned, carefully reposition it so that it sits flush and evenly between the housing and stem.
Examine how the key feels: If you notice inconsistencies in key feel or switches that feel scratchy or gritty, carefully examine the switch films for any signs of binding or interference with the switch stem's movement. If necessary, reapply or adjust the film to eliminate any binding.
Test the key registration: To identify switches that may not be registering keypresses reliably, thoroughly test each key on your keyboard. Use a key testing tool or a keyboard testing website to ensure that all switches are functioning correctly. If a switch fails to register consistently, it may be a film or alignment issue. The thickness of these films may be interfering with the switches' performance.
Inspect for tears or damage: Carefully inspect the switch films for any tears, wrinkles, or damage. Even small tears can disrupt the switch's function and feel. If you find damaged films, replace them with new ones.
Check for lubrication issues: Excessive or uneven lubrication can cause problems. Inspect the switches for signs of excess lubricant buildup or uneven application, and clean or re-lube switches as needed.
Evaluate keycap fitment: If you're experiencing keycap fitment issues after applying thicker switch films, remove and reseat the keycaps. Ensure they are properly seated and not obstructed by the film.
Consider film thickness: Depending on the thickness of the switch films you've chosen, you may experience varying levels of impact on the typing feel. If you find the films are altering the feel too much, you may want to try a thinner film per switch or reevaluate your preference for switch modification.
Reapply films as needed: If you suspect a particular switch film is causing problems, consider reapplying it or replacing it with a new one. Sometimes, the film may not have been correctly applied during the initial installation.
Check for compatibility: Verify that the switch films you are using are compatible with the specific switches on your keyboard. Compatibility issues can lead to a range of problems, from fitment issues to performance inconsistencies.
We hope this tutorial has shown you the right way to film your switches. The right switch film and a steady hand can transform your keyboard into a unique typing powerhouse.
Your mechanical keyboard build is all yours. Don't be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you. Happy modifying, and enjoy the new feel and sound of your custom-built mechanical keyboard!
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.
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