Switch Marketing Terms: What to Know and What to Ignore
If you’re just now stepping into the world of custom mechanical keyboards, or trying to expand your switch catalogue for upcoming builds, all of the phrases you may see on a switch sales page can be confusing. Where more seasoned keyboard veterans might scoff at me for making a claim like this, I can assure you that even after having purchased thousands of switches myself I still come across new, strange ways of vendors trying to sell me switches. While I don’t have the space here to go through every single one of the quirky selling gimmicks I’ve seen over the years, I figure it might be worthwhile to give a loose guide to help people out. So, in this article I’m going to cover the things that you need to both look for and ignore when buying your next set of switches!
Type and Manufacturer
Image Credit: @BMa1
While this may seem an incredibly obvious suggestion to be made as something to look out for it, it isn’t entirely without merit. To new people coming into the...
Okay, so you’ve decided you want to get some aftermarket keycap sets. What should you look for? Broadly speaking, keycap sets will be split up into three different groups, according to the material they’re made of. In order of abundance, they are:
Image Credit: @callmeL
Despite this clean delineation of materials, keep in mind that nothing in the real world of manufacturing is this simple. Different manufacturers will use different material blends (the bulk material may be ABS, but there are all sorts of functional additives that will differ), tooling is different and manufactured/maintained to different standards, and quality standards are different.
In addition to the materials used to manufacture a keycap set, we must also explore a few different “legending techniques” (how the letters that you see on each keycap get there). We’ll focus primarily on the more premium legending options here, but keep in mind that you might come across others in your...
Having already discussed some of the early things to consider in the world of mechanical keyboards, it seems appropriate to take a step back and answer the obvious question - why should I even care about mechanical keyboards in the first place? This might be a solved problem to some of us, but if you’re stumbling across this early in your discovery of the mech keys hobby, you’ve come to the right place.
Why should I care so much about my keyboard?
Back when I first joined the hobby, the prevailing sales pitch for mechanical keyboards was “why would you spend $1,000 on a custom PC build only to use a $10 cheapo keyboard as your main physical interface with the computer?” While this argument has become a bit of a cliche and fallen out of favor, there is still some truth to the argument. And once you’ve decided to upgrade your keyboard from the pack-in/freebie model, you’re faced with a decision about what to move to. Do you get a nicer (probably ‘gamer’) membrane keyboard? Or do you...
Among the seemingly countless number of switch options out there, you’ll be surprised to know that the vast majority of them fit cleanly into one of three different categories known as ‘linear’, ‘tactile’, or ‘clicky’. I promise that I am not deceiving you here. Even with all of the different variations in weightings, color schemes, and manufacturing brand names that you see among switch options out there, most of them are one of these three main types. (Hint: That’s why DROP breaks down their switch options into those three categories.)
As to what the distinguishing features of each of the three main types of switches are, simply know that these are used to differentiate the sound and/or feeling between each switch. Additionally, some of the variations that you’ll see within each of these three main types may further provide some context as to how these switches are different from normal linears, tactiles, or clickies. So, without much more delay, let’s go ahead and walk through...
Build materials and other case design considerations
Staggered vs Ortholinear
Low-Profile vs High-Profile
Build Materials and Design Considerations (you are here)
After discussing low-profile and high-profile cases last week, in addition to size/layout and staggered/ortholinear layouts previously, we’ve now arrived at the last of four “intro” topics to cover the basics of mechanical keyboards (not counting the switch topics that ThereminGoat has contributed as well). Our final entry in this initial series is about build materials and other case design considerations. Because there is so much to cover on this topic, some things will be omitted - let us know what you want to see more of in the comments below.
Aspects we will cover:
Plastic vs Metal
Broadly speaking, most mechanical keyboards will either be “plastic” or “metal”; of course, the specific plastic or metal of choice will impact how a board feels, but these are the two main categories. Most...
Having discussed the two bigger design considerations for newcomers to the mechanical keyboard hobby—size/layout and staggered/ortholinear layouts, the remaining topics to cover are a bit more straightforward. Entry number three in our intro series will cover low vs high-profile keyboard designs.
Image Credit: @savidini
Staggered vs Ortholinear
Low-Profile vs High-Profile (you are here)
Low-Profile vs High-Profile
What Do “Low-Profile” and “High-Profile” Mean
Low and high profile are referring to the keyboard case surrounding the switches and keycaps. If you’re coming from a standard rubber dome keyboard, you’ve almost certainly been using what would be considered a high-profile keyboard.
High-profile case designs feature a top piece that has a height equal to the bottom of the keycaps. When keys are pressed, the keycaps will travel down below the case level.
Low-profile on the left vs High-profile on the right:
What is the difference between Staggered and Ortholinear layouts
We've already looked at a variety of sizes and layouts available in the mechanical keyboard world. There are a few more topics left to cover as we dive into the basics. This is the second of a handful of articles exploring the various aspects to consider for newcomers to this hobby.
Staggered vs Ortholinear (you are here)
Low-Profile vs High-Profile
Staggered vs Ortholinear
What are Staggered and Ortholinear Layouts
Before diving into the topic, a brief introduction is needed for those that might not know the terms. Staggered is a little easier to deduce from the word itself - keys are aligned vertically (going across a given row, the key to the left and right does not shift position up or down—in other words, the vertical rows are all in alignment) but are staggered horizontally (conversely, going up or down a given column, the keys above and below a key do shift position left or right). Ortholinear means that the keys are all...
Our last update on the SENSE75 was in response to the thoughtful feedback we received after delivering a few prototypes to creators in the Mech Keys community. As we sent out those prototypes before we were in production, we had the opportunity to re-incorporate some of our original design, as well as explore some of the detailed suggestions made by Keybored, BadSeedTech, and others.
But we did more than that. Working tirelessly during and after the initial launch, we’ve created, in our view, an unprecedented set of new options designed that will allow you to tune and balance the SENSE75 gasket flex and sound dampening to your own personal “Goldilocks” preference.
The final SENSE75 design now features:
2-millimeter-thick PE force-break points on each corner to absorb sound transfer between the top and bottom case.
A 3.5-millimeter-thick EVA foam layer between PCBA and switch plate.
Two layers of dampening between PCBA and bottom case: a 2-millimeter-thick layer and a...
By now, we’ve all seen those technology column articles from various news outlets discussing all of the best new mechanical keyboards out there for you to “upgrade your productivity” and “customize your workplace setup.” While some of these articles look at different pre-built options and every so often a truly customizable one, all of these articles fall short on one specific thing: the switch options.
Championed as productivity improvers, strain reducers, and the ultimate personalized touch for your desk at work or at home, these websites unfortunately limit their discussion of mechanical keyboard switches simply to ‘Red’, ‘Blue’, and ‘Brown’ ones. Knowing that there are thousands of more interesting, uniquely designed, and fancifully colored options out there, I can’t help but feel a little sad that first-time buyers think that that is all there is out there for them. Keeping in mind how many new keyboard enthusiasts are sold short on the switch options out there, the team at...
How to choose the right size and layout mechanical keyboard
The multitude of options available in the mechanical keyboard world can be extremely daunting for a newcomer to the hobby. This article (and subsequent posts) will explore the various aspects to consider, along with a brief analysis of those key factors.
Size/Layout (you are here)
Staggered vs Ortholinear
Low-Profile vs High-Profile
Size and Layout
General Size and Layout considerations
If you’re new to mechanical keyboards, chances are your current or old keyboard is a standard full-size membrane keyboard. This layout and form factor has probably worked well enough for you until now, so you might be wondering - why should I need a smaller keyboard or a different layout at all? For most people there are two main reasons to deviate from the tried-and-true full-size keyboard layout; ergonomics and aesthetics (primarily minimalism).
40% and Smaller
Image credit: @davephoto
If you’re particularly hardcore about minimizing desk space usage...
Getting the Gasket Mount Just Right
Achieving a great gasket mount feel isn’t about throwing gaskets on a plate and calling it a day. The quantity of gaskets, thickness, and enclosure style, are just a few of the many factors that need to be considered. Some gasket-mount keyboards are too stiff—gasket in name only. Meanwhile, others go overboard and ultimately feel mushy. For the SENSE75, our goal was to find the right middleground to give a pleasant bounce while retaining nimble performance.
While subjective experiences are important, we quickly determined that an objective performance benchmark was important for us to define. Having no standards in the community to rely upon, we built a custom rig in order to measure the force curves of switches mounted on gasket keyboards in order to visually observe the performance of each board.
When pressing a key on a gasket keyboard, the ideal result is that after the switch bottoms out, the gaskets (and plate) continue to allow...
Diffusing the Diffuser
We love RGB, but we also understand that it’s not for everyone. The problem with integrated RGB designs is that even when you turn them off, the plastic diffusers are still visible—a byproduct of RGB that some users find visually unappealing. Solving this issue, the SENSE75 has its LED diffusers hidden on its underside of the keyboard, making them entirely invisible from standard viewing angles.
When turned on, the subtle LED underglow casts on the desk surface providing a natural and pleasant looking halo. Turned off, the keyboard’s minimalist design takes over and keeps the focus on its soft lines and curved transitions.
Applying the App
We know how important it is to have full, customizable control over your keymappings and lighting options. That's why we’ve built a Windows- and Mac-compatible configurator application for the SENSE75—complete with an easy-to-use interface that lets you quickly customize your keys and lighting. Future versions...
South-Facing Switches, Hot-Swappable Sockets, and Stellar Stabs
A Switch in Direction
Volumes of posts have been written about the advantages and disadvantages of south- vs. north-facing switches, measurement of interference (or lack thereof), and LED backlighting. Suffice to say, “OG Cherry” keycaps are a mainstay in the mechanical keyboard industry and they do make slight contact with most MX-switches that are oriented in the typical north direction.
To maximize compatibility of the SENSE75, we’ve flipped our hot-swappable sockets so that all switches will be south facing. This also intrinsically eliminates switch-to-keycap contact and interference for an unimpeded typing experience.
After testing different types and brands of hot-swappable sockets, we found 5-pin PCB mount Kaihua sockets to be the best choice for the SENSE75. In our switch socket selection process, we took painstaking care choosing the right set components to drastically reduce bent switch pins—a common issue caused when the plate and...
When we decided to create a new Drop-exclusive keyboard, we didn’t know we would land on a 75% layout. Back in early 2020, we kicked off concepting and preliminary specs around the idea of a gasket-mount keyboard. It was set to be an expansion of our existing lineup—and at the time, popular interest in gasket-mount builds seemed to align with interest in compact layouts.
As a result, work on an “Alt Gasket Version” started in earnest with drawings and specifications.
It wasn’t long until we noticed a tidal wave of community interest for 75% layouts. In fact, it looked quite clear that 75% was “the new meta”—so ultimately, we decided to follow the community with our take on the 75% layout. That meant starting fresh with new drawings, new designs, and new engineering.
Features for Enthusiasts
After finalizing the layout, we thought deeply about how to make a typing and customization experience that the community would love. Carefully incorporating user...
My Inspiration for Deep Space
In 2014, I was in the market for a new keyboard. I liked the boards that some Starcraft 2 players were using, so after some Googling, I ended up on geekhack reading about the Filco Majestouch.
This is when I discovered the world of mechanical keyboards and custom keycap sets.
Of course, I immediately started the hunt for something purple! Since I could not find a set in the colors I wanted, I decided "why not try and make my own?" I knew exactly what shade of purple I wanted, but I was not sure about what the theme should be.
Space was my first idea, but I was nervous people would expect NASA colors or black. (My vision even included sculpting a little spaceman keycap for the set.) Eventually, I got over the fear and went with my initial inspiration: Deep Space.
After lurking geekhack and working on the designs for months, I finally made an account and posted my ideas for the keycap set and interest check! The rest is pretty much history...
While some may say White-on-Black is boring, we call it classic. Starting with White-on-Black lets us really focus on the quality of the keycap and its design, before adding dazzling colors to really make your keyboard pop. Shortly after the release of White-on-Black and its inverse, Black-on-White, we'll have Genesis and a few other colorful releases.
Truly Hidden Sprue Marks
When plastic products are made with injection molding machines, there’s a tube that the molten plastic needs to go through in order to fill the keycap mold. Once cooled, the plastic product is broken from the runners and there are tiny marks left over on the keycap, these are called sprue marks.
Many keycaps have these marks and they’re cleverly hidden on the backside of the keycap where you can’t see it. Despite being out of line of sight, they’re still there. We’ve carefully planned our molds so that these unsightly marks are all located on the underside of the keycap so you won't notice them...
A Popular, Familiar Profile
Spherical profile keycaps are very polarizing: you either love how they give your fingertips a little hug, or you hate the corners that assault your fingertips if you press the edge or corner of a keycap. By adding the DCX profile to our family, we now have a more comprehensive offering for keyboard fans. The subtle cylindrical sculpting provides for a relaxed typing experience that is similar to what is found on office keyboards around the globe.
Meticulous Details and Design
The DCX legends have ruler-straight lines, fully filled interior islands, and nicely squared corners. In addition to ensuring high-quality production processes, we were particularly deliberate with the typeface and layout decisions of every single keycap. Every legend has been meticulously reviewed and purposefully placed so that characters are aligned with one another, scaled appropriately, non-slanted, and properly spaced. The following is a production photo straight from the...
In 2017, we embarked on an ambitious new project: to make a brand new set of high precision doubleshot keycap molds with Matt3o's popular MT3 profile. A project that was supposed to be completed in 10 months ended up taking over 2 years. More than a thousand groupbuy participants shifted from eager anticipation, to massive frustration, and finally elation when they received their keycaps. Since then, we’ve made and shipped over 50,000 keycap sets using our doubleshot MT3 toolset and it remains our highest average-rated keycap profile that we’ve ever sold.
We learned a crucial lesson from this experience: making high quality doubleshot keycap tools (molds) is extremely difficult and time-consuming. So, when we began a new project to make a whole new set of tools for a new profile, we decided to do it behind closed doors to spare community members from the roller coaster of unexpected delays.
We kicked the project off in early 2020 with some ambitious goals:
Create a cylindrical...
After dozens of rounds of prototypes and release candidates, we sent our most promising version to Quakemz, Invyr, and Mech27 for their feedback. The switches were great, but needed some fine tuning to get them to be just right. So we went back to work with Gateron, making a few minor adjustments to the stem and adding a light amount of lubrication during the production process. Our aim was to strike a balance between allowing tinkerers the ability to customize the switch to their exact specifications and providing a great out-of-the-box experience for most users. Being satisfied with the feel of the final switches, we measured their performance and here’s what we saw:
And with that, the Holy Panda X switch was born. The harshness of the original Holy Panda had been replaced with a gently rounded press—the difference is extremely subtle but still noticeable. More obviously, the higher tolerance and lubrication makes for a buttery smooth, non-scratchy feel. And lastly, the...
We began with discussing and finalizing the target force curve with the original Holy Panda team. We wanted the engagement point of the keypress to have a rounder, less harsh feeling to it. And lastly, we wanted to move the switch’s return to be more aggressive, coming back sooner and slightly harder.
In order to achieve the target force curve, we were willing to redesign every part of the existing switch including the creation of new molds in order to create the best switch possible.
We met with different switch manufacturers and discussed the goals of our project with them. Based on their impressive work with their custom switches over the years, we ultimately decided Gateron would be the best manufacturer that could help us achieve our needs. We quickly started working through combinations of custom switch housings, custom stem designs, and spring selections to obtain the force curve and feeling that we had envisioned.