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The Three Main Types of Switches

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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 each of the three main types of switches:
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Image Credit: @ilian-markowitz Of the three main types of mechanical keyboard switches, ‘linears’ are by far the most common type. Having been around in mechanical keyboards as early as the 1980’s and 1990’s, linears are so common due to their simplicity in design and feeling in keyboards. When you press down on a linear switch the push is, as the name implies, perfectly straight up and down. There is no special ‘bump’, extra frills, or noises that come from linear switches as the stems of the switches move between the top and bottom housings. Some very common examples of linear switches you may have heard of before include Cherry MX Blacks, C3 Tangerines, Gateron Oil Kings (pictured above), and Gateron Yellows. Typically, linear switches are built into mechanical keyboards by users who want a clean and simple feeling underneath each key. Given that there are a large range of spring weights for linear switches which can modify how hard you need to press a key, people especially prone to typing or gaming fatigue may opt for these switches. In situations in which they are grinding out long sessions on their keyboards often, the smooth up-and-down motion of a linear switch can help reduce strain that would come from pounding on membrane keys or having tactile bumps that require extra force to get over. While there are countless numbers of sub-categories of linear switches out there in the mechanical keyboard world, I figured it would be useful to cover a few of the more popular ones here as well. ‘Silent linears’, as the name implies, are linear switches which have extra rubber pieces inside of the switch which can reduce the overall noise of the switch. Silent linears are a common request of new users who are looking for a keyboard for their office space but want to be sure not to disrupt the workflow of their neighbors. Another common type of linears are what are known as ‘Progressive linears’. While normal linear switches have a constant increase in force as one pushes the switch, progressive linears have special springs that exponentially increase in force and provide a unique ramping up feeling to their stroke. (To learn more about progressive springs as well as some of the other spring options which exist out there, be sure to check out our article on spring types (Coming soon!))
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Image Credit: @sunsetkungfu The second most common type of mechanical keyboard switches are ‘tactiles’ and are known for having an extra bump feeling part way through the push of the switch. When using tactile switches, this specifically designed bump provides an extra tactile feedback to the user that lets them know they’ve pressed a key. What makes tactile switches especially appealing to many users is that they have a massive range in options, with the tactile bumps in some switches being long and soft while in others being short and sharp. Some very common examples you may have heard of before include Holy Pandas (pictured above), Cherry MX Browns, and Zealios. Oftentimes, tactile switches are sought out by users who are especially wanting to make sure they can feel their keyboards underneath them. With the added extra tactile bump, some users like to use these for gaming as it allows them to feel like they can pre-load their actions to get a subtle edge on the competition in whatever game they are playing. People who use these in more traditional work settings, though, may seek out tactile switches as they are simply different from the boring old membrane keyboards that they are used to. The added tactile feedback in these types of switches is something that traditional membrane and laptop keyboards simply can’t offer. Much like linear switches, there are almost too many subcategories of tactile switches to succinctly cover here in this article. In a very similar fashion to that of linear switches, as well, tactile switches can also come in ‘silent tactile’ variants. Having added internal rubber strips which can reduce noise when one presses a key, these allow for users to still enjoy tactile switches without some of the noise traditionally associated with them. As well, its worth noting that tactile switches are often divided up into categories based on their tactile bump ‘strength’. Softer tactile switches include those such as Cherry MX Browns and Gateron Aliaz switches. Stronger tactiles, on the other hand, include switches such as Holy Pandas and Zealios.
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Image Credit @Tracipang The last, but certainly not least interesting type of switch is that of ‘clickies’. Clicky switches are switches which not only have a tactile bump in their mechanism but also produce an audible feedback noise in addition to the tactile feedback one. While all tactile switches already produce some noise due to their tactile bumps, clicky switches are designed to specifically make a lot of noise. It is debatable whether this design is solely for your own enjoyment or to also annoy anybody near you with your keyboard. Some very common examples you may have heard of before include Cherry MX Blues and Razer Greens. Clicky switches are often sought out by users who like their keyboards to have a noticeable amount of sound when in use. While all mechanical keyboard users want their switches to feel good, some also want the added extra sound for a truly immersive experience. Even though many people know of clickies from the stereotypical meme of “gamers using loud keyboards”, they’re used by quite a few people who aren’t gamers as well. For example, some people who write for extended periods of time like clicky switches as they can produce sounds similar to those of old typewriters and word processors. Unlike tactile and linear switches, there are far less subcategories of clicky switches out there. However, the two most common subgroups are named and divided upon the mechanism within the switch which produces the clicking sound. The first type is that of ‘click bars’ which produce sharper, pen-like noises in clicky switches such as in Kailh Box Navies and Jades. The second common type is that of ‘click jackets’ which produce much more shaky, chaotic sounding clicky noises such as in Cherry MX Blues. While there are a few other click mechanisms that exist out there in Clicky switches, they are a bit too complex to cover here in this guide.
Now that you know a little bit more about the three main different types of mechanical keyboard switches out there, you’re well on your way to narrowing down a choice for your first keyboard. If you've got some ideas in mind, let us know below what the most interesting switch you're considering is! Before you do make some purchases, though, you may want to try out a wide array of switches from each of these types first. To do that, you may want to consider checking out Drop’s various switch tester packs. Or if you want to keep doing some more reading on switches, why don’t you check out this article about the different marketing terms which you’ll often see with switches.
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Jaoush29
2
Nov 21, 2022
Nice article, but as a proud member of tactile gang, I have one thing to add: One of the major draws to tactile switches is that you always know the exact instant you have actuated the key. That feedback doesn't exist with linear switches so you have to sorta memorize the exact point of actuation or just always bottom out your switches - which kinda defeats the purpose of using linears. Because of this, I always experience an adjustment period (during which I make a TON of mistakes) when I try out a new batch of linear switches. PS: Some people will tell you that tactiles are awful for gaming. Don't listen to those lying liars! I play competitive shooters on Neapolitan Ice Cream switches (they are VERY tactile) and I perform very well. I actually now prefer gaming on tactiles for the same reason that I listed above - I know the exact instant that I actuated the key press.
whitelynx
3
Nov 21, 2022
I actually don't want the sound of a clicky switch, but right now the Kailh Speed Pink is my go-to switch. It just feels perfect, with a really sharp, well-defined click. I've never found any tactile that can come close to that feeling. So for me, the choice of clicky has absolutely nothing to do with sound - I'd actually very much prefer if they were silent, but I'm not willing to compromise on feel.
Aristarco
134
Nov 4, 2022
For me, clicky switches were love-at-first-sound. I like the noise and I put some jades on my office keyb as a prank to annoy my workmates. Alas, it didn't work as expected, attracting too much attention and making me explain why my keyb sounded like that to every person that came to my desk and pointing them to where to buy one as they all wanted a noisy keyb as well. I changed to tactiles and then to linears to get out of the spotlight but now I have to explain why my keyb is not noisy anymore. At home I feel pampered with the clickies. At work I feel stealthy with the linears and the tactiles. I can't help it. I love them all. XD
Pretty good intro to switches! I keep hoping analog switches like on the wooting 60HE become more common.
ThereminGoatMK
96
Nov 2, 2022
Andy_WhoWhile I am a bit biased to the classic style, the Lekkers and Flaretech Opticals are pretty neat looking and I'm glad I have one in my collection!
Andy_WhoI really want to try those out. The idea is super intriguing, I'm just not sure about software support and how useful they'll be in practice. Regardless, always nice to see innovation in the space.
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