Mechanical keyboards are different from the standard rubber-dome membrane keyboards. They have switches under the keys; each key is composed of a mechanical switch and is made up of many components.
When you push down a keycap, it activates an actual physical switch underneath. The mechanical switch consists of a spring and stem.
So, when you press the key, the spring is pushed down, and you will hear a clicking sound when the key connects the circuit and register a keystroke.
Mechanical switches are the essential part of a mechanical keyboard. There are three types of keyboard switches to choose from Tactile, Linear, and Clicky.
Each switch comes with unique features and feels and works differently. Choosing the right keyboard switch for your need is challenging if you can not differentiate between them. Which switch is best depends on how and what the keyboard will be used for.
The differences between Tactile, Linear, and Clicky switch on a keyboard
There are three types of switches on a mechanical keyboard Tactile, Linear, and Clicky. Each switch has a different feeling and sound when you push down the key.
Choosing the right switch is essential to your overall experience. Therefore, we will explain the difference between these three switches in detail.
Linear: The keystroke is relatively quiet and consistent. There is no bump or noise when hitting the actuation point. Linear switches are fast and smooth.
Tactile: A slight bump partway through the keypress lets you know that you’ve hit the actuation point. The tactile switch provides tactile feedback with little to no Clicky noise.
Clicky: A small bump in the middle of travel accompanied by a sharp click noise when the activation point is hit.
Characteristics of a Mechanical keyboard Switch
These are the important characteristics of a keyboard switch to see the difference.
Actuation Point: The point where the key switch registers the keypress. It is measured in millimeters (mm); the lower actuation point will need less pressure to actuate than a switch with a higher actuation point. Actuation Point is also known as Operating Position.
Actuation Force: It is the force required to activate the switch. The actuation force is measured in centi-Newtons (cN) or gram-force (gf). A force less than or equal to 50 cN is considered light, while more than 50 cN is medium or high.
Total Travel Distance: The total travel distance is the distance the key travels until it hits the upper housing. This distance is measured in millimeters.
Reset point: The distance traveled by the key at which the key is deactivated when released.
Tactile Position: The tactile position is where you feel the resistance and bump on tactile and Clicky switches.
What is a Linear Switch?
The linear switch has the same feel from the moment you start pressing the key until you reach the bottom.
It does not have a loud click or a bump that is felt when a key is depressed. Linear switches are the simplest ones, but beginners take some time getting used to them.
There is no hysteresis in linear switch since their actuation and reset points are the same. Therefore, a linear switch enables users to type more quickly.
A red switch is the most common linear switch. They require 45 grams of force and are relatively quiet. The key travel distance of the linear switch is 4mm, and the actuation point is around 2mm.
What are Linear Switches best for?
Linear switches are said to be most preferred by gamers because of being great at fast-paced gaming. These switches have a quiet and smooth action without any interference from tactility.
Since the linear switch glides down relatively quickly and has no bump, it does not need much force and allows a faster reaction. This quality gives a significant edge in speed while playing games that require double-tap.
The linear switch is not a great option for writers and developers as there is no halfway tactile feedback, so you have to press the key all the way down.
It increases the distance that has to be traveled, making it slower to type precisely. Moreover, these switches are easier to press, and you don’t need as much force here as in the Clicky switches.
The light actuation force and no feedback can lead to more accidental clicks and typos.
Linear switches are for someone who does not like small bump feedback from tactile switches or the loud, clicky noises from clicky switches. This switch is the best option for you if you want a fast, smooth, and fairly quiet typing experience.
What is a Tactile Switch?
Tactile switches are similar to linear but have one small difference; a tactile bump about halfway through the key press.
A small bump that’s more felt than heard indicates that the keypress has been registered properly. This tactile feedback permits a faster typing experience since you don’t have to press the key all the way down to actuate.
Tactile switches aren’t silent, but the sound isn’t as loud as in a clicky switch. Additionally, they require less force to actuate.
Tactile switches have the best of both worlds as they produce a tactile bump and are relatively quiet. Moreover, a tactile switch is beginner-friendly and perfect for someone just switching to a mechanical keyboard.
They usually require a 45 cN actuation force and a 4 mm travel distance. The actuation point to reach in a tactile switch is 2mm. Tactile switches are mostly Brown and Clear/White color switches with a moderate sound and medium resistance.
What are Tactile Switches best for?
Tactile Switches are the most popular switch type nowadays. Most people start out with tactile switches when they start using mechanical keyboards.
These switches are suitable for someone who wants feedback for accurate typing experience or works in a quiet office environment.
Tactile switches are great for typing because of their quieter nature while still giving the user some tactile feedback. Therefore, tactile switches provide a quiet and satisfying typing experience.
Furthermore, tactile switches are not very loud, and the hysteresis is less pronounced in them than Clicky switches.
These switches are great for typing and programing and are decent for gaming. Therefore, a tactile switch is a good option if you want a keyboard for typing and gaming and prefer accuracy over speed.
What is a Clicky Switch?
Clicky switches are a lot louder than the other switch types.
These switches make a loud clicky sound at the tactile bump when the activation point is hit. This loud Clicky sound with the actuation bump clarifies that the key was actuated.
Clicky switches are good for typing but are not suitable for office settings because of their loud noise.
The sound of the Clicky switch is similar to the older, traditional keyboards of the 80s and 90s. Some users like this old typewriter sound and the satisfying feeling that comes with it.
Furthermore, in the Clicky switch keyboard, the actuation point that registers a keystroke is at the lower travel point of the switch.
Thus, reducing the risk of accidentally pushing a clicky switch and making a mistake. On the other hand, it requires slightly more force to press each key of a clicky switch keyboard for the same reason.
Clicky switches usually come as Blue and green and have medium resistance. These switches have a large hysteresis, making rapid typing harder than linear switches.
What are Clicky Switches best for?
A clicky switch is a good choice for you if you want a clicky sound and prefer the loud voice of a keystroke with both tactile and auditory feedback.
On the contrary, it is not for you if you get annoyed by loud typing sounds or work in a quiet environment.
Additionally, Clicky switches are also not suitable for gamers. The loud tactile bump on each keystroke can prevent you from repeated keystrokes.
Moreover, the loud, clicky noises can be distracting when interacting with other players while playing games.
How to find Keyboard with Your Ideal Switch Type
Now that you know the difference between the three types of switches, the next step is to recognize these switches in the market. Here is how to find a keyboard with your ideal switch type.
Many companies offer mechanical keyboards now a day. However, Cherry MX is the most popular mechanical switches brand on the market.
They provide the highest quality, most reliable, and original mechanical switches. Different companies make the Cherry MX clones. Most of these companies keep the color-coding the same but may have various actuation forces.
Other popular brand names in the market are Kailh, Outemu, Matias, Razer, and Gateron. Usually, these brands use the same colors as Cherry MX to categorize their switch models to differentiate between linear, tactile, and Clicky switch types.
Linear switches usually come as the Red, Yellow and Black colors and have light resistance. Cherry MX Red requires an actuation force of 45 cN, which tells you how much force is needed to press down the switch to activate it.
Cherry MX Black is another linear switch. It takes a little more force to press down and requires 60 cN of force. If you think red is lighter for your taste, you can use the Black switch. The Red MX switch is more common and easier to find.
Tactile switches come as Brown, Clear and White. Brown MX is the most popular switch type available; it requires 45 Cn of force. In Cherry MX clear, the actuation force requires to activate is 55 cN.
The third type of tactile switch is Cherry XM white. Cherry MX white switches are stiffer than others and require 80 cN of actuation force. They have changed over the years; in older keyboards, white switches required less force.
Clicky Switches are available in blue and green colors. Cherry MX Blue has an actuation force of 60 cN. MX Green is another Clicky switch; It is stiffer than other switches and requires 80 cN force to actuate.
Now that you know the difference and how these switches feel and work. It will be easier to choose the one that works best for you.
If you prefer the clicky sound and feel, you’ll like clicky switches. If the speed matters to you, choose the linear switches. Suppose you want the quietness of the linear but with the clicky bump that can reduce typing errors, go with tactile.
In the end, it all comes down to your preference, environment, and how you will be using your keyboard. You should choose the right switch depending on your personal needs.
The gaming community prefers linear switches because they want quick reaction time. While typists, writers, and programmers prefer tactile and clicky switches because of the tactile and audible feedback of pressing a key.