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Mechanical Switches
How to Choose

Updated

Switch types

The most important aspect of a mechanical keyboard is the typing experience: how it feels under your fingertips and how it sounds when you use it. Both the feeling and sound of a mechanical keyboard are largely dependent on the type of switches it has. There are many different switch types available, all with a different feel and sound, so it can be hard to narrow down which is the best for you. It's overwhelming, especially if you're just getting started in the world of mechanical keyboards. At the end of the day, it all boils down to personal preference. Are you looking for the classic "click" that comes from a clicky switch or a feeling that's similar to popping bubble wrap, which you get from a tactile switch? Or do you prefer a silent and smooth keypress that a linear switch offers? You might not know the answer yet, which is why we've created this guide.

To give a bit of history, mechanical switches are an evolution from the buckling spring mechanism used in the IBM Model M in the 1980s and 1990s. Each mechanical switch has a plastic housing, a stem that holds the keycaps, and a spring, which is one of the more important parts because it gives the key a certain feel. When you press down on the key, it activates a physical switch in the housing, which then sends a signal to the keyboard to say a specific key was pressed. With the help of the spring, the key then comes back upwards to rest in its natural position.

Although there are a great many out there to choose from, switches are fairly straightforward. We test for a key's pre-travel, total travel distance, operating force, and actuation force, which are all impacted by the switch type. We'll get into these details and what they mean a little later in this article. If you're interested in a technical, in-depth article on the testing process, you can check it out here.

Test results

When It Matters

Broadly speaking, there are three main types of switches: linear, tactile, and clicky. Most companies will label these switches in terms of color, with Red being linear, Brown being tactile, and Blue being clicky. But the colors, switch types, and offerings vary from company to company, with some brands, like Razer, using their own switches with a different color labeling scheme. What's important is that, usually, a specific color switch will behave similarly across brands. So, a Cherry MX Red switch will offer a similar feeling to a Kailh or Gateron Red switch, though there may be some slight differences, which we'll explore later.

Since it's hard to imagine what a switch will feel like without ever interacting with it, it's good to start with a point of reference. The best example is a laptop keyboard, as many people are familiar with typing on them. Most laptop keyboards use membrane or scissor switches rather than mechanical, but they provide an excellent starting place for determining what kind of switch you like. When typing on a laptop keyboard, notice there's a slight "bump" or increase in resistance when you push down the key. It's this "tactile" feedback that lets you know you've successfully pressed a key. This same "tactile bump" is the feeling you'll find in both tactile and clicky switches. If you enjoy that feeling, you'll want to look for a tactile or a clicky switch. These two switch types have this pronounced bump, with the main difference being that clicky switches produce a loud "click" noise when you've pressed a key.

Another good point of reference is the Operating Force. This is the force required to press a key down and register an input. It also lets you know how much resistance you'll feel when you press down a key. Continuing with the example of a laptop keyboard, most of them require around 43 grams of force to actuate. While that may sound like a lot, it puts these keyboards in a "light" range, meaning that it doesn't require much force from your fingers to press down a key, as you'll see in the tables below, some "heavy" switches can double that number, meaning they require double the effort to get a keystroke in. We measure the operating force in gram force (gf), while some companies advertise it in centinewton (cN). We use the measurement that each brand advertises, but the two units are identical.

Each switch type has its unique feeling and sound profile, but they also have their own pre-travel distance and total travel distance. The pre-travel distance is the more important of the two, as this number tells you how far down, in millimeters (mm), you have to press a key before the input registers. The total travel distance is how far the key can go down before bottoming out. The pre-travel distance can also be referred to as the "sensitivity" of the key. A switch with a short pre-travel distance means it doesn't require a significant depth for a key to actuate. While this may be great for gaming, as it means you can react much faster, it means you're more likely to register accidental keypresses if you nudge a nearby key, making them feel more sensitive.

Switch Types

Cherry MX Brown switch in the Ducky One 2
Cherry MX Brown switch in the Ducky One 2
Razer Pro Type with the Razer Orange switch
Razer Pro Type with the Razer Orange switch
OmniPoint switch in the SteelSeries Apex Pro
OmniPoint switch in the SteelSeries Apex Pro

Linear

The first switch type we'll delve into is linear. They provide a smooth keypress throughout, meaning the only resistance you'll feel is from the spring itself. They don't have a tactile bump or a click like tactile or clicky switches. Oftentimes, linear switches tend to have a lighter actuation force than tactile or clicky switches because they lack this tactile bump, making them much better suited for gaming. Some switches, like the Cherry MX Speed Silver switches, are specifically designed for gaming since they have a very short pre-travel distance and light actuation force, making them very sensitive and responsive.

Linear switches are also extremely quiet to use, with most of the noise occurring when you bottom out the keys.

When you look at the actuation graphs, you can see that linear switches, as their name suggests, have a linear actuation curve. As you apply force to the key, it moves down with no resistance or additional force required. The actuation point is clearly marked and tends to occur around the 2.0mm depth.

Below is a list of some popular linear switches. We're providing the advertised measurements because we haven't tested all of them, and even for the switches we've tested, results vary due to manufacturing tolerances. Some companies either list operating or actuation force, but not both, so in that case, we list whatever is advertised. You can see which keyboards we've tested from each switch with the links below. We've also individually tested some switches from our switch test kit, that we haven't tested with individual keyboards. You can see the actuation graph by clicking on the thumbnails. There are many other kinds of linear switches that we haven't listed, so if we're missing a popular option, let us know.

Brand Type Advertised Pre-Travel (mm) Advertised Total Travel (mm) Advertised Operating Force Individual Results Graph
Cherry MX Black 2.0 4.0 60 cN -  Cherry MX Black graph
Cherry MX Red 2.0 4.0 45 cN Table Cherry MX Red graph
Cherry MX Silent Black 1.9 3.7 60 cN -  Cherry MX Silent Black graph
Cherry MX Silent Red 1.9 3.7 45 cN -  Cherry MX Silent Red graph
Cherry MX Speed Silver 1.2 3.4 45 cN Table  Cherry MX Speed Silver graph
Gateron Black 2.0 4.0 60 gf -  Gateron Black graph
Gateron Clear 2.0 4.0 35 gf - Gateron Clear graph
Gateron Red 2.0 4.0 45 gf - Gateron Red graph 
Gateron Silent Black 2.0 4.0  60 gf -  Gateron Silent Black graph
Gateron Silent Red 2.0 4.0 45 gf - Gateron Silent Red graph 
Gateron Tealios 67g Unknown Unknown 67 gf -  Gateron Tealios 67g graph
Gateron White 2.0 4.0 35 gf -  
Gateron Yellow 2.0 4.0 50 gf -  
HyperX Red 1.8 3.8 45 gf Table  
Kaihua Kailh Black 2.0 4.0 60 cN -  
Kaihua Kailh BOX Black 1.8 3.6 60 gf -  Kailh BOX Black graph
Kaihua Kailh BOX Dark Yellow 1.8 3.6 70 gf - Kailh Dark Yellow graph
Kaihua Kailh BOX Red 1.8 3.6 45 gf - Kailh BOX Red graph 
Kaihua Kailh BOX Silent Pink 1.8 3.6 35 gf -  
Kaihua Kailh Novelkeys Cream 2.0 4.0  55 gf -  Kailh Novelkeys Cream graph
Kaihua Kailh Pro Burgundy 1.7 3.6 50 gf  - Kailh Pro Burgundy graph
Kaihua Kailh Red 1.9 4.0 50 gf -  
Kaihua Kailh Silver Speed  1.1 3.5 50gf Table -
Razer Yellow 1.2 3.5 45 gf Table  
Varmilo EC Rosery 2.0 4.0 55 cN -  
Varmilo EC Rosery V2 2.0 4.0 55 cN -  
Varmilo EC Sakura 2.0 4.0 45 cN -  

Tactile

The defining feature of a tactile switch is the "bump" in the middle of the keypress. This bump lets you know when you're about to actuate a key, as the actuation point usually comes after the bump. If you're a touch-typist who doesn't look down at your keyboard while you type, this is a great switch option, as this tactile bump can help you avoid accidental keypresses and typos. However, these types of switches are also great for gamers for a similar reason.

Tactile switches are often quiet by nature. They lack the "click" or "ping" of a clicky switch, which makes them a great choice for open office use. That said, they can produce a lot of noise if you tend to bottom out the keys while you type.

As we mentioned previously, while most switches with the same color will behave similarly across brands, there may be some differences. Pre-lubed switches, like the Gateron G Pro Brown switches, come with a small amount of lube on the switch stem, which gives it an overall smoother feel. Regular Gateron Brown switches may feel slightly scratchier as there's no lubrication between the moving parts of the switch stem and housing.

When looking at the actuation graph, note that the y-axis shows the force required while the x-axis shows the travel distance. Tactile switch graphs will always have a bump in them that represents the tactile bump you experience when typing. The highest point of this bump is the peak operating force required, so some heavy switches, like the Kaihua BOX Royals, have a pretty high curve in the middle, owing to the fact it requires a lot of force to register a keypress. It's also important to note where this bump occurs, as this will tell you when you can expect the most resistance. Some switches have a nearly instantaneous bump, like the Gateron Zealios switches. This means you'll likely feel the resistance of the spring right when your fingertip touches the key.

We listed some of the most popular tactile switches down below. If we're missing a popular option, let us know.

Brand Type Advertised Pre-Travel (mm) Advertised Total Travel (mm) Advertised Operating Force Individual Results Graph
Cherry MX Brown 2.0 4.0 55 cN Table Cherry MX Brown graph
Cherry MX Clear 2.0 4.0 65 cN - Cherry MX Clear 
Cherry MX Grey 2.0 4.0 80 cN - Cherry MX Grey graph 
Gateron Aliaz 60g Unknown Unknown 60 gf -  Gateron Aliaz 60g graph
Gateron Aliaz 70g Unknown Unknown 70 gf -  Gateron Aliaz 80g graph
Gateron Aliaz 80g Unknown Unknown 80 gf - Gateron Aliaz 80g graph 
Gateron Aliaz 100g Unknown Unknown 100gf -  Gateron Aliaz 100g graph
Gateron Brown 2.0 4.0 45 gf Table Gateron Brown graph
Gateron G Pro Brown  2.0  4.0 55 gf   Table  Gateron G Pro Brown Feel Graph
Gateron Silent Brown 2.0 4.0 45 gf - Gateron Silent Brown graph 
Gateron Zealios 62g Unknown Unknown 62 gf -  Gateron Zealios 62g graph
Gateron Zealios 65g Unknown Unknown 65 gf -  Gateron Zealios 65g graph
Gateron Zealios 67g Unknown Unknown 67 gf -  Gateron Zealios 67g graph
Gateron Zealios 78g Unknown Unknown 78 gf -  Gateron Zealios 78g graph
Kaihua  Hako Clear  1.9 3.6 55 gf -  Hako Clear graph
Kaihua Hako Royal Clear Unknown Unknown 40 gf -  Hako Royal Clear graph
Kaihua  Hako True 1.9  3.6 60 gf - Hako True graph 
Kaihua Hako Violet   1.9 3.6 40 gf -  Hako Violet graph
Kaihua Halo Clear 1.9 4.0 65 gf - -
Kaihua Halo True 1.9 4.0 60 gf Table -
Kaihua Kailh BOX Brown 1.8  3.6  60 gf - Kailh BOX Brown graph 
Kaihua Kailh BOX Burnt Orange 1.8 3.6 70 gf - Kailh BOX Burn Orange graph 
Kaihua Kailh BOX Royal  1.8 3.6 75 gf -  Kailh BOX Royal graph
Kaihua Kailh BOX Silent Brown 1.8 3.6 45 gf -  
Kaihua Kailh Brown 1.9 4.0 60 gf -  
Kaihua Kailh Pro Purple 1.7 3.6 50 gf -  Kailh Pro Purple graph
Kaihua Kailh Speed Copper 1.1 3.5 50 gf -  Kailh Speed Copper graph
Logitech GX Brown 1.9 4.0 60 gf -  
Logitech Romer-G Tactile 1.5 3.2 55 gf Table  
Matias Quiet Click 2.2 3.5 60 gf Table  
Omron Gamma Zulu 1.5 3.5 50 gf Table  
Razer Orange 1.9 4.0 50 gf Table  
ROCCAT Titan Tactile 1.8 3.6 Unknown Table  
SteelSeries Brown 2.0 4.0 45 cN Table  

Clicky

The defining feature of a clicky switch is exactly what it sounds like: the click. These switches offer the same tactile feedback as tactile switches, but with an added "click" or "ping" caused by an internal mechanism that releases around the actuation point of the key. This click adds audible feedback to let you know when you've pressed a key, which is great if you're a touch-typist.

While clicky switches are beloved by mechanical keyboard enthusiasts, they may be a little loud for open office environments, with some workplaces even going so far as to ban them entirely for being too distracting to others. So, if you're planning on getting a mechanical board for the office, you'll likely be better off with a tactile switch. Though, if you're interested in hearing a standard clicky switch, you can see an example here.

Like tactile switches, when reading the graphs, you can see a significant bump that represents the tactile feedback. This bump tends to drop off considerably, which is the point where the click occurs.

Below are the most popular clicky switches available with their advertised measurements, and we've provided tables to show the individual results of the keyboards we tested, as well as some individual switches we've tested. This is a small list of the countless clicky switches available, so if we've missed any popular ones, let us know.

Brand Type Advertised Pre-Travel (mm) Advertised Total Travel (mm) Advertised Operating Force Individual Results Graph
Cherry MX Blue 2.2 4.0 60 cN Table Cherry MX Blue graph
Cherry MX Green 2.2 4.0 80 cN -  Cherry MX Green graph
Gateron Blue 2.3 4.0 60 gf -  Gateron Blue graph
Gateron Green 2.3 4.0 80 gf - Gateron Green graph 
Kaihua Kailh Blue 1.9 4.0 60 gf -  
Kaihua Kailh BOX Jade 2.0 3.6 50 gf - Kailh BOX Jade graph 
Kaihua Kailh BOX Navy 2.0 3.6 60 gf -  Kailh BOX Navy graph
Kaihua Kailh BOX Pale Blue 1.8 3.6  70 gf - Kailh BOX Pale Blue graph 
Kaihua Kailh BOX White 1.8 3.6 50 gf -  Kailh BOX White graph
Kaihua Kailh Pro Green 1.7  3.6 50 gf - Kailh Pro Green graph 
Kaihua Kailh Speed Bronze 1.1 3.5 50 gf -  Kailh Speed Bronze graph
Kaihua Kailh Speed Gold 1.4 3.5 50 gf -  Kailh Speed Gold graph
Logitech GX Blue 2.0 4.0 60 gf Table  
Outemu Blue 2.7 4.0 60 gf Table  
Razer Green 1.9 4.0 55 gf Table  

Other Types

Manufacturers have pushed the pace of innovation and have come out with different types of switches over the years besides the traditional ones. These new switches are still considered mechanical but behave differently from the linear, tactile, and clicky switches listed above. They each present their unique characteristics and typing experience.

Low Profile

Low-profile switches use the same mechanism as standard mechanical switches, but as the name suggests, they're shorter and have a lower profile. This means that the total travel distance is much lower than standard switches, so they bottom out quicker. However, not everyone likes the feel of low-profile switches and choosing a low profile over a standard really comes down to personal preference. Below is an image of the NuPhy Air75, a keyboard that uses low-profile mechanical switches, to give you a better idea of what they look like.

 NuPhy Air switches

Low-profile switches can have a linear, tactile, or clicky feel, and we listed a few examples below. We've included the actuation graphs for the switches we've tested.

Brand Type Feel Advertised Pre-Travel (mm) Advertised Total Travel (mm) Advertised Operating Force Individual Results Graph 
Cherry MX Low Profile Red Linear 1.2 3.2 45 cN -
Cherry MX Low Profile Speed Linear 1.0 3.2 45 cN Table Cherry MX Low Profile Speed 
Gateron Low Profile Blue Clicky 1.5 2.5 50 gf -  -
Gateron Low Profile Brown Tactile 1.5 2.5 55 gf Table Gateron Low Profile Brown 
Gateron Low Profile Red Linear 1.5 2.5 45 gf Table Gateron Low Profile Red 
Kaihua Kailh Choc Blue Clicky 1.3 3.2 55 gf -
Kaihua Kailh Choc Brown Tactile 1.3 3.2 50 gf -  -
Kaihua Kailh Choc Red Linear 1.3 3.2 50 gf -
Logitech GL Clicky Clicky 1.5 2.7 60 gf -
Logitech GL Linear Linear 1.5 2.7 50 gf -  -
Logitech GL Tactile Tactile 1.5 2.7 60 gf Table GL Tactile 

Optical

Optical switches differ from standard mechanical switches because they lack the physical metal contact point that standard mechanical switches have. Instead, they use a beam of light to register the position of the stem within the switch. Due to this method of registering keystrokes, some optical switches have the ability to set a custom actuation point using the companion software. This means if you want a very sensitive usually within a very wide range.

Keyboards like the Razer Huntsman V2 Analog make use of optical switches and show this switch type's fullest potential: an analog mode. In "Analog Mode," your keystrokes emulate a gamepad joystick. To explain this a little more clearly, if you're playing a racing game and press the A-key to steer left, the further down you press the A-key, the more you'll turn left. Essentially, the further you press down the key, the greater the movement in-game.

Optical switches tend to have a linear feel, but there are clicky and tactile options as well. Usually, they're found on higher-end gaming boards, as they're better suited for gaming than for general typing tasks. There can also be low-profile optical switches, like those found on the Razer DeathStalker V2 Pro and Keychron K3 (Version 2).

Brand Type Feel Advertised Pre-Travel (mm) Advertised Total Travel (mm) Advertised Operating Force Individual Results Graph 
A4Tech LK Optical Blue Clicky 1.8 4.0 50 gf -  -
A4Tech LK Optical Brown Tactile 1.8 4.0 50 gf Table LK Optical Brown 
A4Tech LK Optical Red Linear 1.8 4.0 40 gf -  -
Flaretech Clicky55 "Blue" Clicky 1.5-3.6 4.0 55 cN -  -
Flaretech Linear80 "Black" Linear 1.5-3.6 4.0 80 cN - -
Flaretech Linear 55 'Red' Linear 1.6-3.5 4.0 55 cN Table Flaretech Linear55 Red 
Gateron Optical Black Linear 2.0 4.0 60 gf -
Gateron Optical Blue Clicky 2.3 4.0 55 gf -  -
Gateron Optical Brown Tactile 2.0 4.0 55 gf -  -
Gateron Optical Red Linear 2.0 4.0 45 gf -  -
Gateron Optical Silver Linear 1.1 4.0 45 gf -  -
Gateron Optical Yellow Linear 1.1 4.0 35 gf -
Razer Optical Analog Linear 1.5-3.6  4.0   45 gf Table  Razer Optical Analog 
Razer Clicky Optical Clicky 1.5 4.0 45 gf Table Razer Clicky Optical  
Razer Linear Optical Linear 1.0 4.0 40 gf Table Razer Linear Optical 

Hall Effect Switches

Hall Effect switches operate very similarly to optical switches but with some major differences. Namely, instead of a beam of light, Hall Effect switches use magnets to register inputs. Like, optical switches, these switches also have an adjustable pre-travel distance and the option for an Analog Mode. However, Hall Effect switches tend to have a more consistent and accurate implementation of these features, as seen when you compare the keystroke results of the Razer Huntsman V2 Analog, which uses optical switches, and the Wooting two HE, which uses Hall Effect switches.

Although Hall Effect switches are based on an older switch patent dating back to the 1960s, the implementation into keyboards on a larger scale is relatively new. Currently, they're found in high-end gaming boards, like the SteelSeries Apex Pro and the Wooting two HE. Most Hall Effect switches have a linear feel and a very light actuation force, making them feel very responsive for gaming.

Below is a list of a few Hall Effect switches that we've tested.

Brand Type Feel Advertised Pre-Travel (mm) Advertised Total Travel (mm) Advertised Operating Force Graph
Gateron Lekker Linear60 Linear 0.1-4.0 4.0 40 gf Lekker Switch Feel Graph 
SteelSeries OmniPoint Linear 1.0-3.8 4.0 45 gf OmniPoint Graph 
SteelSeries OmniPoint 2.0 Linear 0.2-3.8  4.0 40 gf OmniPoint 2.0 Graph 

Conclusion

When entering the world of mechanical keyboards, it's easy to get caught up on the details, especially when there are so many switches to choose between. However, the most important factor is your personal preference. It's always good to start with a point of reference, the keyboard you currently use. What do you like about it? What do you dislike about it? By answering those two questions, you can already narrow down your search for a switch to one that works best for you. It's also important to know what you use your keyboard for. If you're a gamer or looking for a keyboard specifically for gaming, then opting for a gaming-oriented switch is in your best interests. If you plan to use your keyboard to type up 15-page essays, you may want something with more versatility, like a tactile switch. Though switches are small, they have a big impact on your typing experience.