Keyswitch in Mechanical Keyboard Guide

5 minute read


A keyswitch is tactile if it has a bump in its response to finger pressure at or near the engagement point where the keypress registers and before the key bottoms out at the end of its travel. A keyboard is tactile if it is made with tactile keyswitches.


Travel: The trajectory of a keyswitch from the top (when a finger begins pressing) to the bottom when it reaches its mechanical limit. Travel distance is usually between 2 and 5 mm. Linear: The opposite of tactile. A linear keyswitch produces constant resistance until it stops at the end of its travel. Stiffness: Proportional to the force required to push a keyswitch from top of travel to its engagement point. Island keys: A style of keyboard in which formed keycaps protrude through a perforated metal or plastic plate, rather than simply abutting each other separated by a very small gap. Recent Apple keyboards are like this. The term "chiclet keyboard" is sometimes incorrectly used for these.


Clicky: A clicky keyswitch produces audible as well as tactile feel at its engagement point. Clicky keyboards are made from clicky keyswitches. All clicky keyboards are tactile, but not vice-versa. (We contemptuously ignore a few exceptions that electronically simulate a click using a speaker.) Silent: The opposite of clicky. A silent keyswitch may produce some noise when the key bottoms out, but generates none at the engagement point.



Dome switch: A very common, very cheap style of keyswitch consisting of a hollow rubber or metalized dome with contacts at the top and bottom that meet when the dome is compressed by finger pressure. Usually manufactured in arrays in a formed rubber sheet. Silent and linear, low stiffness. Most modern keyboards use these. Tactile-keyboard fans despise them. Scissor switch: Shorter-travel variant of the dome switch often found on low-profile keyboards such as most of Apple’s. So called because the keycap is connected to the dome by a plunger cradled by two pieces of plastic that are hinged together like scissors blades. Tactile-keyboard fans often find these somewhat less nasty than bare dome switches. Mechanical switch: A keyswitch with a mechanical plunger assembly, springs, and contacts. All tactile and clicky keyswitches are mechanical, but not vice-versa. Mechanical switches are more durable than dome switches, often surviving multiple decades of heavy use. They are also (alas) much more expensive. Buckling-spring switch: The creme de la creme of mechanical keyswitches, found only on the IBM Model M and close relatives such as the modern Unicomp. Tactile and clicky_ with a relatively long travel; too noisy and stiff for some tastes, but the unique feel and sound inspires near-fanatical devotion in its fans. Cherry switch: A brand name for the most widely used line of mechanical keyswitch. Several different Cherry variants are named for colors (with the switch casings actually in that color) and offer different stiffnesses and combinations of tactile/linear/clicky/silent behaviors. Cherry Blues and Greens are tactile-clicky and generally considered the closest in feel to buckling-spring switches. There was an earlier Cherry White, now rare, that was also tactile-clicky. Cherry Browns, Clears, and Greys are tactile-silent.



Membrane keyboard: This is what the keypad on your microwave oven uses. Linear, silent, less than a millimeter of travel, effectively zero stiffness. Never found on real keyboards. Chiclet keyboard: A variant of the membrane keyboard in which the keys are chiclet-shaped rubber nibs bonded to the upper membrane. Even people who like dome-switch keyboards usually consider these shoddy and nasty; they’re not deployed unless lowest cost is absolutely imperative. In recent years this term has sometimes been misapplied to any low-profile keyboard with island keys. Ergonomic keyboard: Loosely used for keyboard layouts and case designs that try to support support a more natural, relaxed position of the hands and arms than allowed by the conventional rectangular QWERTY design. Ergonomic keyboards may be split or angled in various creative ways, or arrange keys in arcs better fitting the hand’s range of motion.

About Cherry MX Switches

There are a variety of switch constructions for these types of keys, and they can be differentiated by the color of the stem, which you can see when you remove the keycap.

Linear Switch: Cherry MX Black

Actuation Force: 60cN

Linear Switch: Cherry MX Black Linear Switch: Cherry MX Black

Cherry MX Black switches were one of the first mechanical keyboard switches available to the general public. They are linear, or non-tactile, this means that Black switches don’t have a loud click or a bump that is felt when a key is depressed. Many gamers like these because of the smooth feel and the fact that the actuation and release points are at the exact same position, making double tapping easier than other switches.

Light Tactile Switch: Cherry MX Brown

Actuation Force: 55cN

Light Tactile Switch: Cherry MX Brown Light Tactile Switch: Cherry MX Brown

The Brown switches are about halfway between a typing and a gaming switch. Unlike the black switches, the browns have a soft, tactile bump about halfway through the key press. Some people prefer them for gaming since it enables you to double tap faster and typists like them because they still have a good tactile feedback, but the audio feedback isn’t quite as noticeable as Blue switch. The Brown switches have a softer click when depressed and require less force to actuate. The Das Keyboard tactile-soft series utilizes Brown switches.

Clicky Switch: Cherry MX Blue

Actuation Force: 60cN

Clicky Keyswitch: Cherry MX Blue Clicky Switch: Cherry MX Blue


The Blue switches are popular within the typing community because of the “clicky” tactile bump when the activation point is hit. The overall experience of Blue switches is very similar to typewriters, however, those around you might not be as big of a fan due to the audio feedback. The standard “clicky” versions of Das Keyboards utilize Blue switches.

Light Tactile Switch: Cherry MX Clear

Actuation Force: 65cN

Light Tactile Switch: Cherry MX Clear Light Tactile Switch: Cherry MX Clear

Cherry MX Clear switches are a bit harder to find in keyboards, but many users consider them to have more of a tactile feel than the Browns without being as clicky as the Blue switches. The clear switches have a higher actuation force than the Brown switches and a more pronounced tactile bump. Also, Clears tend to have the most friction among mechanical key switches, this is due to the size of the tactile bump.

Linear Switch: Cherry MX Red

Actuation Force: 45cN

Linear Switch: Cherry MX Red Linear Switch: Cherry MX Red


Cherry MX Red switches are similar to the Cherry MX Blacks in that they are both categorized as linear, non-tactile. This means that their feel remains constant through each up-down key stroke. Where they differ from the Black switches is in their resistance; Red switches require less force to actuate. The result is a feel that most perceive as “smoother” and “faster,” making them especially popular among gaming enthusiasts.