This article is for reference only, and the author's biggest suggestion is to try out different types of keyboard switches to gain a deeper understanding of them.
The scope of the article is limited to mechanical keyboard switches.
The majority of the typing experience in a customized keyboard comes from the switches. Choosing the right switch has become of utmost importance for players. To make the right switch selection, it is essential to understand the different categories of switches and know what one desires, in order to avoid unnecessary detours.
1. Standard non-pre-travel linear switches (such as Cherry MX Red)
Class Red (Black) refers to the commonly used linear switch type in the market, as depicted in the diagram above. When fully pressed, the center of the switch does not touch the bottom of the housing, while the guide rail makes normal contact with the bottom. This type of switch provides minimal feedback and is known for its straightforward up-and-down movement. Under normal spring pressure, the tactile sensation follows a uniform and smooth curve, without any bumps. This type of switch offers a typing experience that is generally well-received by most users.
Common representative switches: Cherry Red/Black Switches, Tealios Switches, TTC Gold Red Switches, Earl Orange Switches, Alpaca Switches...
2. Early Bottom Linear Switch
- Guide Rail Pre-Travel
For pre-travel linear switches, the way the switch actuates before bottoming out can vary depending on the design. The first type is the classic "Silver-style" pre-travel with extended guide rails. As shown in the diagram, the switch's center does not fully depress to align with the top cover but slightly protrudes. The extended guide rails provide additional travel distance beyond the point of bottoming out. The switch's center still does not reach the bottom of the housing, resulting in a straightforward up-and-down movement. However, due to the shortened travel distance, the pressure variation is more pronounced under the same bottoming-out force (as shown in the diagram).
With the same bottoming-out force, this type of switch exhibits stronger rebound. Because of the pre-travel of the switch's center, there is a noticeable "bump" sensation when pressing it all the way down, providing more pronounced feedback during key press. The shortened travel distance also allows for faster actuation. It is reasonable for some vendors to promote Cherry Silver switches as "gaming switches" because they can be beneficial for games that require precise input timing. However, it's important to consider the potential issue of accidental keystrokes when choosing this type of switch. Additionally, due to the extended guide rails for pre-travel, the sound produced by these switches may be slightly more noticeable.
Common representative switches: Cherry Silver Switches...
- Axle Pre-Travel
The second type of pre-travel is the Axle Pre-Travel. In this configuration, as shown in the diagram, the axle of switches like Kailh Cream makes contact with the bottom housing column of the MX switch shell, while the guide rails are slightly lifted away from the housing. Similarly, due to the pre-travel feature, users can still experience the "bump" feedback and the sound is more pronounced due to the pre-travel action.
(Personally, if it's guide rail pre-travel, the larger contact area when bottoming out spreads the force, resulting in less pronounced "bump" feedback and less noticeable sound amplification. On the other hand, with axle pre-travel, the force is concentrated at a specific point, leading to stronger "bump" feedback and more noticeable sound amplification. In comparison, axle pre-travel has distinctive characteristics.)
Common representative switches: Crystal Wine Red Switches. Piano switches, Cobalt Blue switches, Golden Raisin switches, Peacock Blue switches, Amber Yellow switches...
1. Regular tactile switches
The "Class Brown Switch" is one of my favorite types of tactile switches. It is a one-piece tactile switch where the tactile position is triggered after a particular portion of the keystroke (refer to the diagram below, where the peaks represent tactile and the intensity of the line represents the size of the tactile - note that the diagram is for reference only). After pressing the key, there is a slight sense of confirmation, known as the "tactile sensation." The fingers feel a sudden resistance and a return to the normal keystroke after the tactile section. The so-called "Class White" is essentially a brown switch with an enlarged tactile size.
Common representative switches: Cherry Brown/White Switch, Zealios Purple Switch...
2. Pre-Travel tactile and Pre-Travel Tactile with Pre-Travel Bottom Out Switches (Class HP, Class Native HP, HP)
The reason for discussing these two types of switches together is that they are essentially variations of each other. The moment the key is pressed, there is an immediate sense of paragraph sensation, accompanied by a momentary resistance (the diagram below is a rough representation, and individuals can experience it firsthand). These switches closely resemble the tactile feel of membrane rubber dome switches, and they have gained popularity among players, especially with the rise of HolyPanda switches in recent years. There are two methods of achieving the pre-travel bottom-out effect: one is through a rail-based mechanism similar to INK Kangaroo switches, while the other is through the pre-travel bottom-out design of HolyPanda switches. For a more detailed understanding, refer to the previous section on pre-travel linear switches.
3. Sound Tactile Switches (Class Blue Leaf/Spring Sound Structure)
Another type of switch that is widely appreciated and can be most impressive to those who have recently entered the world of mechanical keyboards is the Sound Paragraph switch. Indeed, this type of switch provides the most direct sensory stimulation. Not only does it offer a tactile confirmation of the paragraph sensation, but it also provides a crisp "click" sound feedback. Our senses have a significant impact on perception, which is why this type of switch has become a favorite choice in internet cafes. There is a common misconception that these switches are inexpensive, but that is simply a preconceived notion. There is no inherent superiority or inferiority between different types of switches; it ultimately boils down to personal preference.
This type of switch structure, as far as I know, can be categorized into two main types for easier classification.
The first type is the conventional "Class Blue" switch, where the paragraph sensation and sound are produced by the movement of metal contacts through the actuation of a plastic leaf, as shown in the diagram below.
The second type is the spring sound structure, as shown in the diagram below.
Lever-style represents switches like Cherry MX Blue, ink blue switches...
Spring-style represents switches like Kailh Box White, Kailh Speed Pink...