How to Choose Mechanical Keyboard Switches

Find the best switch for your mechanical keyboard

What to Know

  • Linear switches are usually fast and quiet, and they’re good for gaming. 
  • Tactile switches give you a physical bump when pushing down, and they’re good for both gaming and typing. 
  • Clicky switches give an audible click you can also feel in your finger, so they’re better for typing than gaming.

This article explains how to choose mechanical keyboard switches, with information about different types of switches and advice on how to decide on the best kind of switch for you.

How Do I Choose a Keyboard Switch?

Whether you're building a custom keyboard or buying one off the shelf, the switches are always an essential keyboard feature to consider. When you push a key on your keyboard, the switch underneath is what transmits a signal to let your computer know you've pressed a key. In mechanical keyboards, these switches come in a variety of styles which all feel and work differently.

A mechanical keyboard switch tester.

To get a feel for the different switches available, buy a switch sampler. Switch samplers come with several types of switches, allowing you to check out how each one feels before buying enough to build an entire keyboard.

There are three basic types of switches to choose from:

  • Linear switches: Linear switches are the best choice for gaming. These switches operate smoothly with no pushback or tactile feedback. Linear switches can provide a quiet clicking sound when they bottom out for no sound.
  • Tactile switches: These switches are suitable for both typing and gaming. When you push down, you feel a distinct bump in the middle of the press. They usually aren’t silent, but the click isn’t as loud as a clicky switch.
  • Clicky switches: Clicky switches are great for typing. These are like tactile switches, but they make a lot more noise when they bottom out.

To choose the right keyboard switches, start thinking about how you want to use the keyboard. If you’re a gamer and don’t do a lot of typing on your computer, linear switches provide the best performance. If you do some gaming and use your computer to type, tactile switches provide a good balance. Clicky switches are great for typing and give a nice, satisfying click, but they can be annoying to play with (and they might annoy others around you because they can be pretty loud).

In addition to choosing between linear, tactile, and clicky, it’s also important to consider how much force a switch takes to activate. This force is measured in Newtons (N), with a typical range between 0.45 and 0.7 N. Switches at the low end are easy to activate, and switches at the high end need to be pushed harder. In other words, the harder to push, the quicker your hands (and wrists) can tire out.

Key travel and activation point are the last two factors to consider. Keys with a lot of key travel push in further than keys without a lot of key travel, but the actuation point tells you how far down you need to push to have the key send a signal to your computer. For example, a key with 4.0mm of travel and a 2.0mm actuation point sends a signal to your computer when it’s only depressed halfway.

Want clicky keys you can type on silently when you want? Choose a tactile switch that will only click after the actuation point. That lets you type lightly and silently, or push the keys all the way down and click as much as you want.

Mechanical Keyboard Switch Types

The main types of keyboard switches are linear, tactile, and clicky, but that doesn’t mean there are only three kinds of mechanical switches. Several companies make compatible switches that can be used in the same keyboards and with the same keycaps, and some companies make dozens of different types of switches.

In addition to linear, tactile, and clicky, switches are often categorized as:

  • Quiet: These switches make a very minimal sound. They’re usually linear because linear switches are naturally the quietest, but there are some tactile options.
  • Speed: These switches are designed for speed. They activate fast, so they’re great for gaming.
  • Optical: These switches work with light. When you press the key down, it breaks the beam (or is otherwise detected by the light) and the keyboard sends the 'press' signal to your computer.  

These terms are all used in conjunction with the main types of switches. For example, you can get a clicky optical switch or a linear speed switch. You can also find switches that combine two or even all three of these characteristics. For example, some linear switches are built for both speed and silence and light up.

In general, silent switches are a good option if you work in an office environment or find clicking keys annoying. Speed switches are the best option if you’re a serious gamer, but they can also be helpful if you spend a lot of time typing. Optical switches are purely for aesthetics, and they only work in keyboards designed explicitly for the keys to light up.

What Do the Different Color Switches Mean?

Key manufacturers use colors to differentiate between different types of switches. For example, a Cherry MX Red is a switch made by the company Cherry, and that switch has a red stem. The Cherry Silent MX Red has a red stem but doesn’t make a clicking sound, while the Cherry MX Speed Silver switch is fast operation and has a silver stem. Other manufacturers use colors without additional terms, like the Kailh Gold.

Switch color meanings aren’t always the same across brands, but some standard definitions include:

  • Blue: These are usually clicky switches. They make a very audible click sound, so they’re great for typing but don’t always work well in office situations.
  • Red and yellow: These are usually linear switches. They provide a smooth press and no click or a faint clicking sound. They typically make at least some noise, but there are silent options.
  • Brown: These are usually tactile switches. They provide physical feedback when you reach the actuation point. They’re generally quieter than true clicky switches.
  • Silver: These are usually linear switches. They are built for speed. They’re suitable for gamers because it takes less time for each button press to register.
  • Green: These are usually clicky and tactile. The actuation force varies from one manufacturer to another.
  • Black: These are usually linear switches. They require a little more force to activate than the average switch.

While those are some of the more common switch colors a lot of companies use, there are cases where the same color can mean different things from different manufacturers. When choosing a mechanical switch type, it’s important to check with the manufacturer to see what type of switch it is and how much force it takes to activate to make sure that you select the right one.

What Is the Best Switch Color for a Mechanical Keyboard?

The best switch color for a mechanical keyboard depends on how you use the keyboard. It also depends on the switches' manufacturer because some manufacturers use different color schemes.

In general, red switches are suitable for gaming because they help you react quickly in fast-paced games like Fortnite, blue switches are great for typing, and brown switches are a middle ground. Green switches also fit into the middle ground between gaming and typing, while red and yellow switches are usually good for gaming.

Instead of focusing entirely on the color, it's a good idea to decide whether you want linear, tactile, or clicky, how much noise you want, how fast you want the switch to be, and how hard you want to press it.

Which Switches Are Best for a Mechanical Keyboard?

The best switches for a mechanical keyboard are purely personal preferences. And it depends on how and where one will use the keyboard. Tactile switches are the best if you like some physical feedback when typing, but you don’t want a loud click. They’re also good in office environments because they usually aren’t especially loud. They’re also good for gaming, so tactile switches are the best middle-ground option for most people.

Serious gamers should consider linear switches, as they provide faster, more precise inputs. Clicky keyboards, and even loud tactical keyboards, don’t offer the best gaming experience. However, clicky keyboards are great for typing if you want a keyboard that sounds like a keyboard used to (before the days of membranes). They give a nice, satisfying click that you don’t get from the other switch styles.

Cherry is one of the best switch manufacturers, so a Cherry MX keyboard is a good option for gaming and typing. Gateron keys are also highly respected, and Razer switches are also suitable. Greetech and Kailh are lower-cost options similar to Cherry switches and offer a decent alternative if you can’t afford Cherry. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of companies making switches now, so you can likely find the perfect one for you.

  • How do I remove mechanical keyboard switches?

    The easiest way to remove and replace your mechanical keyboard switches is to use a hot-swappable keyboard with a keycap puller tool. Position the puller tool with its arms on two sides of the key, making sure the arms are securely beneath two keycap sides. Gently pull off the keycaps and then pluck out the switches with the included tool, taking care to hook under and squeeze the tabs. Insert the new switches, and then replace your keycaps.

  • How do I clean mechanical keyboard switches?

    To clean mechanical keyboard switches, remove the keycaps. (To make it easier to put them back, take a picture first.) Spray compressed air into all the crevices, taking care to keep the nozzle away from the switches. Use a thin nylon brush to clean away tougher debris, and then use a damp cloth with a gentle cleaning solution to carefully wipe down every part of the keyboard you can reach.

  • Where can I buy mechanical keyboard switches?

    Purchase mechanical keyboard switches from various online outlets, including and the Mechanical website. You can also buy them from Best Buy and Staples.

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