What is the Color of your Switch?

There are two issues to be aware of when choosing the Mechanical Switch that is right for you, so be warned:

Firstly, all mechanical keyboards are going to be substantially louder than typical “rubber dome” keyboards you may be familiar with. However there are “quieter” mechanical switches. Although this sounds very ‘Non technical’, the amount of sound that a key generates from a mechanical key is hard for anyone trying to review and give definitive statements concerning this. How loud is “loud”?

Secondly, when we are talking of Actuation point, recoil, and force required feeling, and hearing a result, we are talking about tiny figures: How much force does it take to hit a plastic covered mechanical switch, when it has to travel approximately 1.5 mm? Without getting into the description of how to measure CentiNewtons of force, ask how close do the actuation and recoil points have to be? The differences are slight, but our incredibly sensitive fingertips DO feel a difference.

Why does it make sound?

There is a school of thought that says when your computer keyboard makes a sound: It is a satisfying and relaxing sound. Like the old days of typewriters, you hear that sound and feel that something is getting done, a job is being completed, and projects are moving forward. The more silent that the workplace has become in this regard is recognized as less satisfying as it used to be. The retro-sound of mechanical switch sounds is just better. If you don’t feel that way, then perhaps mechanical switches aren’t for you, and your co-workers or life-partner at home may or may not feel the same way as you do, so research this before deciding.

Time to Switch!

The range of color-coded switches does include definitive differences, but what is written below may not be how you as a personal user experience them. Without getting too technical, here is a broad outline:

Black – There is no tactile bump when the key actuates: Considered by some to be better for “gaming” than typing for that reason. You have also seen these used in Point-of-Sale terminals in retail locations. It is the stiffest of all colored switches, and everything gets easier to operate after this point.

Red – A variant of the Black, with no tactile bump but with lighter Actuation point, recoil, and force parameters.

As a group, these are known as Linear switches, and offer a smoother press and release. From here on in, the sound and bump of switches change, and –as a group – could be called “Clicky”. Their design adds a deliberately louder ‘click’ sound to the existing tactile bump, allowing for greater typing feedback. This makes it easier to know that you’ve hit the actuation point.

Blue – these are commonly used by typists, and feature a bump with only 5cN greater force than the linear switches noted above.

Brown – This switch is basically a ‘Blue’, but without the extra noise, and is one of the most popular switches for both typing and gaming. They are also ideal for typing in office environments, where a “Clicky” switch might annoy some. Many manufacturers of ergonomic keyboards feature these switches by default.

Clear – This one is considered a “firmer, slightly more tactile brown”. It is not a huge difference – about 15 Cn.

There are also switches of various shades available that ‘fill the gaps’ between these Linear or Tactile switches, but the differences between their tactile bump and volume are ever smaller. Most users won’t feel the differences.

Start with one of these ‘major five’, and do your research. If you haven’t used a mechanical switch keyboard before, it is impossible to “know” what a keyboard will be like for you based on reviews and You Tube movies. Try to make the best decision you can, based on what you can learn from others, then use it for a while before reading again. You will then recognize more of the subtleties that people are recommending and complaining about, and be better prepared to decide on the next best for you.

However, a good ‘rule of thumb’ in terms of ergonomics and comfort is to follow the most popular colored switch purchased today, and that is the Brown. Starting here may well mean you don’t have to move on to another test color, as the majority of people believe this has the best feel of any switch type. Especially if you spend a lot of time at your keyboard – and don’t we all?

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