Mechanical Keyboards and Switch Colours Explained

Staff Writer By Staff Writer - updated November 9th, 2022
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If you spend your time at work or play, typing away on an everyday membrane keyboard it could be worthwhile swapping it out for a mechanical keyboard. This could help you type quickly and more accurately and it will last far longer than a standard keyboard. Let’s look at some of the advantages of upgrading to a mechanical keyboard.

First of all, mechanical switches aren’t new. They have been around since the 80s but as time went on, manufacturers found ways to cut the costs and make keyboards cheaper since they were mainly used for was entering data. Now with the rise of PC gaming and the increased use of keyboards across a range of professions, the desire for a more comfortable experience has brought the mechanical keyboard back to the public eye.

The difference between mechanical and membrane keyboards

Both mechanical and membrane keyboards can have many of the same features including RGB backlighting, N-key rollover and anti-ghosting. Where they differ is in the way keystrokes are registered.

Membrane keyboards are very basic; all keys are connected with what are essentially pressure pads. You have a keycap and a spring under there that makes it go up and down. When you push down on a key, it pushes down on a rubber dome that will flatten out and make a connection with a circuit board, telling the computer that a key has been pressed. The only way for your computer to know you have pressed a key is when the key cap has been pushed all the way to the bottom.

Mechanical switches on the other hand, have individual mechanical mechanisms under every key that moves up and down to make a connection with its own circuitry. The actuation point, or the point where the computer knows the key has been pressed, is made inside the switch itself. So in most cases, you don't have to fully press the key all the way down, and also in most cases, the key doesn’t even have to come all the way back up before you can make another keypress and have it register inside your computer.

Switch colours explained

In most cases with mechanical switches, the consumer is given many options when it comes to various levels of resistance, tactile feedback and audible noise. These are all differentiated by colour to make things easier.

If you visit one of our stores, you'll find a little keypad with six different colours of Cherry MX switches, which is by far the most common make of mechanical switch. These little boards are helpful because you can really feel the difference between them when they are all laid out in front of you, and you should be able to find one of these in the keyboard section of your local PB Tech store.

Although there are a few companies making their own switches and colours out there, we are mostly going to be focusing on Cherry MX switches. However, as long as you understand the 3 categories the switches fall into (clicky, tactile and linear), you will have a good idea of what the different types of switches will feel like.

Regardless of the make, the behaviour of any switch can be divided into three categories: Clicky, Tactile and Linear.

Cherry MX Switches

The three most common mechanical switches you will find are Cherry MX Blue, Brown and Red.

  • The Cherry MX Blues are clicky, and require only 50grams of force to actuate. It has an audible click and a tactile bump. So when you push the key down you will feel a little bump and hear the switch click, this is where the key actuates.
  • Cherry MX Browns are similar, they still have that same tactile bump you can feel but don’t have the audible click, making the switch feel similar but much quieter.
  • Finally, the Cherry MX Reds have a smooth or linear switch, which means the key travels smoothly from top to bottom and you can't feel the actuation point of the switch like you can with the other two.

The Cherry MX Green, White, and Black are similar to the switches above, only with different levels of stiffness.

  • The Cherry MX Green, like the blue, is clicky and audible with a tactile bump, but instead takes 80grams of force to hit the actuation point. Which makes the key feel stiffer.
  • The Cherry MX White is the same as the brown, tactile with no click but takes 85grams of force, which is considerably more
  • The Cherry MX Black is linear like the red but requires 60grams of force to actuate.

Someone who wants to focus mainly on typing will most likely prefer blues or greens due to the tactile feel and the satisfaction of the click letting you know your key has been registered. Once you get used to it, you can swiftly glide your fingers over the keys and use the audible click to let you know when to move on to the next. This can help you to improve speed and accuracy with your typing. Just note that these switches are quite loud, so if you're in an office environment, the brown or white switches might be a little more courteous.

For gaming, most people tend to lean towards the browns or the reds depending on whether or not you want that tactile bump. The Cherry MX Reds actuation point and release are a lot closer together so you can bounce your finger in the middle of the switch for much faster key presses.

Other switches

As we mentioned earlier, there are a few companies making their own switches and colours out there. As long as you understand the three categories the switches fall into (Clicky, Tactile and Linear), you will know what they should feel like.

For example, Razer Green switches are clicky and tactile and take 50 grams of force to actuate. This makes them identical to Cherry MX blues. The only difference is the actuation point is slightly shorter on Razer’s Greens than Cherry MX Blues, so you only have to push down 1.9mm for the key to register compared to the MX Blues 2.2mm.

Here are some quick guides on some other make of switches.

Razer Switches

  • Razer Green switches are clicky and tactile with an actuation force of 50g and an actuation point of 1.9mm. 
  • Razer Yellow switches are linear and silent with an actuation force of 45g and an actuation point of 1.2mm.
  • Razer Orange switches are tactile and silent with an actuation force of 45g and an actuation point of 1.9mm.
  • Razer Clicky Optical switches are clicky with an actuation force of 45g and an actuation point of 1.5mm.
  • Razer Linear Optical switches are linear with an actuation force of 45g and an actuation point of 1.2mm.

Kailh switches

  • Kailh Red switches are linear and have an actuation force of 50g with an actuation point of 2mm.
  • Kailh Blue switches are clicky and have an actuation force of 50g with an actuation point of 2mm..
  • Kailh Brown switches are tactile and have an actuation force of 50g with an actuation point of 2mm.
  • Kailh Black switches are linear and have an actuation force of 60g with an actuation point of 2mm..

In the end, it all comes down to the feel you prefer the most, which is why these in-store boards with different switch types on them are handy. You should definitely check out our range of mechanical keyboards for yourself in-store because once you get the feel for a mechanical keyboard, you won't be able to go back to membrane.


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Staff Writer

For the words, not the glory!

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1 comment

SamS3147

Great article! It would be great to also have more information about the other switches outside MX Cherry. Adding some notable brands like Kailh and Holy Panda and having a brief description of the differences outside the MX Cherry range. Overall great article

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