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Membrane Switches and Keyboards vs. Mechanical: The Difference

Different types of keyboards exist on the market, and there are many debates over which one is better: membrane switches and keyboards or mechanical keyboards. While both have their advantages and disadvantages, we’re here to break them down for you so you can make an informed decision about which keyboard is best for you.

Keep reading to learn more!

What is a Membrane Switch?

Membrane switches are usually defined in either one of two ways; a system used to control a circuit or a human-machine interface. Irrespective of these two definitions, it’s important to mention that the defining aspect of a membrane switch is that it comprises many layers of flexible materials, such as plastic films.

Some of these layers include a spacer between metal domes to provide a break between contact, an overlay with graphical elements, a circuit tail, terminals, and a circuit that has conductive tracks. Basically, how a membrane switch work is when the topmost layer is pressed down; contact is made by layers underneath that then either open or close a circuit. You will know when the circuit has been opened or closed by the tactile response that the membrane switches provide.

What is a Mechanical Switch?

Mechanical switches are not as flexible as membrane switches, and most are made from hard plastics, although some are made of stainless steel and have two contact points that can be opened or closed to complete or break the circuit.

In case you’re in need of this kind of material, check out New West Metals, which offers stainless steel in Canada. The mechanical switch is most commonly used for various purposes but is mainly used within factories or environments that contain a lot of destructive materials, such as oil, dust, chemicals, solvents, and others.

Mechanical switches can be separated into two groups: appliance and commercial switches and industrial switches. The appliance and commercial switches are often found in offices and homes and used for turning a light on and off or at plug outlets. Industrial switches can be further separated into groups such as multi-light-control oil-tight, standard duty, heavy-duty oil-tight, miniature oil-tight, and heavy-duty.

What is a Membrane Keyboard?

At this point, you probably have a good idea of how membrane switches work, but you are now curious as to how they apply to keyboards. Interestingly enough, membrane keyboards aren’t anything new; they’ve been around since the early 1990s as technology started requiring smaller interfaces.

Membrane keyboards are built in a very similar way to membrane switches used for other appliances. However, they are only made up of 3 layers: the top membrane layer, a layer with holes, a bottom membrane layer, and then conductive traces at the bottom.

Basically, how these keyboards work is that when contact is made on the top layer, it moves down and makes contact with the bottom layers through the hole layer, which then completes the circuit.

Two membrane keyboard designs are currently used: a flat key design and a dome switch design. The main difference is that the dome switch design uses domes, which provide tactile feedback to let a user know a key has been pressed, whereas the flat key design does not.

What is a Mechanical Keyboard?

Mechanical keyboards are one of the most popular and commonly used types of the keyboard to date, simply because they are cheaper to make. With mechanical keyboards, the keys are actual buttons made from plastic, which provides a tactile response in the form of a clicking noise when typing, which can be a bit noisy.

In terms of how they are designed, each key on the keyboard has its unique switch, which includes a stem, spring, and base. When the keys are pressed, much like the above-mentioned keyboard, contact is made, and the circuit is completed. 

Which Should You Choose?

In terms of whether you should choose a membrane switch or membrane keyboard compared to the mechanical alternative, the choice is really up to the user. Each type of switch has its pros and cons, which are subjective to you.

For example, membrane keyboards are much quieter and lighter than mechanical keyboards. However, mechanical keyboards are much more durable, and the keys can be replaced if they break. You might also find that your fingers glide more smoothly over membrane keyboards than mechanical keyboards, but the mechanical keyboard’s tactile response will immediately alert you that a key has been pressed. In terms of the switches on appliances, you have little choice since most new household appliances are made using membrane switches.