What is Optical Switch and Why Choose It?

What exactly is an optical switch? If you go by the mechanical switch definition, it is a mechanical switch that is triggered by a spring. Then the optical switch is actually a kind of mechanical switch.

Most optical switches have the same trigger structure as mechanical switches, which encompasses a spring and similar housing structure. Similar to how different mechanical switches offer different typing feels, the optical switches also have different structures to deliver different typing feedback, such as linear, tactile, and clicky.

However, the fundamental difference between optical switches and mechanical switches is the trigger method. Mechanical switches are triggered through the metal leaf connection and disconnection to trigger the key, while optical switches are triggered by the optical sensor to the induction of the light signal to register a key.

See the difference between the two kinds of triggers below:

Mechanical switch is triggered by a metal leaf

Optical switch is triggered by the light signal

The current optical switches, in fact, can also be called mechanical optical switches. The trigger method for both optical and mechanical switches is different but the keypress is similar to the mechanical switches.

Why choose the optical switches?

Here are some advantages optical switches offer:

1. Optical switches have a faster and more sensitive trigger response. 

Since optical switches are triggered by the acceptance of optical, as long as the displacement blocks the optical, it can produce a signal. So at a microscopic level, optical switches will respond faster than mechanical switches. In situations that require a high degree of low latency, such as gaming, for example, optical switches will offer a faster response rate.

2. Optical switches have a longer life span

When mechanical switches experience problems, it generally is related to problems with the foot pin or the flake trigger. With optical switches, they don't have these problems because they're triggered by light signal. As a result, optical switches is more durable and can last longer with over 100 million clicks lifespan. The mechanical switches normally have 50 million clicks lifespan.

3. Optical switches are easier to replace

An optical switch, as long as it's the same model, can be easily replaced. Mechanical switches on keyboards, if they're not hot-swappable, need to be soldered in order to replace the switch. For ease of customization, the optical switches are more convenient.

Replace the low profile optical switches on K3.

Compared to mechanical switches, do optical switches have any disadvantages?

At this point, the biggest drawback is probably the lack of variety compared to mechanical switches. Mechanical switches is a very mature market, and after decades of existence, there are a lot of custom players and different switch body customizations available. In addition, there are more well-known mechanical switch manufacturers than optical switches.

Optical switches are a newer technology, so the options available on the market are fewer. In most optical switch production factories, there are some differences, but not necessarily a brand of products, compatible with another.

Summary - Optical switches are worth to try

In many ways, they provide more advantages than traditional mechanical switches. In terms of use, it's more convenient in the long run than a traditional mechanical switch for all the reasons mentioned before. However, optical switches are still a relatively new technology and don't currently have a ton of switch body or switch customization options available. With the continual development of this technology, there will certainly be more and better optical switches in the future.

Recommend keyboards with optical switches:

Keychron K3 Ultra-slim Wireless Mechanical Keyboard (Version 2)

K3 With Low Profile Optical Switch

Keychron K6 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard

K6 With High Profile Optical Switch

Keychron K8 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard

K8 With High Profile Optical Switch