Optical switches have appeared and become a shooting star for gaming keyboards. The new technology is expected to solve any problems within the old mechanical switches, which have reached their peak so there is no more room for development.
The thing is, the switches are not that new but not many people aware of them. And, even if you know about the optical switches somewhere, there is a high chance you are not familiar with the technology and the way it performs on your keyboard.
Do you get curious about how wonderful those advanced optical switches are? If the answer is yes, let’s dive right into this article to fulfill your curiosity.
What exactly are optical switches?
Optical switches belong to the mechanical key switch category. It has a top housing, a bottom housing, a stem, and also a spring that’s in charge of triggering the signal.
There is a spring connected to a fence for mechanical switches like Cherry MX. That fence does a job of separating two metal leaves. The fence also moves in or out of the two metal leaves when the spring moves. Therefore, when you press the key, the metal leaves are connected, and then your computer receives the command. When you release it, the connection is invalid, so your command is discontinued.
Optical switches, on the other hand, do not use a metal leaf to activate; instead, they use a light sensor. That is why it’s called an optical switch. You can expect that this new technology will speed up the time your computer receives the signal because nothing can be faster than light, at least in this universe.
Types of Optical Switches
Since the optical switches share the same structure as traditional mechanical switches, they can be divided into linear, tactile, and clicky types.
- The clicky switch produces clear bumpy feedback and a loud ‘clicky’ sound for every single press from you. The noticeable bounce-back feeling allows you to know that you press the keys right. Hence, it’s highly recommended for first-time users.
- The tactile switch is similar to the clicky type but with a less noticeable bumpy response and lower noise. That is why it is also nice for those who need feedback from keystrokes but don’t want to be too loud.
- The linear switch is silent and smooth when moving your fingers around the keyboard. Unlike the others above, there is no clear bound-back, so it allows your movement to be much faster.
By thinking carefully about your likes and dislikes, you will be able to choose the best type of switches for your keyboard.
How do Optical Switches work?
In general, the optical switches work by using the optical sensor to detect the light signal with the movement of the spring. Going into detail, each manufacturer has its own way to apply the light principle, but we will list only two methods in this article.
The light-block principle
The metal leaves will be replaced by a LED light and a sensor component. The LED light always emits a light beam. In the normal state where the key is untouched, the light beam will be blocked by a physical part that is connected to the spring. When you press it, the obstruction will be moved away to give space so the light beam can touch the sensor part.
The refraction principle
As its name suggests, the optical switch uses refraction to activate the keystroke.
In this technology, the light beam from the LED light will not go directly to the photo sensor. It meets the prism lens first when the springs are pressed, and from then it refracts to meet the sensor component. This looks like a roundabout way but in fact, this method allows you to control the way you signal your keyboard. Press heavily or press lightly. The angle of the light beam will be changed based on that. Therefore, you can have more control over the keystrokes by adjusting your finger’s force.
Optical mechanical keyboard switch brands
Gateron introduced to us a wide range of different optical switches to choose from. Based on their mechanical switch line, they have the same optical switches with the exact colors and features, including switch types, actuation force, and sound. In short, if you enjoy the characteristics of Gateron Blue Clicky switches, you can find the Gateron Blue optical switches with similar descriptions.
This video compares Gateron mechanical switches and Gateron optical switches so check it out if you get curious about Gateron.
Razer focuses primarily on the gaming market. They do not only create their optical switches for normal people who like playing games but also aim for gamers who compete in official gaming tournaments. Among all the switches-produced brands, their official website is one of the coolest, so you may want to check it out.
Currently, they only have linear and clicky switches. If you are a fan of tactile switches, please do not pass on this brand because their products are truly insane. First, the actuation point is 1.5 mm while other mechanical switches are usually at 2 mm. Moreover, they do a lot of thinking about stem design. Therefore, even when you put your fingers on the corner or the fringe, you can feel the key is stable and firm. Lastly, the optical switches activate 30 ms faster than normal mechanical ones.
Razer made their super cool introduction video for their super awesome optical switches here so don’t forget to watch.
Light Strike Switches
A4tech company applies light-block technology for their Light Strike optical switches. Those switches have the same high actuation point as Razer, at 1.5 mm. Besides, the company said that the Light Strike switches activate with a 0.2ms delay, which is crazily fast.
They currently have four different variants to offer, with two linear switches and two tactile-clicky switches. You can find the Light Strike optical switches on Bloody keyboards. Another important thing about those keyswitches you need to know is that they work very well with small-sized keyboards, tablets for example.
Want to learn more about the Light Strike optical switches and also Bloody keyboards, watch this video here.
Instead of using the light-block technique like other optical switch brands, Flaretech optical switches are totally based on refraction technology. If you remember what we have said about the technology, you will understand how stand-out those optical switches are in the gaming industry.
The technology allows you to control how you signal the keys by pressing them lightly or heavily. By changing the angle of the light beam, you are also changing the amount of light beam the photo sensor received. Based on that, your computer can understand those different signals from only one keypress, so you have way more control over your game.
This video shows you the sound when typing on those Flaretech Red and Blue switches. Watch it if you want to know how it sounds.
What are the best optical switches?
Which Optical Switch is Best for Gaming?
Have we told you Razer is the prospective candidate for the gaming keyboard? We believe we have said so and let us say it once more.
The best optical switch for gaming is no one else but Razer Red Optical switches. They are super-fast linear switches that are designed specifically for gaming so you are highly likely to satisfy with them.
But if you want to try out other brands instead, we think you should consider the optical linear switches because the smooth feeling of those types is the most suitable for fast-paced games.
Which Optical Switch is Best for Typing?
For typing, we think you should go for the tactile or clicky types. Their nice tactile response can prevent you from making a lot of typos so you should look for them.
We will nominate some potential candidates for you to consider. They are Gateron Blue optical switch, Razer Purple switch, and Light Strike Blue switch.
Why should you choose the optical switches?
With light application, optical switches have four key advantages that make them exceptional.
They have a far higher response rate than mechanical switches
In theory, light has the fastest speed of all physical objects. Therefore, we can expect that optical technology will provide us with insanely fast switches.
In reality, it takes 5ms for two leaves inside mechanical switches to complete a circuit and send a signal. Compared to that, optical technology proves to be superior. For instance, the time that the light beam from the LED light gets to the optical sensor when there is no blockage, is measured to be about 0.03 ms. That explains why optical keyboards have become an excellent choice in the gaming competition, where every millisecond counts.
They have buttery smooth typing performance
Since there is less friction inside the optical switches than the traditional mechanical ones, they can perform much smoother.
Let us explain a little bit more. In the mechanical switch, when the two metal leaves get in contact or when the housing touches the stem, friction is generated. But, in the optical switches, there is only one friction-causing source, and that is the contact between the housing and the stem.
They can last very long
The optical switches do not have many physical contacts within their body. Unlike mechanical key switches, which will get into problems when the metal leaf deformed after many clicks, the optical switches’ lifespan relies on the life of the LED light and the photo sensor.
Hence, the cycle life of every optical switch is around 100 million keystrokes, while mechanical switches can last between 50 million and 100 million activations.
They are waterproof products
Since the mechanical switch works by using a circuit created by the contact of two metal leaves to send signals, they are sensitive to moisture and water.
On the other hand, thanks to the weakness overcome by light application, optical switch developers decide to go further by creating them to withstand moisture and water. So, you can find many optical-mechanical keyboards offering you water-resistant features.
Disadvantages of optical switches
There are three reasons you should consider before buying optical switches.
They have a very high price
You can expect this much considering how new they are on the market since there is the cost of researching, the cost of producing a new production line, and of course, the cost of marketing. Those add up to the producing cost, making the optical switches somehow out of reach.
They lack variety
They are new, so there are only a small number of brands on the market. Moreover, each brand offers a few variants in their optical switch line, resulting in fewer choices. Take Razer as an example. They only have clicky and linear switches in their optical-switch line.
They are not what you are used to typing
Because the design of optical switches is different from the mechanical switches, the feeling when typing on those two will not be the same. (It’s hard to describe, so you must feel them in order to get our point) Therefore, there is a high chance that you may feel unfamiliar with the new optical switches and need time to get used to them.
Lubing Optical switches
Should you lube Optical switches?
You can lube Optical Switches but we do not think you should go with it. It is true that lubing can reduce noise and increase the stability of the switches’ stem. However, there are not many guides out there for the optical switches and the prices of those switches are not that cheap for you to do experiments.
But, if you want to give it a try, we include here a video from Hipyo Tech. He will show you how to lube the Gateron Red optical switches.
What kind of lube do you use for Optical switches?
The best kind of lube to use sprays lube. It can give a thin layer so it is safe to use. Besides, go for a lube that is silicone or lithium.
Where to buy Optical switches?
Optical switches are not as easy as mechanical switches when you want to find them. We recommend you to visit e-commercial platforms such as Amazon or eBay. Besides, Alibaba is a good place to go since they have like everything on this earth. Also, check out pages like mechanical keyboards or soulware.
Recommend keyboards with optical switches
Here is our list of good keyboards that use optical switches if you want to try them out.
Razer Huntsman V2
- Razer linear or clicky optical switches
- Lightning-fast actuation
- Double shot PBT keycap
- Sound dampening foam
Dierya X Kemove 60%
- Gateron optical brown switch
- PBT double-shot keycap
- Hot-swapped function
- Waterproof circuit board
Bloody B975 Light Strike RGB Animation Gaming Keyboard
- Light Strike Libra optical switches
- Self-customize RGB animation
- Adjustable backlights
- 100% key rollover
In conclusion, the optical-mechanical switches apply the optical principle for their enhanced design. That results in much faster, smoother, and more durable switches than their senior key switches. However, since they are new, the prices are high, and there are not many versions to pick from.
With all that’s said, we believe this is a super-duper cool switch to use. If you are into gaming and advanced technology, you may want to try out those keyboards with optical switches.
Are Optical switches good?
Yes, they are. As they are made of advanced technology which is believed to solve the problems within the old mechanical switches.
Can you lube Optical switches?
Yes, you can. However, we suggest you should check carefully before doing.
Can you lube Razer Optical switches?
We have come across a lot of people saying that you should not. Therefore, our answer is you can do but you should not do it. The major reason is Razer’s prices are considerably high and we have not yet known how durable switches are after lubing.
How to lube Gateron Optical switches?
Take out the switches from the keyboard. Remove the switches. Spray or apply a thin layer on the stem. To be clearer, you should watch this video for a full step-by-step guide.
Are Optical switches good for typing?
Yes, they are. They are very fast and durable. Moreover, their linear type can be buttery smooth, so typing on them feels great if you get used to them.
What are the best Gateron optical switches for gaming?
In our opinion, Gateron Black, Red, and Yellow are the best Gateron optical switches for those who are into games.
What are the best Gateron optical switches?
There is no clear answer for the best Gateron optical switch because each switch is suitable for different preferences. Red, Black, and Yellow for those who love linear. Blue and Brown for those who are fond of tactile feedback. But, if you want to know which has the highest speed, then the fattest Gateron optical switch is Gateron Yellow.