This io intended to be an easy introduction to tactile keyboards with links to more in-depth documents. A glossary of frequently-used jargon terms is included.

What is a tactile keyboard?

A keyswitch is tactile if it has a bump in its response to finger pressure at or near the engagement point where the keypress registers and before the key bottoms out at the end of its travel. A keyboard is tactile if it is made with tactile keyswitches.

The mass-market keyboards shipped with most computers are not tactile. Until the mid-1990s they used to be; then computer manufacturers discovered that it was possible to manufacture keyboards much more cheaply using rubber-dome switches that give no feedback. So-called "soft-touch" keyboards became the norm.

Why tactile keyboards?

Why a tactile keyboard? Why not settle for soft-touch?

The fundamental reason is ergonomic. Tactile feedback makes it possible for a typist to stop pushing down before the keys bottom out, reducing total effort by up to a (measured) factor of two.

The lowered effort substantially reduces the risk of RSI, and there field evidence that people with RSI may achieve reduction in symptoms or even complete remission of RSI by using tactile-feedback devices.

Even people without RSI often find they can type faster and more accurately on tactile devices than on dome-switch keyboards that don’t supply anything but slight uniform resistance or a meaningless click before they bottom out.

Some tactile keyboards are marketed as high-end equipment to serious on-line gamers. The reduced effort is believed (rightly or wrongly) to shave precious milliseconds off one’s response time.

There’s a little more to tactile-keyboard fandom than than ergonomics, though. Like tribes that have formed around other classic designs, the tactile, mechanical-switch keyboard has become a marker for traditions and attitudes that evolved along with it, including a certain reverence for timeless excellence in engineering, a belief that paying more for quality is worth it, and a disdain for competing designs that, while putatively more modern, are felt to be cheap and junky and ephemeral by comparison.

The archetype of the tactile keyboard, the Model M, is both tactile and clicky; that is, it gives not just touch feedback but an audible keypress sound as well.

The model M is particularly favored by old-school computer hackers (and by people who want to be like them) as a timeless classic of design, and a vast improvement over most of its successors. A close parallel to this community of feeling elsewhere is the cult of the 1911-pattern .45ACP among pistol shooters.

But the Model M is not the only tactile keyboard. Hallf a dozen small companies produce mechanical-switch keyboards with varying degrees of tactility. These are sometimes less expensive than a model M and come with fancy featrures like LED backlights and media keys, but are not usually anywhere near as long-lasting.

Beware, though, of some tradeoffs. Tactile keyboards are relatively expensive to manufacture, rugged, and can last a long time (it is not all that unusual to see 35-year-old model Ms still in use, having outlasted generations of computers). Because of this and the fact that they’re a minority preference, making a profit on them is difficult. Vendors tend to be boutique operations with very little engineering budget; the devices are made only in small runs and thus sell at boutique prices.

Despite these inconveniences, most tactile-keyboard fans will never willingly use a non-tactile keyboard.

A tactile keyboard is most likely to benefit you if you’re a computer programmer, writer, or in some other job that requires you to type day-in and day-out. Affection for tactile keyboards is particularly common and strong among programmers.

What are the different kinds of tactile keyboards?

The most important distinction within this category is whether the keyboard is also clicky - that is, gives auditory as well as tactile feedback within microseconds of when a key makes contact.

The archetypal tactile keyboard, the IBM/Lexmark/Unicomp "Model M", is very clicky. Many tactile-keyboard fans swear by it and will use nothing else - even used 30-year-old Model Ms are sought after and can command high prices at auction. The design is still manufactured under the Unicomp brand name. Much more on the Model M can be found at the Model M Wikipedia entry. Usual caveats about Wikipedia apply.

Another tactile-clicky design that cast a long shadow was the Northgate OmniKey, a line of keyboards similar to the Model M that was produced between 1987 and 2005 by an otherwise undistinguished PC manufacturer. After Northgate folded, these continued to be sold for a few years (until not later than 2011) under the "Avant" brand name. OmniKeys and Avants are now harder to find than Model Ms, but in their day had a fanbase nearly as fervent. Examples are still in production use in 2021, often jealously guarded by their owners.

More modern tactile designs are usually (but not always) silent.

The tactile properties of keyboards are mainly consequences of how the keyswitches (the active parts under the keycaps) are designed. You can learn the basics from reading the glossary later in this document; a much more detailed technical explanation of keyboard and keyswitch types is at The Mechanical Keyboard Guide.

What are the drawbacks of tactile keyboards?

The main drawback of tactile keyboards is that they have to be made with true mechanical switches, and are significantly more expensive than the dome- and scissor-switch designs used in most keyboards today. They have higher manufacturing costs per unit due to increased mechanical complexity, and because they’re a minority taste the production runs are smaller, pushing up prices.

Not everybody instinctively learns to use the feedback tactile keyboards provide; some people just find them pointlessly stiff and unpleasant. Sometimes more experience will change this.

Some people find the Model M family too noisy and are better served by tactile but non-clicky devices.

Before the "New Model M" in 2020, the Unicomp USB variant of the Model M had not had a design refresh in a long time. Some Unicomp USB variants also seem to be prone to cabling problems due to insufficient strain relief at the keyboard end. See the Model M Troubleshooting Guide for details. It’s probably best to get a New Model M and dodge all these; indeed Unicomp’s website now deprecates several of its own older models.

I don’t understand the terms used to talk about keyboards

We’ve already alluded to "tactile" and "clicky". Here is a list of terms that will be helpful when you browese web resources about keyboards:

Switch physics


The opposite of tactile. A linear keyswitch produces constant resistance until it bottoms out at the end of its travel.


A clicky keyswitch produces audible feedback at its engagement point. Clicky keyboards are made from clicky keyswitches. In older usage "clicky" implied "tactile" but this seems to be changing in the last few years; increasingly I see "clicky/silent" and "tactile/linear" treated as orthgogonal pairs. To avoid ambiguity I suggest using "tactile-clicky" when that’s what you mean.


The opposite of clicky. A silent keyswitch may produce some noise when the key bottoms out, but generates none at the engagement point.


The trajectory of a keyswitch from the top (when a finger begins pressing) to the bottom when it reaches its mechanical limit. Travel distance is usually between 2 and 5 mm.


Proportional to the force required to push a keyswitch from top of travel to its engagement point.

Switch types

dome switch (or "rubber-dome switch")

A very common, very cheap style of keyswitch consisting of a hollow rubber or metallized dome with contacts at the top and bottom that meet when the dome is compressed by finger pressure. Usually manufactured in arrays in a formed rubber sheet. Silent and linear, low stiffness. Most modern keyboards use these. Tactile-keyboard fans despise them.

scissor switch

Shorter-travel variant of the dome switch often found on low-profile keyboards such as most of Apple’s. So called because the keycap is connected to the dome by a plunger cradled by two pieces of plastic that are hinged together like scissors blades. Tactile-keyboard fans often find these somewhat less nasty than bare dome switches.

mechanical switch

A keyswitch with a mechanical plunger assembly, springs, and contacts. Almost all tactile and clicky keyswitches are mechanical, but not vice-versa. Mechanical switches are more durable than dome switches, often surviving multiple decades of heavy use. They are also (alas) much more expensive.

buckling-spring switch

The creme de la creme of mechanical keyswitches, found only on the IBM Model M and close relatives such as the modern Unicomp. Tactile and clicky_ with a relatively long travel; too noisy and stiff for some tastes, but the unique feel and sound inspires near-fanatical devotion in its fans.

Cherry switch

A brand name for the most widely used line of mechanical keyswitch. Several different Cherry variants are named for colors (with the switch casings actually in that color) and offer different stiffnesses and combinations of tactile/linear/clicky/silent behaviors. Cherry Blues and Greens are tactile-clicky and generally considered the closest in feel to buckling-spring switches. There was an earlier Cherry White, now rare, that was also tactile-clicky. Cherry Browns, Clears, and Greys are tactile-silent.

Keyboard types

island keys

A style of keyboard in which formed keycaps protrude through a perforated metal or plastic plate, rather than simply abutting each other separated by a very small gap. Recent Apple keyboards are like this. The term "chiclet keyboard" is sometimes incorrectly used for these.

membrane keyboard

This is what the keypad on your microwave oven uses. Linear, silent, less than a millimeter of travel, effectively zero stiffness. Never found on real keyboards. Sometimes this term is used for a keyboard with actual keys that uses a membranr-type sensor internally.

chiclet keyboard

A variant of the membrane keyboard in which the keys are chiclet-shaped rubber nibs bonded to the upper membrane. Even people who like dome-switch keyboards usually consider these shoddy and nasty; they’re not deployed unless lowest cost is absolutely imperative. In recent years this term has sometimes been misapplied to any low-profile keyboard with island keys.

ergonomic keyboard

Loosely used for keyboard layouts and case designs that try to support support a more natural, relaxed position of the hands and arms than allowed by the conventional rectangular QWERTY design. Ergonomic keyboards may be split or angled in various creative ways, or arrange keys in arcs better fitting the hand’s range of motion.


The "layout" of a keyboard is the inventory of key symbols and their arrangement.

101-key layout

Layout on older American keyboards, without the Windows and Menu keys. Original Model Ms defined this layout.

102-key layout

101 keys plus a Compose/Alt-Gr for entering non-ASCII characters. Found on many keyboards outside the U.S.

103-key layout

Variant of 104-key available on Unuicomp Model Ms. Omits the right Windows key in favor of a longer spacebar.

104-key layout

What a modern American (ANSI) PC keyboard looks like - with right and left Windows keys and a context-menu key.

105-key layout

The 105th key is the distinct Alt-Gr found on European (ISO) keyboards, replacing the right-hand Alt. It’s mainly used for composing accented letters not found in ASCII.


A keyboard is set to have layers (or overlays) if some symbols that a keypress can ship require a moidifier kay. Almost all keyboards have one layer addressed by the shift key. Most have additional layers addressed by Ctrl, Alt and Windows (or Super) keys. 70% and smaller layouts have additional special modifiers to access nav-cluster and function keys.


A keyboard with most of a standard PC 104-key layout (including function and arrow keys) but the numeric keypad and its duplicate function keys lopped off. Abbreviated "TKL".


Sometimes a synonym for TKL, but more often describes a more compact layout in which the nav keys are snugged up to the main alphanumeric block rather than being on a separate island.


Removes the navigation-key cluster (arrows, Page Up, Page Down, Insert, Delete, Home, End) from the tenkeyless layout. They may become overlaid usingg a shift key; sometimes, though, the arrow keys are kept separate in what may be called a 65% llayout.


Removes the function keys from the 70% layout.


Removes the number/punctuation keys in the top row of a 60%. They become overlayed keys in th QWERTY row.


daily driver

The keyboard one normally uses for production. As opposed to others one might be experimenting with, have in one’s past, be intrigued by, or just take on road trips.

What’s a Model M fan to do in a post-Model-M world?

If the Model M does not fit your needs but you want something that approximates its feel, I’ve found Kailh Box Pinks to be an excellent ersatz of buckling-springs. They have lower actuation force (not unlike a Model F switch) that an M switch and don’t have the M’s metallic ping on the upstroke, but the tactility is surprisingly similar.

Many people recommend tactile-clicky Cherry Blues for people pining for the buckling-spring feel. I think Kailh Box Pinks are significantly better.

Kailh Box Pinks play very nicely with the GMMK hot-swap keyboard. I have one of these combinations and I consider it best-in-class for switches with Cherry cross-mounts.

Where can I get a tactile keyboard?

Variants of the Model M are still sold by Unicomp, which makes them in the same factory with the same tools as when IBM originally produced the design in the 1980s. These are the only keyboards in production to use true buckling-spring switches.

Some people may also value the fact that you can get the Unicomp in a variant with a nipple mouse, a feature otherwise almost impossible to find on a full-sized keyboard. This means you can move your mouse pointer without taking your hand off the home row.

Unicomp proclaims "Anything else is just an imitation!" and it is generally conceded that they have a point. On the other hand, the Unicomp designs are conservative to the point of stodginess and lack features likle backlighting and media keys that some people value.

Several other vendors make tactile keyboards using newer (non-buckling-spring) mechanical-keyswitch designs.

Here are some vendors to investigate. Most use the same line of "Cherry" keyswitches; there are a few less common brands such as Topre and ALPS.


The only place to buy new Model Ms. Build quality on these used to be pretty poor due to warn-out tooling, keeping the vintage market alive. But in 202 they got now molds; Unicimps are now competitive with all but the okdest and rarest IBM Model Ms.

Resells vintage IBM Model Ms scavenged from various sources. Sometimes you can find there its even rarer (and still prized) predecessor, the IBM XT keyboard.

Various vendors on eBay sell used and reconditioned Model Ms.

Model F Labs

Produces an authentic though expensive clone of the Model F, the even rarer and morte highly prized predecessor of the Model M.

A retailer specializing in mechanical-switch keyboards and accessories. Carries lines from over a dozen vendors.

Happy Hacking keyboards

A compact, tactile, non-clicky keyboard with a keyboard layout specifically designed for programmers (in particular, the Control key is where Caps Lock lives on most keyboards). Uses Topre switches.

WASD Keyboards

This company offers the most keyboard customization options I’ve ever seen - layout, switch type, keycap colors, keycap graphics can be mixed and matched at little or no extra cost over the baseline product. The product gets good reviews. Buckling-spring fans will be interested to know that Cherry Greens are among their standard options.


The Professional is both tactile and clicky; other products are tactile-silent. One variant, infamously, has blank keycaps and can thus only be touch-typed. All use Cherry switches.


Adesso has a line of Cherry-based tactile keyboards targeted at the gaming market, some clicky.

Truly Ergonomic

Expensive but interesting design mating tactile-silent keyswitches to an innovative ergonomic layout. Variants use Cherry Red and Brown switches.

Elite Keyboards

Some devices in the Elite Keyboards line use mechanical switches. All are non-clicky; some extra-quiet models are tagged "Silent".

Diatec Majestouch keyboards

Diatec sells a line of Cherry-based keyboards under the "Majestouch" brand.

CoolerMaster Keyboards

CoolerMaster makes several keyboards aimed straight at the gaming market (black cases, LED highlights and backlighting, names like "Devastator" and "QuickFire") featuring Cherry switches. One even features the elusive Cherry Green, stiffest and clickiest in the line.

The source for Kailh Box Pinks. You can also bet them on Amazon.

Source for the GMMK keyboard.

This list is not complete; there are a lot of small vendors targeting the gaming market that seem to appear and disappear like mayflies. Most are producing fairly interchangeable Cherry-based designs in snazzy black cases. You can learn as much about these as you want to at r/MechanicalKeyboards and (see below).

Where can I learn more?

The Mechanical Keyboard Guide

The Guide is well worth a second look after you’ve skimmed some vendor sites. It’s a treasure trove of detailed information. As of March 2016 it has one significant gap; it doesn’t cover the Cherry MX green switches, a stiffer variant of the clicky MX Blue often used along with it for spacebars and large keys.

How to Choose the Best Mechanical Keyboard

This guide does cover Cherry Greens, with a lot of detail about different keyswitch types and a generally good overview of other issues.

Keyboard Technology

The Wikipedia page on keyboard technology includes descriptions of many keyswitch types, including obscure and unusual ones not mentioned in this FAQ.


A subreddit on mechanical keyboards, heavy into pictorial keyboard porn. The "Reddit Mechanical Keyboard Buying Guide" goes into more detail on modern gaming-oriented keyboards than this FAQ and seems to exhibit good judgment.

Deskthority Wiki

A wiki about input devices focusing on mechanical keyboards, not all tactile. Has the most comprehensive vendor list I’ve found.

Keyboard hacking for the truly obsessive. A very active forum focused on keyboard modding and (as it says) "pushing the limits of small-scale manufacturing".

Actuation-force data for all the world’s switches.

Historical note

This FAQ was originally written for the Tactile Keyboards community on the new-defunct G++ web forum.

1.24: 2021-07-09

Recommend Kailh Box pinks as an ersatz for buckling springs.

1.23: 2021-05-24

Add actuation-force link.

1.22: 2021-04-30

Added "40%" and "layer" to glossary.

1.21: 2021-04-29

Obseve newer usage of "clicky".

1.20: 2021-04-24

Added glossary entry "103-key".