Types of Gaming Keyboards; Tips To Choose the Right One for You

As a modern gamer, you must have all the necessary tools to succeed. If you have a top-tier gaming PC and mouse, you'll also want a high-quality gaming keyboard to go with it. Technology has come a long way, particularly with the expansion of the gaming sector. With a wide selection of excellent devices from various manufacturers, gamers can now find keyboards to meet their unique gaming needs. This article will highlight the various types of gaming keyboards and how to select the right one for you.

There are three main types of gaming keyboards- mechanical, membrane, and optical. Mechanical keyboards offer durability and tactile feedback, and come with linear, tactile, and clicky switch options in various sizes. Membrane keyboards offer quiet keystrokes and affordability, while optical keyboards provide fast response times and easy maintenance. All of these keyboards are available in a variety of sizes, including full-size, tenkeyless, 75%, 70%, and 60%.   

What Are The Different Types Of Gaming Keyboards?

There are 3 main types of gaming keyboards, namely, membrane, mechanical and optical keyboards. Each type of keyboard has its own pros and cons. One type of keyboard can perform various functions that another can’t.

Membrane keyboards have a rubber-like membrane underneath the keys that makes contact with a circuit board when pressed. Mechanical keyboards have clicky, tactile, or linear switches. Optical keyboards have infrared light and photoelectric switches that detect a key press.

It is easy to see that the varieties of keyboards are mostly determined by the switches used on them. As a result, it is critical to understand the many types of gaming keyboards that are available and this knowledge could be very helpful when deciding on the next keyboard to purchase. If you’re unsure of what keyboard to get, check out our article that provides gaming keyboard recommendations that fit your needs.

These are the main types of gaming keyboards:

Type 1. Membrane Gaming Keyboards

A membrane keyboard like this is a type of computer keyboard that has "keys" that are not distinct, moving elements, as in most other keyboards. Instead, their keys are flat, flexible pressure pads with outlines and symbols printed on them.

On most QWERTY computer keyboards, when a key is completely depressed, a single rubber-like membrane underneath the keys makes contact with a circuit board. This layout, often known as a "dome switch keyboard," can be seen on various keypads. Membrane keyboards provide less tactile feedback than mechanical keyboards do.

A membrane gaming keyboard is one of the three main  types of gaming keyboards that does not have keys with separate switches but has a membrane that registers each key press.
Membrane keyboards have a layer of rubber domes on a PCB board that the keycap hits. Source: Amazon.

Type 2. Mechanical Gaming Keyboards

A mechanical gaming keyboard like this has an individual spring and mechanical switch under each key. While older users may recall the classic buckling-spring switches on their IBM Model M keyboards, today's mechanical keyboards come in dozens of different designs, with a variety of key switches to suit almost every user's personal preference, whether you're playing a hectic FPS game, writing the next great American novel, or manipulating numbers on a spreadsheet. 

As membrane keyboards can be made with common materials and technology. A membrane keyboard will be more affordable than a mechanical keyboard with the same features. Because of their basic design, they are inexpensive to build and maintain. For more details, check out this article on the 4 Best Gaming Keyboards Under 20 $.

Mechanical keyboards also leave room for a lot of innovation as highlighted in this article from Microsoft. The complex design of a mechanical keyboard allows for the addition of new technology like motion sensors or gesture control which indicates the bright future of mechanical keyboards in the industry.

The main features that distinguish mechanical keyboards from other gaming keyboards are the sound and feel of the keys.
Mechanical keyboards have keys that provide tactile and auditory feedback. Source: thewirecutter.com.

Type 3. Optical Gaming Keyboards

Simply put, this is a mechanical keyboard that detects key presses by way of infrared light and photoelectric switches. Because there is no actual contact between surfaces, optical switches like this keyboard have a faster reaction time than metal switches and a longer lifespan. They also eliminate the need for debouncing to ensure that just one signal is created when the key is pressed. Furthermore, each key switch is easily removable for cleaning or replacement. You can check out our article on what to do when a gaming keyboard is not working, should your keyboard need cleaning or repairing. 

Some optical switches can send analog signaling for gamers, which can be picked up in gaming software as a signal ranging from 0 to 100% depending on how far or quickly the key is pressed.

The keypresses of an optical gaming keyboard are registered through infrared light and photoelectric switches.
Optical switches do not require debouncing to ensure that just one signal is generated when the key is pressed. Source: Windows Blog.

Summary of the Different Types of Gaming Keyboards

What Are You Trying to Achieve? The Type of Gaming Keyboard That’s Best for You The Reason Why Example Product
I want a more tactile feel when I press a key Mechanical The keys make a clicky sound when pressed Womier Xvx K61 60% Mechanical Keyboard
I want quiet keystrokes Membrane The soft rubber domes help prevent noise Fiodio Rainbow Membrane Gaming Keyboard
I want a cheaper keyboard Membrane They mostly have cheap builds and are not expensive Redragon K511 Pro Rgb Gaming Keyboard
I want a keyboard with a quick response time Optical There is no metal contact that requires debouncing Razer Huntsman Elite Gaming Keyboard
I want a keyboard that’s durable and long-lasting Mechanical The switches have metal parts that don’t wear down easily Razer BlackWidow V3 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
I want a keyboard with easy maintenance Optical Each key switch is easily removable for maintenance Evga Z20 Rgb Optical Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

You may also be interested in learning how to connect a gaming keyboard to a laptop and more about a gaming keyboard splitter and if your gaming system would benefit from one. If so, be sure to check out our related articles for more information.

How To Choose Between the Different Types of Gaming Keyboards

As a gamer, you might be particularly good at a game but keep losing because of the type of keyboard you are using. One doesn’t necessarily need experience and expertise to know when a keyboard is not the right type.

To choose between the different types of gaming keyboards, try a full-size keyboard if all the keys of a keyboard are needed, a tenkeyless keyboard with macro keys for RPG gaming, and a 60% optical keyboard with linear switches for FPS gaming. Look at a membrane keyboard with ergonomic features for casual gaming and work.

When it’s time to level up, it should be done with a keyboard that is specially designed to give you the best gaming experience money can buy. So whether you’re a budding or experienced gamer, your gaming performance is sure to improve. 

Follow these tips to choose the best gaming keyboard type for you:

Tip 1. Choose a Full-Size Mechanical Keyboard With Clicky Switches and RGB Lighting For Comfort and All Features

Full-size keyboards like this are ideal for anyone who requires a diverse set of keys at their disposal, whether for gaming, work, or simply surfing the internet. They can provide a wide range of programmable key possibilities and are simple to use since, with the exception of the conventional keys, none of the keys are on a lower layer.

The main benefit of clicky switches is that you don’t have to push the key all the way until it bottoms out. You can move on to your next action after your keypress is registered. This allows you to type much faster with a satisfying feedback sound. The sound also lets you know that the key press has been registered.

A 100% gaming keyboard has many programmable options and is easy to use for gaming and typing.
Full-size keyboards provide a wide range of programmable key options and are simple to use. Source: Pinterest.

Tip 2.  Use a 60% Optical Keyboard With N-Key Rollover Features and Linear Switches for FPS Gamers

FPS gamers require extremely quick and responsive keyboards. Optical switches have no debouncing delay, which implies they normally have a 5 ms quicker reaction time. This minor boost in speed translates into marginally improved game performance. The 60% size is very compact, yet there are still enough buttons to adequately operate within the game.

However, it may be out of most people's comfort zone and could take some getting used to the lack of arrow keys, home cluster, number pad, and the function row. The N-key rollover and linear switches also contribute to the rapid response time required by FPS games.

Even though the 60% size gaming keyboard is quite compact, it has all the keys that are necessary for gaming.
The 60% size is pretty small, yet there are enough buttons for gaming. Source: cdn.vox-cdn.

Tip 3. Use A Membrane Keyboard with Ergonomic Features for Casual Gaming and for Work

If you know you don't need a mechanical keyboard, you might want to consider acquiring a membrane keyboard. As the adage goes, "sometimes more is less." If you don't need the extra functionality that a mechanical keyboard gives, you could be overloading yourself with too many sophisticated features that you don't understand.

A membrane keyboard enables you to utilize the same keyboard for gaming and for business. A membrane keyboard has the advantage of being silent, even while typing at fast speeds. This is an excellent option for open-office scenarios where noise levels must be kept to a minimum. It is also advantageous if the keyboard is ergonomic in order to give optimum comfort and alleviate the effects of tiredness. This article by Platte B. et al, highlights the importance of ergonomically designed devices in the workplace. 

Ergonomics are imporrtant for comfort during prolonged sessions at your computer.
The membrane keyboard is quiet and its ergonomics allow for prolonged usage. Source: Adesso Inc.

Tip 4. Choose a Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard With Macro Keys and Tactile Switches for RPG Games

Tenkeyless keyboards like this are smaller than full-size keyboards with the number keys being absent. So, if you're playing games that don't require numerical input, this should be your go-to. The keyboard should also include tactile switches to offer feedback when you press any key without being too noisy.

A keyboard with macro keys could make your gaming experience even more fun. This might seem like they don’t have any use at first glance, but you should take them as part of your armory. Extra keys on a gaming keyboard can help you do many things, like programming function keys for quicker commands and getting ahead of your opponent. You can also access menus, pause, play, and stop your game.

Although the TKL keyboard layout doesn’t have a Numpad it is still a great keyboard for any type of gaming.
The tenkeyless layout allows for flexibility of controls. Source: cdn.shopify.

You may also be interested in learning how to choose a gaming keyboard stand. If so, be sure to check out our related article for some tips and tricks.

Tips To Choose Between the Different Types of Gaming Keyboard Sizes

There are a handful of gaming keyboard sizes, and it could be difficult to tell the difference between them all. The main keyboard sizes are full-size, tenkeyless(TKL), 75%, 70%, and 60%.

To choose between the different types of gaming keyboard sizes a gamer should look at a full-size gaming keyboard to have all of the keys of a standard keyboard or a tenkeyless keyboard for something compact but fully functional. Other options are a 75% keyboard which is smaller with a unique layout, a 70% keyboard which is compact but has arrow keys, or a 60% keyboard which is very compact but has less functionality.

Each size is distinct and has distinct characteristics. Other keyboard layouts exist like 65% and 40% that are less popular. As explained in our guide on how many keys are on a gaming keyboard, the number pad, home cluster, function row, arrow keys, and numbers are all eliminated as the keyboard shrinks. 

Here we provide examples of each type of layout and tips to choose the right one for you:

Tip 1. Choose a Full-Size Gaming Keyboard If You Need To Do Lots of Number Entries

Full-sized keyboards like this are ideal for users who need to enter a lot of data and often utilize the number pad. Full-sized keyboards are common in offices and are what most people envision when they think of a keyboard.

Full-sized keyboards feature a number pad, home cluster, function keys, and arrow keys. The number pad is usually on the right, while some keyboards have it on the left.

Full-size keyboards are the biggest of all the keyboards and gaming keyboard types, and they feature all the letters and function keys as well as an arrow clustered and a Numpad.
100% keyboards have fully spaced-out function keys, an arrow cluster, navigation, and Numpad that are separated so that they are easily identified. Source: TheWireCutter.

Tip 2. Pick a Tenkeyless (TKL) Keyboard if You Want Something Compact but Fully Functional

Tenkeyless keyboards like this usually feature 87 keys, which is the ideal configuration for balancing compactness and functionality. In contrast to full-sized keyboards, they lack a number pad, making the keyboard more compact and portable.

A more compact keyboard also frees up more workspace, allowing you to scribble notes onto a notepad like this on the side of your keyboard without feeling confined by a lack of space. Furthermore, because your mouse will be considerably closer to your hand when typing, you will have to move much less to reach for it. Tenkeyless keyboards still feature arrow keys, a home cluster, and function keys, so you should be able to game and type comfortably.

As noted in this blog post by Das Keyboard, with a TKL keyboard, you won’t need to learn a new layout when you use a TKL keyboard. As long as you can cope without a number pad you will have more space on your desk resulting in what might be a more comfortable position with the mouse being closer. You can also opt to use a separate Numpad like this should you need one.

A TKL gaming keyboard is a type of keyboard that is more compact than a full-size keyboard but has all the functionality of a full-size keyboard.
The TKL is a full-size keyboard that doesn’t have a Numpad, saving 4.25u in width, leaving it with 88 total keys at 18.25u. Source: TheWireCutter.

Tip 3. Opt for a 75% Keyboard if You Want a Unique Keyboard Layout That’s Still Awesome

75% keyboards have a unique design. They are a little smaller version of a tenkeyless board, with the arrow keys and home cluster placed immediately next to each other with the home cluster aligned vertically to conserve space. This means that everything is packed in tightly and snugly. Because there are fewer 75% keyboards on the market, the selection to choose from will be limited.

It may take some time to adjust to the unusual key sizes and layout of this keyboard size. For example, the right shift key is often considerably smaller than usual. It will take some time to remember where the new home cluster is. Fortunately, these keys aren't utilized frequently so they shouldn't have a significant influence on typing or gaming.

The 75% gaming keyboard is a rare type of keyboard which means there is not that much of a selection to choose from.
The layout of the 75% keyboard is quite unusual and also uncommon. Source: MechType.

Tip 4. Try a 70% Keyboard If You Want Something Compact But With The Arrow Keys

70% keyboards like this push compactness to new heights. Instead of simply eliminating the number pad, these keyboards additionally eliminate the function row and the home cluster (on some layouts). This is the lowest keyboard size available that still has arrow keys.

Some people may find the lack of a home cluster or function row to be a significant disadvantage, while others may be unaffected. Everything boils down to your personal taste. Because they feature arrow keys and may be beneficial for navigating across a page while typing, 70% keyboards are still a perfect size to use for gaming.

A 70% gaming keyboard is the smallest type of keyboard that still features the arrow keys for navigation.
70% sized keyboards are portable, lightweight, and quite handy. Source: GeekHack.

Tip 5. Try a 60% Keyboard If You Want Something Popular and Easy To Find

A 60% keyboard like this one is popular among gamers and mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Although not as common as TKL or full-sized keyboards, there are several alternative 60% keyboards accessible online. They are the most well-known size for custom keyboard constructions due to their small, compact, and symmetrical form.

Because of their reduced size, switches, and keycaps for bespoke constructions can be quite inexpensive. Several PCB layouts and casing styles are also available for 60% keyboards.

The best type of gaming keyboard for customization is the 60% keyboard.
The benefits of 60% keyboards include great aesthetics and a compact layout. Source: GameProSg.

Summary of Keyboard Sizes

Keyboard Size Why You Should Choose This Size Example Product
Full-Size If you want all the keys of a standard keyboard Merdia Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
Tenkeyless If you want something compact and comfortable Cherry Stream Tkl Keyboard
75% If you want an uncommon but user-friendly keyboard NuPhy Air75 Mechanical Keyboard
70% If you want something compact that retains the arrow keys Rk Royal Kludge Rk71 Mechanical Keyboard
60% If you’re looking for something completely compact HyperX Alloy Origins 60 - Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

You may also be interested in learning the difference between a gaming keyboard and a keypad. Be sure to read our related article to find out more.

What Are the Best Gaming Keyboard Features?

The keyboard that comes with your PC may be adequate for casual emails and essays, but if you want to get serious about gaming, you'll need the proper equipment. Professional gaming teams do not compete with regular keyboards for a reason. Competitive gaming keyboards are designed for maximum performance and dependability even after years of hard use and abuse.

The best gaming keyboard features are RGB lighting, macro keys, ergonomics, N-key rollover and anti-ghosting. Choose a keyboard with these features for optimal performance. 

However, note that the best features for a gaming keyboard vary for each person, so it’s best to consider your individual needs and preferences. So, what makes a gaming keyboard so special? This section focuses on the features that will have a serious impact on your gaming prowess.

RGB Lighting Allows for Customizable Lighting Effects 

Most gaming keyboards like this one include backlighting, ranging from single color to full RGB which can have 16.8 million colors. Single-color backlit keyboards can have their brightness adjusted but not much else. Individual key color and effect customization (breathe, wave, color-shift, etc.) is available with full RGB backlighting.  As mentioned in this blog post by Corsair Technical Marketing, your keyboard and its keycaps have to feel and look good.

An important feature for any type of gaming keyboard is RGB lighting.
RGB lighting can be utilized for aesthetics and better usage at night. Source: Corsair.

Macro Keys Provide Quick Access to Frequently Used Commands

Gaming keyboards allow you to reprogram the function of any key. You can use the included software to record a sequence of keystrokes and mouse clicks. This is useful for activating multiple skills or abilities with a single tap. Some gaming keyboards like this one even have additional unassigned keys meant specifically for macros.

For example, a macro key can be bound to launch Steam or Discord, trigger an insanely complex combo on cooldown, or load a game-specific profile with all your favorite presets.

The macro keys of a gaming keyboard can be programmed to perform many different commands.
Macro keys allow you to reprogram the function of any of its keys. Source: Make Tech Easier.

Ergonomics Help Reduce Discomfort During Long Gaming Sessions

When it comes to gaming, comfort is crucial. Most gaming keyboards like this one have wrist rests to protect your wrists from cramping up after hours of intensive gaming. This study from Occupational Ergonomics, found that ergonomic keyboards led to reductions in muscle strain in various muscle groups and improved comfort compared to conventional keyboards. 

Another typical feature is the presence of handy key positions, such as rubberized WASD keys, or the replacement of the windows key by the control key, which may be immensely disruptive if pushed during a heated gaming session.  

The ergonomic features of a keyboard are an important consideration for comfort during extended gaming sessions.
Gaming for long hours will be more bearable if your keyboard has ergonomic features. Source: Forbes.

N-Key Rollover and Anti-Ghosting Ensure that All Key presses Are Accurately Registered 

N-key rollover may be quite useful in gaming. Your performance will undoubtedly suffer if the system only detects some of your keystrokes. N-key rollover is also useful for persons who can type fast enough to press two keys virtually simultaneously. 

Ghosting is an uncommon condition that indicates a significant design defect in modern keyboards. Inspect the keyboard to confirm that it has anti-ghosting technology. Use an online keyboard tester to check the availability of anti-ghosting technology on the keyboard. You can use an online keyboard tester like this one from Microsoft to check the presence of anti-ghosting technology on the keyboard. If your keyboard happens to be showing the effects of ghosting or the keys are freezing even though it has n-key rollover and anti-ghosting tech, then the keyboard is most likely damaged. You can check out our article on how to unfreeze a laptop keyboard for tips on how to fix this kind of issue.

The types of keyboard features that you choose, such as N-key rollover, will have a profound effect on your gaming performance.
N-key rollover is useful for making sure that the keys you press simultaneously all register. Source: HardZone.

Summary of Gaming Keyboard Features To Look Out For

Gaming Keyboard Feature Why It Is Useful or Good for Gaming Example Product With This Feature
RGB Lighting To enhance the aesthetics and improve functionality in low-light settings Redragon K511 Pro Rgb Gaming Keyboard
Macro Keys To program functionality of a key Corsair K95 Rgb Platinum Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
Ergonomics To avoid pain and fatigue from prolonged usage Cloud Nine ErgoTkl Ergonomic Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard
N-Key Rollover and Anti-Ghosting To avoid unregistered keypresses Hp Pavilion Gaming Wired Mechanical Keyboard

Types of Gaming Keyboard Switches and How To Choose the Ones That Are Right for You

Finding the appropriate sort of keyboard switch for you might be difficult, whether you're building a mechanical keyboard or purchasing one that is pre-built. Switches are classified into three types: tactile, clicky, and linear. Most large corporations name them brown (tactile), blue (clicky), and red (linear); However, this varies by brand. Each has a distinct feel and delivers its own auditory feedback.

The three types of keyboard switches are linear switches, tactile switches, and clicky switches. Use a linear switch if you don’t want to feel a bump before the key press is registered. Use a tactile switch for good tactile feedback. Use a clicky switch for tactile feedback with more audible clicks.

Each switch type has a different pre-travel and total trip distance and requires a different operating force. The switches contain various parts that usually determine their quality and how well they will perform. According to this product page by Corsair, gold crosspoint contacts are useful for reliable registration. In addition to that, gold also gives coil springs more precision for a consistent key feel.

You can choose from the following switch options:

Option 1. Linear Switches

Linear switches like these differ entirely from tactile or clicky switches. They are good for gaming because they are light to press and don't provide tactile feedback as there is no incline bump when the key pressed is actuated, although this is a matter of personal choice. The major disadvantage of linear switches is that they are so sensitive that you may not realize you've pressed a key if you use them for typing. However, certain linear varieties with a greater working force are not as sensitive. Linear switches are silent so they will not disturb anyone around you.

Linear switches are the quietest type of gaming keyboard switch.
There is no obvious bump when a key with a linear switch is pushed. Source: MechKeybs.

Option 2. Tactile Switches

Tactile switches like these are the most common switches found on the market. They're recognized for providing a nice balance for typing and gaming since they provide strong tactile feedback and aren't too hefty to push, depending on the manufacturer. This is great for typing because it informs you when you're about to record a keypress and helps to minimize errors. They're a wonderful place to start if you are searching for your first mechanical keyboard.

They're also quieter than other switch types, although they can make a lot of noise if you bottom out the keys. As highlighted in this YouTube video by Switch and Click, even though tactile switches are typically quieter than clicky switches, some might still be too loud. You do some tests or check online to ensure the loudness of your desired switch is to your satisfaction.

Tactile switches are generally quiet but may still produce an audible sound.
Tactile switches offer good tactile input and aren't too heavy to press. Source: MechKeybs.

Option 3. Clicky Switches

Tactile switches and clicky switches are quite similar. They make an auditory click and give the same tactile sensation, making them quite popular for typing. This might be especially troublesome if you operate in an open-office setting, as the loud noise may irritate those around you.

Clicky switches like these are a type of mechanical key switch that has a distinct tactile bump as well as a "click" sound when pressed. They are intentionally noisy in order to provide more feedback when typing. The audible clicks indicate that the keys are being pushed while you type. Most keyboard enthusiasts who like clicky switches enjoy the feel and sound they produce.

A popular type of mechanical switch for gaming keyboards is the clicky switch which produces a satisfying click every time a key is pressed.
Clicky switches provide an audible click as well as a tactile sensation. Source: Mech Keys.

Summary of Mechanical Switches for Gaming Keyboards:

What Are Your Gaming Keyboard Needs?  Gaming Keyboard Switch Type That’s Best for You Why Example Product
I want a gaming keyboard for typing, and gaming Tactile Switches They provide strong tactile feedback and aren't too hefty to push. Durock T1 Tactile Keyboard Switches
I want an audible sound when I press the keys Clicky Switches They are designed to produce a click when pushed Gateron KS-9 Rgb Mechanical Mx Type Key Switch
I want sensitive switches for gaming Linear Switches They don’t have an actuation bump Feker x Matcha Linear Switches

If you're looking for a fully customizable keyboard, you might want to check out our article explaining how to use a custom gaming keyboard builder. This step-by-step guide will show you exactly how to create the gaming keyboard you've been waiting for!


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