What is actuation force?

Guides & Resources

Jun 01 2021

Explaining Mechanical Switch Actuation Force

When searching around for switches online, you may notice a value labeled "actuation force" represented in grams (g). For example, Gateron Red switches have an actuation force of 45g, Blacks are 50g, and Greens are 80g. This value is what it sounds like: the amount of force needed to activate the switch. Actuation force significantly affects your mechanical keyboard's overall typing experience, so understanding these values is essential when deciding which switch to use in your next build.

We want to emphasize that actuation force and spring weight are not the same things. Some vendors display their switch's spring weight instead of actuation force, which can confuse the average consumer as both values are measured in grams. A heavier spring weight does not necessarily mean a heavier actuation force and vice versa. Switch type, stem shape, spring length, and more are all factors that affect actuation force. If the vendor does not display actuation force on their site, check the manufacturer's site or forums to find this information.

Lighter Switches

Switches with a lighter actuation force are ideal for fast-paced gaming, allowing users to activate the key they need in a pinch. This lighter weight also helps reduce fatigue during long gaming and productivity sessions. However, errant fingers can accidentally activate switches with a lower actuation force, causing mistakes while typing and gaming. Additionally, lighter switches allow you to bottom out your keycaps much more effortlessly than their heavier counterparts. Some users may like the sound of their switches striking their keyboard's plate, but others may want a more gentle, pillow-like typing experience.

Commonly used switches with a lighter actuation force include Gateron Clears, Browns, and Reds. Clears are incredibly lightweight, requiring a lower force requirement than most switches on the market. Reds and Browns are commonly found in pre-built boards due to their middle-of-the-road nature, acting as a perfect sweet spot for the average user.

Heavier Switches

Heavier switches require more force to actuate than their lighter counterparts. Accidental key presses are less common as slightly grazing a switch will not lead to activation. Switches are not as easy to bottom out as the force required to do so is noticeably greater. Reducing the number of keycaps striking the plate creates a quieter typing experience than the typewriter sound lighter switches make. For some users, switches with a heavier actuation force can cause finger fatigue after long sessions. The amount of power constantly required to activate the keys when typing can strain your hands, encouraging you to take frequent breaks. Fatigue varies from user to user, so we recommend using a switch test kit to test your endurance before committing to heavier switches.

Greens are the heaviest switches in Gateron's lineup, coming in at 80g. We recommend testing these clicky switches before committing, as they are not for every user. More accessible switches in this category include Gateron Blacks, which provide a higher actuation force than Red linear switches without being unwieldy.


In Conclusion

There is no perfect mechanical keyboard switch. Some users prefer a lighter actuation force; others prefer a heavier weight. We hope this article gives you a greater frame of reference when shopping around for switches to add to your next keyboard. As mentioned above, we suggest using a test pack to try a wide variety of switches with varying actuation forces and spring weights.