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Standard-Height vs. Low-Profile Keyboard Switches: What’s the Difference?

Standard-Height vs. Low-Profile Keyboard Switches: What’s the Difference?

Low-profile keyboard switches can help improve your typing speed and reduce the strain on your fingers. However, they’re not significantly different from standard mechanical switches and have some notable downsides. Let’s examine these switch form factors to determine which is better for your next keyboard.

Standard vs. Low-Profile Keyboard Switches: Side-by-Side Comparison

Standard-HeightLow-Profile
Stem HeightRaisedRaised, Flat
Stem ShapeVariesVaries
Compatible Keycap ProfilesAllLow-Profile
Actuation Distance2mm1.2–1.5mm
Full-Travel Distance3.2–4mm1.8–4mm
Durable and Reliable
Cherry Mx Silent Red Switches for Mechanical Keyboards
$41.20
  • 65 total pieces
  • Stainless steel springs
  • Operating force 45g
  • 3.7 mm total travel
  • Patented damping technology minimizes operating noises
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/11/2024 01:51 pm GMT

Standard vs. Low-Profile Keyboard Switches: What’s the Difference?

Switch Height

The first significant difference between standard and low-profile keyboard switches is the switch height. Low-profile switches are exactly what it says on the tin: flatter, lower-height switches that give the keyboard a slimmer form factor.

As a result, low-profile switches are physically not as tall as a typical mechanical switch. The total travel distance of a mechanical keyboard switch varies, but low-profile switches are typically at least 0.8mm shorter than standard ones.

The housing also has a different overall shape due to the difference in design theory. Standard mechanical switches have a dome-like housing that accommodates standard height keycaps. Low-profile ones tend to be as flat as possible since they’re trying to reduce the size of the keyboard height.

As you can see from the picture below, the standard-sized Gateron switch on the right is significantly taller than the low-profile Redragon switch on the left.

Standard-height keyboard switches are taller than low-profile ones.

Since low-profile switches are shorter, you must also adjust your keycap height. If the keycaps are too tall, they will strike the backplate and knock the switches loose if they aren’t solder to the PCB. Installing regular height keycaps on low-profile switches can cause severe key wobble, which may not damage the keyboard but is super annoying since you can’t type effectively when the keys are wobbling.

Spring Length

Mechanical switches use a spring system to return the switch from the depressed position to the upright position. Without the springs, the keys would stay down when you pressed them. The spring also provides resistance for the keys, improving the keypress feel.

Since low-profile switches are smaller, the spring inside must also be smaller. This size differential means you can’t just shove your standard mechanical keyboard switch springs into your new low-profile switches. You must buy actual low-profile springs if you want to change them out.

Unfortunately, there’s not as much demand for low-profile mechanical switch parts. The form factor doesn’t have as much of a foothold in the keyboard world, although it is becoming more popular. As a result, you’ll have fewer options when changing your switch springs if you have low-profile switches.

For many people, this won’t be an issue. However, some people are used to using switches modified to have extremely light springs. Standard keyboard switches sit around 45–60g, but some prefer springs as light as 35g. If you choose low-profile switches, you may be unable to find springs that fit both your switch and your preferences.

This issue could also arise if you need to replace a spring in your keyboard. You won’t be able just to pick the first springs you see on Amazon. You must ensure that the replacement springs will fit inside the housing.

Travel Distance

The travel distance of low-profile switches is generally shorter than their standard-height counterparts, in no small part due to the smaller form factor. On average, a standard mechanical switch is around 18mm in total, including the whole mechanism and its housing. A mechanical keyboard switch’s average total travel distance is approximately 4mm. Comparatively, the average low-profile keyboard switch has a full travel distance of 3.2mm or shorter. 

The actuation distance (how far the switch must travel for the computer to register the keypress) is typically around 2mm for standard switches. In comparison, low-profile switches can have an actuation distance of less than 1mm.

Stem Shape

There are also differences in stem shape when using low-profile switches. While the switches we have available for photos both have a Cherry MX-compatible stem, you may also see Kaihua’s Kailh Choc V1 stems, which have an entirely different form factor from the typical Cherry MX-compatible cross stem.

Kailh Choc V1 switches have a flat, wide stem that isn’t compatible with Cherry MX-style keycaps. Thus, you’ll have to purchase keycaps with that in mind if you have a keyboard with those switches.

Keycap Shape

Mechanical keyboards aren’t typically known for their portability. However, low-profile keyboards do prioritize being portable to some extent. They may not be as portable as foldable membrane keyboards, but they’re still ultimately looking to build a super lightweight keyboard to stick in your bag.

As we mentioned above, low-profile switches require keycaps with a unique height. However, they also need to have the right shape. Since the switches are much flatter, the keycaps must also be flatter. This difference comes more from the design theory behind low-profile keyboards than a physical requirement.

The point of a low-profile keyboard is to reduce the physical size, both laterally and vertically. Most of the keyboard’s vertical height comes from the keycaps. Thus, reducing the physical size of the keycap to the bare minimum will reduce the height.

Additionally, while a single keycap is negligible, an entire keyboard’s worth adds some bulk to the unit, especially if they’re all double-shot plastic. In a form factor where every ounce counts, cutting as much material as possible is crucial to lowering the weight as best as possible.

All of these form factor requirements make low-profile keycaps unique. While a standard Cherry MX-compatible board can use low-profile keycaps, the reverse is typically untrue. Full-height keycaps will knock low-profile switches loose and make the keyboard hard to use.

Low-profile switches won’t typically fit standard-height keycaps.

Available Switches

Low-profile switches aren’t a brand-new concept, but they’re not nearly as popular as low-profile membrane keyboards or standard-height mechanical keyboards. Ultimately, companies are less likely to have invested as much time or resources into building an extensive selection of low-profile switches.

There are some notable switch choices; Cherry MX has a relatively good selection of low-profile switches, as do Gateron, Keychron, and Razer. Kaihua has the Chocolate (Choc) series V1 and V2 low-profile switches.

However, when you compare it to the hundreds of standard switch options, there’s just no comparison. There are also fewer options for premium low-profile switches.

Pricing

Low-profile switches are a commodity in the current market. They’re not considered a de facto feature and, thus, you’ll have to pay extra for them. You can get 65 Cherry MX switches for around $40, depending on your desired switch. Their low-profile switches are around $60 for the same package amount.

Great for a Smooth Typing Experience
KAILH Low Profile Mechanical Keyboard Switches Choc V2
$17.36
  • Low profile structure for thinner keyboards
  • Linear, 5-pin configuration
  • Operation force 50gf
  • Total travel 3.2mm (±0.25mm)
  • Lifespan 50 million keystrokes
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/11/2024 01:42 pm GMT

Standard vs. Low-Profile Keyboard Switches: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • Low-profile switches are physically shorter than standard switches.
  • Low-profile keycaps are compatible with standard switches but not vice versa.
  • Kaihua’s Kailh Choc V1 low-profile switches have an entirely different stem shape, making them incompatible with standard cross-shaped keycaps.
  • Low-profile switches are more expensive than standard-height ones.
  • There are more options for standard-height switch modifications like springs. 

Standard vs. Low-Profile Keyboard Switches: Which Ones Should I Use?

low-profile keyboard switches
Choosing between a low-profile and standard-height mechanical keyboard isn’t always a simple yes/no answer.

The difference between using standard and low-profile keyboard switches is not extreme. Having used both low-profile and standard-height keyboards, you aren’t losing much choosing one or the other unless one of them is a membrane keyboard and the other is mechanical. However, here are some considerations you should make when choosing between them.

Customizability

This is the most important distinguishing factor between low-profile and standard-height mechanical switches. If you choose low-profile switches, you will naturally restrict your customizability options. Low-profile switch selections are smaller and require you to use low-profile keycaps and springs.

For example, Kailh Choc V1 switches are only compatible with their associated keycaps. If you’re interested in serious keyboard modification, we recommend standard-height switches, as you’ll have more options to modify your keyboard.

Even if you don’t plan to modify the board, if you want options later, buy standard-height switches. Low-profile switches remain less popular than standard-height ones. So, purchasing standard-height switches is better if you want to control your experience with your keyboard.

This issue may even bleed into general switch maintenance, as many low-profile switches can’t be opened the same way standard-height ones can. Improving the sound and feel may be impossible, even if you find replacement parts.

Travel and Acutation Distance

Keyboards with shorter travel and actuation distances can be easier on the hands and fingers than the alternative. Thus, if you have a condition that affects your hand and finger mobility, such as arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, consider buying a keyboard with low-profile switches!

The actuation distance of a low-profile switch can be as short as 0.8mm, making them exceptionally easy to press. This short distance can also improve response times for gamers who need to make split-second inputs.

Combining a low profile with a smooth switch chamber and a light spring can reduce the pressure to actuate the key. However, your work will be cut out when you look for replacement springs for low-profile switches. Amazon’s selection is virtually nonexistent — I could not find any explicitly made for low-profile switches. 

Portability

Realistically, a mechanical keyboard should not be your first choice if you want a portable keyboard. Mechanical keyboards are far less portable by design — the switch matrix can’t bend and fold like a membrane can. The design theory focuses on improved performance at the cost of mobility and small form factors.

However, if you’re dead set on having the most mobile mechanical keyboard, a low-profile tenkeyless model might be a good option. These keyboards are relatively thin and small. You can easily pop it in your bag and bring it with you. Still, if portability is your biggest concern, a foldable membrane keyboard is your best bet.

  1. KAILH Low Profile Mechanical Keyboard Switches Choc V2
    $17.36
    • Low profile structure for thinner keyboards
    • Linear, 5-pin configuration
    • Operation force 50gf
    • Total travel 3.2mm (±0.25mm)
    • Lifespan 50 million keystrokes
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    03/11/2024 01:42 pm GMT
  2. Cherry Mx Silent Red Switches for Mechanical Keyboards
    $41.20
    • 65 total pieces
    • Stainless steel springs
    • Operating force 45g
    • 3.7 mm total travel
    • Patented damping technology minimizes operating noises
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    03/11/2024 01:51 pm GMT

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the differences between standard-height and low-profile keyboard switches?

Low-profile keyboard switches are generally shorter and have different stem shapes and smaller springs. Additionally, you may be unable to open a low-profile switch like a standard-height one.

Do low-profile switches improve keyboard performance?

Low-profile switches may improve response time since the switches have a shorter travel distance.

Are low-profile keyboard switches more ergonomic than standard-height?

The shorter travel distance can be helpful for users who need to put less pressure on their fingers as they can actuate the key with a lighter touch.

Are all keycaps compatible with low-profile switches?

Standard-height keycaps are too tall for low-profile switches and may knock them loose if not soldered to the PCB. Additionally, Kailh Choc V1 low-profile switches have a unique stem shape that makes them incompatible with standard Cherry MX-style keycaps.

Are low-profile switches more expensive than standard-height ones?

Low-profile switches tend to be more expensive than standard height switches.

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