Tactile switches are on/off actuator components - basic electronic switches - that must be physically touched or pressed down to close a circuit and deliver a signal. Tactile switches typically only register an input while manually pressed by the user, and return to a default ‘off’ position on release.
Often shortened to tact switches, these simple and common switch types are often used as components in PCB-based (printed circuit board) systems. Everyday examples include computer keyboards, keypads or number pads, instrument panels, and many other interface control applications.
What are the main differences between tactile switches?
- Terminal type - tactile switches are available in many different configurations for mounting to PCBs and other device circuits.
- Among the most common terminal types are surface mount (the switch is soldered directly to the surface of the PCB) and through-hole mount (the switch features leg pins that pass through the PCB before being soldered or crimped)
- Other options include screw-in, tabbed, or gull wing tact switches
- Switch operation - most tactile switches are typically either latched, momentary or off(on) type.
- Actuator type - the physical characteristics of the switch interface itself, and how it's operated by the user.
- Common options include standard button tactile switches, cap switches, plunger switches, push plate switches, and stem tactile switches
- Actuator length and travel distance - actuator length refers to the physical height of the button part itself, while travel distance denotes the depth of the press required before the tactile switch registers as active/on.
- Operating force - the amount of physical weight you'll need to apply in order to move the switch.
- IP rating - the level of ingress protection a tactile switch offers the underlying PCB against dirt, moisture and other particles.
- Mechanical life - usually measured in number of cycles (presses and returns), this indicates the rated durability of a tactile switch under simulated long-term use.
- Tactile switch caps are an easy way to accessorise tact switches in order to colour code or differentiate different switches in an array.