There are many things that consumers have to consider when building a custom keyboard. However, the one component that they should spend most of their attention on is the PCB. More specifically, they should pay attention to the switch orientation/the position of the LEDs on the keyboard.
North-facing keyboard switches will illuminate the keycaps better since the LEDs are found directly under the legends. However, they will interfere with Cherry profile keycaps such as the ones found on GMK sets. For this reason, mechanical keyboard enthusiasts prefer South-facing switches over North-facing switches.
The orientation of the switches will largely determine what kind of keycaps are compatible with the keyboard. This is extremely important, especially since the keycaps play a huge role in the custom keyboard build. Making a wrong decision here may result in having to build an entirely new keyboard.
In this article, we will be diving deeper into the difference between north and south-facing switches.
What Are North-Facing Switches?
North-facing switches are when the switch LED through-hole (or for switches without the through-hole, the location the through-hole would normally be in) faces “north” towards the top of the keyboard when seated in the socket on your keyboard’s PCB. North-facing switches are more common than south-facing switches.
North-Facing Switch Pros and Cons
- North-facing switches have better RGB shine through.
- North-facing switches cause interference with Cherry profile keycaps.
What Are South-Facing Switches?
South facing switches are when the switch LED through-hole (or for switches without a hole, where it would normally be) faces “south” towards you when seated in the socket on your keyboard’s PCB. South-facing switches are less common than north-facing switches, but more manufacturers are starting to produce PCB’s with south-facing switch sockets.
South-Facing Switch Pros and Cons
South-facing switches don’t cause interference with Cherry profile keycaps.
- South-facing switches don’t offer as much RGB shine-through as north-facing switches.
Are North-Facing or South-Facing Switches Better?
Given the pros and cons of both, you’re probably better off with south-facing switches in your keyboard. South-facing switches will allow you to use any type of keycap without interference, which will give your keyboard a better sound and feel.
While shine-through keycaps are cool and look extremely appealing to folks who are new to the hobby, dye-sublimated PBT is the standard for quality mechanical keyboard builds. If you opt for north-facing switches and use dye-subbed keycaps, you’re losing the only really benefit a north-facing switch offers because you won’t see the shine-through on the keycap legends anyways.
Like with everything in the keyboard hobby though, it’s really up to preference and the right choice will vary depending upon what you like in a keyboard!