In this post, I’ll explain the main differences between north and south-facing switches so you can be better informed before making your purchase!
Simply explained, north-facing switches have a cutout for RGB on the top so the light can reach the keycap, while the south-facing switches (like in the picture above) have their RGB cutout located at the bottom of the switch.
Now let’s dive deeper into a couple of questions you might have!
What are north-facing switches?
North-facing switches are switches that have their RGB or LED strip located at the top, aka “north” of the keyboard. These are, as of writing, more common than south-facing switches, but they may be limited in their ability to accommodate all keycap profiles.
More on the issues later.
What are south-facing switches?
The south-facing are switches that have their RGB or LED strip located at the bottom, aka “south” of the keyboard. This type of switch has some noticeable benefits compared to north-facing switches!
What are the pros and cons of north vs south-facing switches?
There are significant differences between both types of switches, it may make or break the deal for some of you who are about to purchase your first mechanical keyboards or the ones that are enjoying the benefits of mechanical keyboards for a while.
It all depends on your preferences.
Pros and cons of north-facing switches:
- RGB light will shine through the top, which will give optimal lighting to the letters and symbols on the keycaps.
- Since it provides perfect lighting to the top of the keycaps, it will make it much easier to designate the letters and symbols in the dark!
- North-facing switches have problems with Cherry profile keycaps, technically they can work but typing experience and reliability will be less than optimal without some alterations to your stock keyboards.
- If you prefer the light to fill the gaps between the keycaps then it is going to be a con for you because north-facing switches don’t do that as well as south-facing ones.
Pros and cons of south-facing switches
- No compatibility issues with Cherry profile keycaps!
- It works seamlessly with almost all keycaps!
- The light will strongly fill the gaps below the switches, it is a pro if you prefer it this way!
- RGB light won’t be as effective as north-facing switches when it comes to lighting up the letters and symbols.
What is the point of south-facing LEDs?
South-facing LEDs have tremendous benefits, first of all, they have no interference problems with any Cherry profile keycaps or any other keycap for that matter.
Secondly, the LEDs on south-facing keycaps strongly fill the gap on the bottom of the switches, this may be more preferable depending on the user.
Finally, they are usually the preferred switch orientation of experienced mechanical keyboard users because there are just no headaches with south-facing switches, they ensure smooth operation and are compatible with basically everything!
What switches have no north-facing interference?
Several switches have no north-facing interference!
Know that none of these switches I’m about to list are guaranteed to not cause interference, some keycaps are thicker than others and might still bottom out prematurely.
So a little research goes a long way before you try these with any combination of keycaps!
- Glorious Panda
- Tecsee Ice Candy
- Tecsee Carrots
- Evil Airy
- NovelKeys Kailh Box Cream
- Kailh Deep Sea Ocean
- Everglides Peacock
- Dareu Violet Gold V2
- Daru Violet Gold
Best keycaps for north-facing switches
Let’s review some of the top-rated keycaps that work well with north-facing switches!
HK Gaming Pudding OEM profile keycaps have a translucent dual-layer design, which helps to let more light through, thanks to this you can unleash your RGB lights to their full potential!
Double-shot PBT has much better properties compared to ABS. Durability is tremendously increased, and legends and texture will stay the same for much longer!
HK Gaming 108 Pudding keycaps can fit 104, 87, 84, 82, and 60% of keyboards!
Reviews are good, people really seem to like the light show, smooth operation, and texture of the keycaps.
Some of the reviews suggest that there are some missing keys on the UK ISO layout so make sure you ask the seller at the time of purchase, the seller may change which keys they include since those reviews.
Overall, it seems like a good budget keycap set to grab for a great light show, smooth texture, and operation!
YMDK keycaps come in various colors, they are made from extremely durable double shot PBT, extending its texture and legend lifespan much longer compared to ABS.
These are great for people who want much less RGB than the previously mentioned HK Gaming Pudding keycaps. Most of the color schemes of YMDK are… less eye candy, but that could be a good thing if you prefer it that way!
Reviewers seem to really like these YMDK keycaps, most of the comments are commending its fine texture, great shine through, and operation.
YMDK OEM profile keycaps are compatible with 61, 87, 104, and 108 layouts and ANSI MX switches.
These YMDK OEM keycaps are not compatible with 64, 68, 75, 84, and 96 layouts!
All in all, YMDK Double Shot PBT OEM keycaps are a great option if you want to keep it minimalistic, elegant, and perfect. Yes, if you haven’t figured it out by now, these would be my choice among the ones we reviewed in this article!
These are some other keycaps that are also cool! (Not all of these are on Amazon, you’ll have to look for them on your search engine)
- Artifact Bloom Series Keycap Set: Glow
- IDOBAO Gradient Shine-Through PBT Sidelit Keycap Set
- TAIHAO PBT Doubleshot Keycaps Deep Forest Blue Green Backlit OEM Profile
- TAIHAO Sakura Michi PBT Doubleshot Backlit OEM Profile
Apart from these, there are hundreds of custom keycap manufacturers you can buy from, I can’t possibly put them all here so you’ll have to do a little research and see what keycaps you’ll like. There are even companies that make custom-order keycaps!
What causes north-facing switches to have interference?
Let’s talk about what actually makes north-facing switches to have interference with keycaps.
If the keycap or switch you are using checks one of the conditions below, it will cause interference.
- Keycap is too thick for that particular switch
- The keycap shape is not compatible with the switch, causing premature contact with unintended parts of the switch aka “not bottoming out”
- Stem is not sticking out long enough to prevent the switch from bottoming out prematurely
Why do mechanical keyboards use north-facing switches?
There are a couple of reasons for this, one of them being that north-facing switches are more common than south-facing switches, although my research suggests this is changing and south-facing switches are becoming more and more common than north-facing switches.
Another reason is that north-facing switches have a better shine-through and light up the legends on keycaps with a good volume of light.
Can I use Cherry profile keycaps on north-facing switches?
Yes, you can use cherry profile keycaps on north-facing switches. But the angle of the switch is different, so the keycaps wouldn't sit properly. Secondly, north-facing switches are usually taller than other switch types, so the keycaps would need to be smaller to fit properly.
Finally, north-facing switches typically have a different stem size than other switch types, so the keycaps wouldn't be compatible.
So I really don’t recommend using them with north-facing switches unless you are ready to do some alterations to your mechanical keyboard.
I’ll explain in detail what those alterations are, keep reading!
Does mechanical keyboard switch interference matter?
It depends, if you are in a pinch, you may ignore the less-than-ideal feel of pressing the keys, switches not bottoming out, and not giving good audio feedback from the press.
Also, it may increase wear and tear since keycaps will hit parts of the switch that they shouldn’t, on each press.
Other than these, it kinda works, emphasis on kinda.
What can I do to fix north-facing interference?
Yes, it is possible to fix north-facing interference if you are willing to explore a bit into the DIY side of things!
I’ll go from easy to hard so you won’t get discouraged right away.
- North-facing key-switch washers are the easiest to work with, just slap ‘em on your north-facing switch stems and they will most likely solve your interference issues. Might be hard to find for whatever reason, they are rare.
- Use switches with peeking stems, these stems stick out a few millimeters when they are fully pressed so the keycap doesn't prematurely bottom out, they basically do what we tried to achieve with the key switch washers but these are way more common to find, and still easy to work with.
- Alright now, this is the solution for y’all techies out there, the only thing you have to do is, change the PCB! If you have a north-facing PCB, just change it to a south-facing one! I know I know, easier said than done and it will definitely consume more time if you are new to this but it is an option to consider.
Which switch orientation is better?
Well, as in most things, it depends on your preferences.
North and south-facing switches both have their pros and cons.
If you want to be truly universal and want your switches to be compatible with all keycap profiles, want smooth operation when pressing keys, and want the light to fill the gaps below the switches more than the top, then south-facing switches should be your choice.
North-facing switches have their advantages as well, they provide the best volume of light for the letters and symbols on your keycaps. This also massively helps typing in the dark but that’s pretty much it.
Personally, I would definitely go for south-facing switches for a headache-free experience, I got a desk light so it’s okay if legends are not that visible in the dark.
You do you!
Can you change switch orientation on your PCB?
No, it is not possible to change the switch orientation of your PCB, there are holes drilled straight into the PCB to accommodate a specific switch whether it’s north or south. You’d have to change the whole PCB if you want to use the other switch orientation.
In conclusion, mechanical keyboards are very flexible, with a little bit of technical know-how and curiosity, you can adapt your mechanical keyboards to almost any combination of switches and keycaps, there are a whole lot of YouTube guides to follow so you can have an easy time doing these operations yourself!
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