Membrane switches vs. mechanical switches

How do they differ?

Switches are a critical control component for many types of devices because they control electricity as it flows through a circuit. An open switch allows electricity to flow between two components, and a closed switch breaks the circuit by interrupting the electrical current. There are many different types of switches, two of which are mechanical switches and membrane switches. This post will explore the differences between the two switch types to help you determine the right type of switch for your application.

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Differences in materials and construction

Most mechanical switches are composed of copper and plastic. Copper has become a popular material for manufacturing mechanical switches because it’s highly conductive, reasonably inexpensive, and easy to source. Mechanical switches are fairly complex because they have a number of parts, such as a housing, an actuator, a spring, and electrical contacts. The actuation is typically achieved by pressing the actuator, which moves the electrical contacts together to complete the circuit.

Alternatively, membrane switch manufacturing usually incorporates an electric conductive ink (generally made with copper, silver, or graphite) printed onto a substrate made of indium tin oxide (ITO) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). To actuate a membrane switch, the user presses the top layer, which causes it to make contact with the conductive traces on the bottom layer and complete the circuit. For more information about NMG capabilities as a mechanical switch and membrane switch manufacturer, visit our website.

membrane switch assembly

Side-by-side comparison: construction of membrane switches vs mechanical switches (diagram of a pressure switch on right sourced from


One easy way to differentiate a membrane switch from a mechanical switch is that a membrane switch is flexible, while a mechanical switch isn’t. In fact, ASTM International (which develops technical standards) includes flexibility as a key component of its definition of a membrane switch: “a momentary switch device in which at least one contact is on, or made of, a flexible substrate.” A membrane switch’s flexible circuit allows it to bend and flex, whereas a mechanical switch can’t. This makes membrane switches more appropriate in certain applications.


As described above, mechanical switches rely on multiple parts to function. In comparison, membrane switches can be much more space-efficient, because they are inherently thin and flat. Because of their low-profile, membrane switches are often preferred for applications where space is limited.

mechanical switch - toggle switch type

Tactile feel

Mechanical switches are known for their tactile feel and feedback. They offer a satisfying "click" or "bump" when the actuation point is reached, providing a clear indication that the keypress has been registered. Membrane switches, in general, have a softer and quieter actuation with less pronounced tactile feedback. While domes can be added into the membrane switch assembly to increase the tactile feel, the keypress will generally be softer and smoother than that of a mechanical switch.

Resistance to moisture and contaminants

Because they can be sealed closed, membrane switches are more protective against moisture and other contaminants—and can therefore achieve higher IP ratings. Oftentimes the top layer of a membrane switch is waterproof, and a properly sealed membrane switch can keep water, dust, etc. from getting inside. If you need a water resistant switch, consider a special type of membrane switch with a Kapton flex circuit. A Kapton circuit uses copper and polyimide instead of silver to increase the current capacity and moisture resistance of the switch versus a traditional membrane or mechanical switch.


As mentioned above, mechanical switches are fairly complex and include a number of components. Because membrane switches are easier to design and have fewer parts, they are less expensive to manufacture. In addition, the materials and manufacturing processes used to make membrane switches are typically less expensive than those used in mechanical switches. Add that assembly of a membrane switch is generally quicker than that of a mechanical switch, and the cost savings increase further.

While membrane and mechanical switches can serve the same purpose, their differences make both switches a good fit in certain applications. For example, mechanical switches are commonly used when precision and tactile feedback are important, such as mechanical keyboards, gaming peripherals, and some industrial control panels. Membrane switches are often used in applications where cost-effectiveness, low-profile design, and resistance to environmental factors like dust and moisture are critical. Common applications include consumer electronics, medical devices, and appliances.

Looking for help with your mechanical or membrane switch manufacturing? Nelson Miller Group provides engineering design, manufacturing, and supply chain support for all your switch needs. Contact us to learn more!

a graphic reading supply chain terms

About NMG 

NMG has more than 85 years of experience partnering with organizations to bring their industrial, IoT, lighting, medical, telecommunications, consumer, and aerospace products to life. We solve your most complex challenges in engineering design, manufacturing, and supply chain management.  

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