Tactile vs. Non-tactile Membrane Switches: Which Is Right for Your Product?

Tactile Feedback Design


Membrane switches are affordable, customizable, and highly functional user interface components. Custom built for a wide array of products throughout the consumer electronics, medical, and industrial markets, membrane switches are durable and reliable tools that allow users to easily interact with a device.

Essentially functioning as a switch that controls when a circuit is open or closed, membrane switches tend to provide the same functionality as physical knobs, dials, or buttons. But because membrane switches can be used in concert with polycarbonate, acrylic, or other durable graphic overlays, they act as a resilient, reliable method of product interaction that’s easy to maintain in even the harshest of environments.

What are the different types of membrane switches?

There are two key types of membrane switches: tactile and non-tactile. While each provides the same essential functionality for a user to control a specific interaction with a device, tactile and non-tactile interactions offer noticeably different user experiences:

  • Tactile membrane switches  provide a physical, tactile response when pressed. When interacting with a tactile switch, a user typically presses on a metal or plastic dome beneath the graphic overlay, providing an unmistakable feeling that a “button” is being pressed. Tactile switches can be fitted to a wide variety of shapes and sizes and require different amounts of actuation force in order to fulfill particular functions.
  • Non-tactile membrane switches  do not provide a physical, tactile response when pressed. Because tactile feedback cannot be felt, activating a non-tactile switch typically triggers a sound or light to indicate that the function has been performed. Because additional layers intended to provide a tactile response are not required by non-tactile membrane switches, these devices tend to be the least expensive option for product interaction.

Choosing between a tactile and non-tactile membrane switch depends on the specific use case, interaction preference, and the overall cost of a product’s components.

What are the pros and cons of tactile membrane switches? 

In applications where eliciting physical feedback is essential for the product design, tactile membrane switches are the ideal solution. Because tactile membrane switches are highly customizable and responsive to different amounts of force, providing clear feedback from a user interaction can deliver a much more positive user experience.

Tactile switches, however, require a greater number of physical components and can cost more to design and assemble. In instances in which reliability and price concerns outweigh the user interface, tactile feedback may prove to be an expensive luxury.

What are the pros and cons of non-tactile membrane switches? 

Non-tactile membrane switches are far less complex to manufacture. Because they have fewer components, they can be manufactured at the lowest possible price. However, they can also require a different type of feedback to inform the user that a device has been interacted with, such as playing a tone or emitting light, so additional costs and complexities may be involved.

Because non-tactile membrane switches do not produce a physical response, users may experience a less-than-satisfying experience after pressing a button. In instances where tactile feedback is not important, non-tactile membrane switches can nevertheless provide a cost-effective method of user interaction.

When should a company choose a tactile membrane switch or a non-tactile membrane switch?

Determining whether a tactile switch or non-tactile switch is best for a specific product can depend entirely on the particular use case.

Generally speaking, tactile switches are ideal for circumstances in which it’s important for a user to feel as if they have pressed a physical working button, such as on medical equipment or in a factory setting. Non-tactile switches are good choices for companies looking to save money on manufacturing costs and in instances where physical feedback isn’t necessary.

Since 1960, JN White® has manufactured critical technology components to help companies bring their products to life. To determine whether a tactile or non-tactile switch is the right fit for your product, contact JN White today !

Posted on August 31, 2020. Categorized as .

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JN White is an ISO 9001:2015 and ITAR-certified manufacturer of membrane switches, graphic overlays, and custom labels. All of our products are Made In The U.S.A. We specialize in the design and manufacture of complex graphic overlays, complex membrane switch keyboards, assembly and membrane switch testing. Our supporting products and services include: rapid prototyping; electronic shielding (ESD); backlighting (including addressable LEDs); design & development; vendor managed inventory (VMI); and medical device, UDI and UL label constructions. JN White works with global brands in the aerospace, medical device, medical instruments, industrial electronics, consumer appliance and defense (or military/DoD) industries. Made in America. Made in the U.S.