If you’re planning to buy a new keyboard in the near future, you might be wondering whether to choose an island-style or membrane keyboard. All keyboards consist of rows of buttons. Each button is essentially a switch that controls an underlying circuit. Keyboards, however, use different mechanisms to control their switches.

There are island-style and membrane keyboards. To learn more about these two common types of keyboards and how they differ, keep reading.

What Is an Island-Style Keyboard?

An island-style keyboard is a type of low-profile keyboard that’s characterized by the use of flat, rectangular-shaped keys. Island-style keyboards emerged during the 1980s as an alternative to the large and clunky keyboards at the time. Since then, island-style keyboards have become increasingly popular. They are used in laptop computers, desktop computers and other electrical devices that require a keyboard peripheral for input commands.

What Is a Membrane Keyboard?

A membrane keyboard, on the other hand, is a type of keyboard that features pressure pads. More specifically, membrane keyboards consist of three layers. They feature a top membrane layer and a bottom membrane layer. Between these layers is a third layer: the spacer or holes layer.

The spacer layer lives up to its namesake by creating space between the top membrane layer and the bottom membrane layer. When you press a key, you’ll force the top membrane layer into the spacer layer so that it touches the bottom layer. This will complete the circuit while allowing the membrane keyboard to register your keypress.

Differences Between Island-Style and Membrane Keyboards

Island-style is actually a type of membrane keyboard technology. They feature a similar design consisting of membrane layers. Whether you have an island-style or membrane keyboard, pressing a key will force the top membrane layer into the spacer layer, thus allowing it to make contact with the underlying layer. Nonetheless, island-style and membrane keyboards aren’t the same.

Island-style keyboards typically have molded-rubber keys. The keys may be soft, or they may be hard. Regardless, island-style keyboards have molded-rubber keys, whereas other types of membrane keyboards generally do not. You can distinguish between island-style and membrane keyboards simply by looking for molded-rubber keys, which are found in the former.

Island-style keyboards may produce more tactile feedback. You’ll be able to feel a stronger response as the keys spring back up. Membrane keyboards can produce tactile feedback as well, but it may not be as noticeable as island-style keyboards’ tactile feedback.