If you’re shopping for a new keyboard, you might be wondering whether to choose a flat-panel or full-travel membrane model. Both types have become popular alternatives to traditional dome-switch keyboards. As their names suggest, they feature a membrane substrate that’s ergonomic and comfortable to use. But there are several differences between flat-panel and full-travel membrane keyboard. To ensure you make the right decision, you should familiarize yourself with the nuances between these two keyboard styles.

Flat-Panel Membrane Keyboards Explained

You typically don’t find standard computer keyboards featuring flat-panel technology. Rather, they are used in applications such as household appliances, fax machines and photocopiers. Flat-panel membrane keyboards feature three layers. The top layer contains the printed icons and button designs, as well as conductive ink or material on the back. Next, there’s a spacer layer that contains air or inert gas, followed by a back layer that also contains conductive ink or material. The spacer layer is designed to separate the upper and bottom layers, preventing them from making contact. When a user presses a button, however, the upper and bottom layers of the flat-panel membrane keyboard meet, thereby registering the user’s command.

Full-Travel Membrane Keyboards Explained

Full-travel membrane keyboards are characterized by a one-piece design in which a membrane substrate is placed over an electrical switch matrix. When you press a key, the bottom part of the key touches the electrical contact underneath. Most full-travel membrane keyboards feature a spring at the bottom of the keys that pushes against the membrane substrate. While ergonomic and easy to use, however, full-travel membrane keyboards lack the tactile response of mechanical-switch keyboards.

What About Chiclet Keyboards?

A third type of keyboard technology is chicklet style. Also known as island-style keyboards, chiclet-style is commonly used to produce keyboards for computers (both desktop and laptop). They feature several small square-shaped keys, typically with rounder corners. Chiclet-style keyboards first appeared during the 1970s, with personal computers like the TRS-80 Color Computer and the Timex Sinclar 2068. Back then, however, they were generally regarded as being low-quality keyboards. It wasn’t until the 1990s when chiclet-style keyboards had improved and garner the approval of millions of consumers worldwide. Today, Chiclet-style keyboards are one of the most popular styles of keyboards for computers.

Although they are some of the most popular styles on the market, there are numerous other types of keyboards, including backling-spring, capacitive, mechanical and switch and more. Consider when and how you intend to use the keyboard, and choose the style that works best for your intended applications.