Gateron Yellows - the John Everyman of MX-pattern switches, and apparent test-bed of experimentation for their manufacturer. Probably the most recommended gateway-drug into linear switches, the Yellow has played a big role in defining the linear landscape.
And yet, there is no one true Yellow - in fact, there may be more permutations of Gateron Yellow than total entries in Cherry’s entire pre-2015 MX lineup.
My instigating motivation for making this post is actually to find out ways of distinguishing two specific examples, but I thought it might better serve the forum to have a thread to focus on the over-arching topic itself - hopefully elucidating many other such details for the record.
Probably the most extensive single document about Gateron Yellows on the internet would the @ThereminGoat’s review of the product line, but even more Yellows have emerged since it was written.
→ Specifically, I’m hoping someone out there will be able to help me find a visual distinction between a normal KS-9 and a KS-9 Pro 1.0, but I’m sure there’s plenty more Yellow-related trivia that could be added here.
Edit: figured it out. Pro 1’s have a little bar of plastic in the middle of the LED slot (helping to avoid deformation during removal), and from what I can tell, original KS-9’s do not.
Quick note - most of these will start with “KS” (presumably short for “key switch”) - this is an internal designation and not really part of the customer-facing branding (for Gateron, anyway - vendors use it), but it’s the most useful way I know to easily differentiate the versions when talking about them. In the few cases where a branded designation exists, I’ll use that. I’ll also be skipping things like prototypes or other distinctions that would be quite obscure to the general switch shopper.
Relying mostly on 's review,
these are the versions of Gat Yellow I’m currently aware of:
KS-3: The all-black one. These have a housing shaped to accept round, two-pin LEDs. I’ve seen some sources say the housing is Nylon (polyamide; semi-crystalline thermoplastic) and other sources say the material is unknown, though I think the general consensus is that these are Nylon.
KS-3-X1: The all-milky ones. I’ve yet to see a definitive ID on the actual plastic used for these; it’s generally softer than the black plastic used for KS-3s. I’ve seen some vendors say it’s a Nylon-blend. With the examples I possess, the 3-X1’s have a different mold both for the top and bottom housings when compared with a KS-3. I’ll also note I have some of these with the little curve carved out of the leaf side of the housing, and I have some without.
KS-3-X47: Black bottom, milky top. Aside from looking like the top of a 3-X1 on the bottom of a 3, I really don’t know anything specific about these.
KS-8: Black bottom, clear top. I’ve also seen these with white bottoms. This clear top has a slot opening for the LED, and supports jumpers or diodes in addition. This is actually the first kind of Yellow I tried back in like 2016 or so, and I remember them being smooth but a little hard and wobbly feeling.
KS-9: White bottom, clear top - I think. Here’s where confusion genuinely enters the picture for me. I understand that the cavity in the bottom housing that accommodates SMD LEDs is a hallmark of these, but that’s about it. I have mostly seen switches sold as “KS-9” with white bottoms and clear tops, but Gateron’s own render for the product appears to show a milky top. Further complicating the KS-9 designation is the fact that that the “Pro” versions appear to be a direct branch from it. At least some of these have the housing curve, but I’m not sure if all of them do.
Pro / G-pro: From what I can tell, these are an updated iteration of the KS-9 that utilizes updated molds and a new factory lubing technique. (A few places sell these as “KS-9 Pro”) As of writing, the Pro series is in its second revision (branded as 2.0), differentiated by a more transparent top housing that has a shaped light lens over the LED cavity, making it only compatible with SMD LEDs. I believe both versions have the contact-side top housing curve.
* The Pro 2.0 version is visually distinct from other lines, being the only one I’m aware of that has both the light lens and metal contacts, but as far as I can tell, the 1.0’s only visual differentiation from regular KS-9s by the presence of that small bar of plastic in the middle of the LED slot, which I belive helps avoid deformation during removal.
Further complicating the whole Pro thing - I’ve also seen milky KS-3-X1 switches being sold under the Pro name. @Rob27shred points out the milky pros are indeed a thing, and that the Pro designation also implies some updated tooling. This does keep me curious as to the exact relationship between the “Pro” nomenclature and the KS-numbers - from what I can tell, it’s not too different from Cherry’s “Hyperglide”, indicating the latest iteration of a given line, whether that be KS-9 or KS-3-X1.
Phantom Yellow: Thanks to @ventamora for reminding me about these, which are a collab with and generally exclusive to Keychron. If I understand correctly, Keychron approached Gateron wanting custom versions of a few switches, and the Phantom line is what came out of that - being mostly only available with Keychron products (or by themselves from Keychron’s website).
In terms of shape, these are SMD-compatible KS-9’s, but each Phantom switch wears its stem color from top to bottom, with the top being transparent and the bottom opaque. I remember hearing about Phantoms before I ever heard of Pros, and I have to say that aside from color, they are remarkably similar to Pro 1.0s, down to the little ribbon of plastic in the middle of the LED slot and the factory lubing. If I had to guess, I’d say the Pro line evolved from the more experimental Phantom line - but that is purely speculation on my part.
KS-15: Optical version; no metal contacts and a light lens on the LED side. Appears to have the housing curve.
As noted by @Rico, these have a shorter travel and much higher actuation distance than a typical Yellow. This actually pans-out to around 3.2mm full travel and actuation all the way up at around 1.1mm. In this series of switches, Yellows are speed switches alongside Silvers.
CAP (KS-25): Currently in its second revision, these use the more recent CAP design with the stem going around the inside tube instead of inside it. This tends to provide a more stable-feeling travel. All of these have the contact-side housing curve. There are milky and yellow-gold colored versions of these which I believe do have different housing materials as well as different colored springs, but the weighting is the same and they are otherwise very similar. As far as I know, both versions of both colors fall under the KS-25 designation.
Ink Yellow: Transparent yellow housing, dust-shrouded stem. Made with a proprietary plastic blend in the housing and features a shorter travel and actuation distance. I haven’t seen any of these with the housing curve, but it is present in Gateron’s rendering of the switch (which oddly does not feature the shrouded stem present in the description on the same page). Supports through-hole LEDs as well as jumpers and diodes.
X / Gateron X: Milky top and black bottom like the KS-3-X47, but featuring a new housing mold. Visually distinguishable by a letter “X” engraved into the divot of the large center pin. These are supposed to have polished surfaces and improved tolerances, but I’ve yet to try them myself. I’ve only heard good things, though. As far as I’m aware, there’s no overlap between the X line and any of the others like the Pro line. This is not related to Drop’s “X” branding. All of these appear to have the housing curve and support through-hole LEDs as well as diodes and jumpers.
North Pole Yellow* : This all-crystal-clear switch gets an asterisk because I’ve only seen the switch referred-to this way outside of English-speaking circles, but I’ve seen it so I’m mentioning it. I’ve seen varying reports on the materials used for these; most English-language vendors are saying polycarb housing and Ink-material stem.
So far, I’ve only seen “North Pole” as a single switch here in the US, but Gateron’s site calls it a “series” - and Chinese retailer mechkeys.com sells three different versions of this glassy-looking switch: Yellow, Red, and Silver. On this site as well as Gateron’s, I’ve seen images of the switch both with and without a dust shroud - not a thin-walled one like the Inks have, but one with a circle cut out of a rectangle, like TTCs and some others have. Apparently the shrouds follow the Gateron convention of visually indicating shorter-travel switches, though unlike in other series, the Red is included in this shorter travel / speed category. Only the Yellow has a regular stem - so it looks like this is the version we got here in the US that’s just called “North Pole”.
Alright - that’s pretty much everything I know about Yellows - but I’m quite sure that doesn’t cover it all, so post your knowledge and/or questions below. I’ll edit the list above with any significant additions or corrections. I’m looking forward to see what other tidbits of information may emerge.
Thanks for reading - cheers, and have a good one!