How to Use a Trackball Mouse More Efficiently


After years of using a traditional mouse, I was starting to feel the mouse was uncomfortable, impractical, and sometimes just plain painful to use.

I needed a change.

I went deep into the rabbit hole researching ergonomic alternatives. Eventually, I stumbled onto the trackball mouse.

I never looked back.

After using more than a dozen trackballs over the last decade, I can finally say that I have mastered the trackball, and I’m here to teach you everything I know.

In the beginning, the trackball feels foreign and clunky. But after some practice, you can be an expert too.

In this guide, we’re going to show you how to use a trackball with more efficiency and control, and why it could be a better option for you.

Let’s get rolling.

How To Use A Trackball Mouse

Trackballs are stationary mice that rely on your hands to rotate a ball instead pushing a mouse across the desk.

While a trackball might certainly feel less precise than a normal mouse at first, on the contrary, a trackball may actually provide improved precision, speed, and accuracy.

Many people avoid trackballs because they fear change a lack of control.

The truth is, we are only comfortable with the “traditional mouse” because that’s what we started with when we were young, and we never had another option except perhaps a trackpad.

So how exactly do you get comfortable with a trackball?

Here are a few universal tips and tricks that could make your trackball more familiar and easy to use.

Getting the Right Fit

When you first purchase a trackball, everything from trackball shape, to angle, to size will affect usability and comfort.

Regardless of the type of mouse, there are a few things you can try.

1. Find your ideal desk placement.

Place the trackball down on your desk and find the sweet spot.

Trackballs are stationary mice, so ideally once you find your preferred position, you won’t really have to move it much anymore.

Eventually, you will find it natural and intuitive to return to the trackball position.

2. Adjust tilt angle if applicable.

If your trackball comes with a tilt adjustment, set it to a comfortable angle.

3. Place hand on trackball.

You can choose to either start by either aligning your palm or with finger placement.

4. Rotate the trackball if necessary.

If the ergonomics feel off, rotate the whole trackball slightly counter-clockwise.

5. Find your grip.

If “Palm Grip” feels unnatural or uncomfortable, try a relaxed claw or fingertip grip. A hybrid trackball grip may require you to hover your hand and fingers over the ball, or resting on the surrounding buttons.

Setting Up Your Trackball

After you have found a comfortable grip and hand placement, it’s time to connect your trackball and customize your settings.

While some trackballs may feel comfortable enough out-of-the-box, most will require you to download software and tune settings to your liking.

1. Download and install any necessary software.

Trackballs usually come with their own manufacturer’s software and drivers available for download.

If you want an even more customizable option, or just prefer not using OEM software, consider Autohotkey or Xmouse.

2. Connect your trackball.

This will typically be a wired USB, 2.4ghz receiver, or Bluetooth pairing.

If your device requires a USB receiver, avoid USB 3.0 ports, especially if adjacent to a storage device, as USB 3.0 ports are notorious for signal interference.

If latency, range, or line-of-sight are a concern, consider using a USB-extension cable with your receiver.

3. Set trackball speed.

Your trackball may have multiple levels of tracking speed and resolution, but might not have a way to set speed directly on the mouse itself.

If your mouse cursor feels sluggish or slow, try adjusting your DPI and cursor speed. Setting your mouse speed will provide a more comfortable and more efficient roll.

4. Turn on “Mouse Acceleration”.

Make sure to have acceleration turned on in your trackball software, or in your Operating System if your software lacks that option.

Acceleration may feel strange for a traditional mouse, but is an essential part of getting both precision and accuracy in smaller movements, as well as speed and efficiency in larger movements.

5. Customize your layout.

Trackballs come in various shapes, sizes, and layouts that will determine which fingers you use and how you use them.

Side-mount trackballs typically have a more traditional button-layout, but top-mounts and trackballs with many buttons will require a bit of adjustment and creativity.

Depending on your trackball and software, you may discover new ways to use your trackball for navigation, media playback, and even productivity and gesture-based functions.

For example if your trackball’s scroll wheel has a horizontal scroll function, try using it for volume adjustment if you don’t need the scrolling.

6. Spin to Win

When setting your preferred cursor speed, don’t be afraid to spin your ball to see how fast you can move your cursor across the screen.

Try large sweeping motions as well as tight, precise movements to test if you’re ready to roll. This will also help you get a feel for using your trackball.

7. Lift Off

When first getting used to a trackball, make sure you lift your fingers off of the ball before clicking, or rest them slightly to the side.

If you click while your fingers are on the ball, you may end up moving the cursor and causing a drag instead of a click.

Play the Mouse Accuracy Game

Want to try and test your precision, speed, and accuracy? Try the Mouse Accuracy Game to get more data.

This game will let you set a difficulty level, and the game consists of clicking on a number of red shrinking dots.

When the time is up, you will see your target accuracy, click accuracy, and target efficiency.

Try a few rounds with your normal mouse first to get a baseline comparison with your new trackball.

After you have had some time to adjust and get comfortable with a trackball, try the comparison again.

Using Your Trackball

In this next section, we’ll break down the main types of trackballs you will encounter, and some tips on how to use them.

Types of Trackballs

There are two main types of trackball: Top-mount and Side-mount.

Each type of trackball requires its own technique to use, so you should familiarize yourself with each type before making a decision.

Top-mounted trackballs or finger-balls are usually meant to be rolled by your fingers, and come in both ambidextrous and ergonomic (usually right-handed) designs.

Side-mounted trackballs are usually also known as thumb-balls, and typically only come in right or left-handed ergonomic designs.

These two categories are broken into three sub-types: Thumb-ball, Ambidextrous Finger-Ball, and Ergonomic Finger-Ball.

1. Thumb-Ball Trackball

Thumb-balls don’t have quite as much variation in design as finger-controlled trackballs, but what may vary is the amount of buttons available under your fingertips.

Customizing your button layout and each button’s function will be the main factor when streamlining your trackball workflow.

Thumb-balls also tend to use the more traditional 3 to 5 button layout that you may be familiar with on traditional mice.

If you’re used to using a traditional mouse, a side-mounted trackball may be the simplest and easiest transition into the world of trackballs.

Choosing Your Thumb-Ball Grip (and Tips)

Because of the traditional button layout, you can typically use any mouse-grip you like.

Palm grip is easy to use with thumb-balls, and is the recommended grip for ergonomics and longevity.

Claw and Fingertip are also possible on thumb-balls, so be sure to test which position is the most comfortable for you.

Rotate or turn your trackball counter-clockwise slightly if the fit isn’t perfect.

This trick may actually promote a more angled and relaxed hybrid grip that could be more comfortable for you.

2. Finger-Ball (Ambidextrous)

An ambidextrous finger-ball is typically a symmetrical design with the trackball mounted on top.

Ambidextrous designs may be versatile options for righties, lefties, and even those who lack traditional dexterity.

Most can be slightly awkward to use, however, as ergonomics are not their main concern.

Choosing Your Finger-Ball Grip (and Tips)

Many top-mount trackballs will require you to hover your palm and fingers, or use a hybrid claw-finger grip, depending on the overall shape and size.

A symmetrical ambidextrous design means that you may have to get creative with how you use your fingers.

Most will require you to move the ball with your index and middle finger, and maybe even the ring finger.

For clicking the buttons, typically you will need to get used to using your thumb or index for the main click, ring or pinky for secondary click, and any additional functions will be up to you.

If your trackball lacks a scroll wheel, you can try to leverage the middle-mouse click function to quick scroll using the ball.

3. Finger-Ball (Ergonomic)

Ergonomic Fingerballs strike an interesting balance between the two previous trackball styles.

Ergo fingerballs tend to use each finger, but leverage the thumb especially for most of the clicking and scrolling duties.

Layout is very important with an ergo top-mount,

Choosing Your Finger-Ball Grip (and Tips)

Ergonomic fingerballs will more or less lock you into one hand position, but you can choose to be more or less relaxed.

Your thumb will probably be working overtime.

Rotate or turn your trackball counter-clockwise slightly.

Should You Use A Trackball Mouse?

Trackballers are a proud people, and many who convert to the cult of trackball never look back.

Most converts credit accuracy, speed, ergonomics, and space-saving design as big reasons for switching over.

Does that mean that you should switch to a trackball too? Before we can make that call, we should you should ask yourself one simple question…

Why do you want to use a trackball mouse?

Gaming?

Ergonomics?

Efficiency and Desk-space?

What you use a trackball for could play a determining factor in the type of trackball you should choose, as well as if you’re better off with something else.

Are Trackball Mice Better For Carpal Tunnel and RSI?

Carpal Tunnel and RSI related to computers and mouse-use typically stem from a few causes. These causes include: repetitive movements, range of motion, stress on joints and nerves, and over-pronation or having your palm facing down.

While ergonomic mice may help solve one or two of these issues, trackballs attempt to solve all of them to some degree.

The more ergonomic nature of thumballs and ergo fingerballs encourages a more natural hand position, and being stationary limits the space needed for mouse gestures.

Less pressure placed on the wrist, less shoulder movement, and more freedom in desk placement means that you can find a more comfortable and sustainable position for long-term use that could help prevent some forms of RSI.

There are always trade-offs, of course…

Are Trackball Mice Bad For Your Thumb and Joints?

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis is a form of RSI that affects the thumb joint, and the tendons and ligaments of the wrist and forearm.

Pain or strain on the side of the thumb and wrist are indicators of DQT.

It may be normal to feel a bit of fatigue when first switching to a trackball, but noticeable new pain or strain should not be taken lightly.

While trackballs can help your shoulder, elbow and arm in some regards, the same may not be the case for everyone when it comes to your hands and wrists.

Thumbballs may feel comfortable and feel ergonomic, but the constant reliance on your thumb to perform repetitive movements with limited range-of-motion may not be the best for such a small joint, especially one that may already be injured.

Fingerballs could be more ideal in that regard but, depending on the overall size, back and forth wrist movement may not be ideal for you either.

If you have thumb or wrist pain, that could be caused by regular mouse or trackball, consider a vertical mouse.

If you feel any strain along the side of your wrist and forearm, don’t fight through the pain. Stop using that peripheral, and consider an alternative.

Conclusion

Obviously, trackballs are not necessarily one-size fits all, and the same can be said with the technique required to use each one as efficiently a possible.

For many, trackballs are the solution to all of their problems with traditionall mice.

For others, trackballs cause more issues than they solve.

If you’re looking to make the switch from a regular mouse to a trackball, it’s important to try them for yourself.

We hope this guide helps you use them better, and that a trackball might be what you’re looking for.

Thank you for reading, and we hope this helped get you on track.

Randall Jue

Randall is a longtime tech enthusiast and relative newcomer to the mechanical keyboard hobby. He has a background in philosophy, art, and design, and has a passion for research, education, and communication. He wants to share his knowledge and experience to help guide others down the deep rabbit hole.

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