Nanoindentation is a technique that measures the mechanical properties, such as elastic modulus and hardness, of different types of surfaces on a very small scale. It is a fast and effective method, which can be used on both very small sample sizes, as well as specific locations within a larger sample. Nanoindentation can accurately provide information on the properties of various sample types including thin films, polymers, biological materials, and even electronic components.

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What is nanoindentation?

Nanoindentation is a process by which mechanical properties, such as elastic modulus and hardness, are measured. However, other information, such as stiffness, fracture toughness, delamination, tensile strength, and stress relaxation of a material can be analyzed. It can be used to monitor these properties on a wide range of sample sizes, including very small components, and specific areas of larger samples. Nanoindentation is widely used in mechanical engineering and product development. Nanoindentation includes a few different kinds of methods: i) quasi-static, dynamic, and continuous stiffness measurement. The traditional testing method consists of a simple quasi-static load indentation. Load and depth of indentation are measured and sample material mechanical properties are calculated. Dynamic nanoindentation uses oscillating load variation to extract the properties of the tested material. Continuous stiffness measurement (CSM) is a combination of static and dynamic loads during indentation. This allows the measurement of depth-dependent properties quickly and efficiently.

How does nanoindentation work?

In nanoindentation, a very small probe tip made of a hard material, usually diamond, is used to indent the surface of a sample. The system measures the load applied to the tip as well as the depth of indentation during the whole process. Over time, the force applied to the probe, and the distance it moves into the surface, are measured. Nanoindentation can be used to determine the physical properties of the material, such as how much it resists the force from the probe, and how well the surface recovers after the force is removed. Elastic modulus and hardness can be calculated using penetration depth, contact depth, and contact area. The harder the material is, the smaller the indentation area will be.

Nanoindentation and Atomic Force Microscopy

Atomic force microscopes have the ability to conduct similar analysis to nanoindentation measurements, given the fact that the sample material is softer than the AFM tip. The probe is traced over the surface, and its positional data is recorded along with the topographic measurements of the sample surface. This can then be used to produce an image of the surface on a tiny scale, allowing it to be further analyzed. The most modern nanoindentation instruments can be directly coupled with AFM to reach the most efficient and precise measurements.

What is nanoindentation used for?

Nanoindentation is used for material characterization in many different fields of science and engineering. It has a wide range of suitabilities across all kinds of materials. As a simple and efficient analysis method, nanoindentation is a commonly used mechanical testing of materials. One advantage of nanoindentation is that even a very small sample size can be measured. It can also be used to analyze a very specific area of a larger sample. Nanoindentation can be used in electronics, packaging, biological samples, construction material, and polymer characterization. More precisely, nanoindentation is typically used for thin films, alloys, soft tissues, coatings, and composites. The method finds particular use in modern technology, where components are becoming increasingly smaller. Nanoindentation is an excellent way to analyze these structures and provides valuable information on their physical properties.

Sample requirements and preparation

In principle, nanoindentation requires no sample preparation. However, loose samples and objects are generally not good enough to put in the nanoindenter. If the sample is loose, the sample can be super-glued to an AFM specimen disk, glass slide, or wafer. The roughness of the sample surface affects the measured mechanical properties. For this reason, the roughness of the sample surface should be large enough compared to the area of the tip.

What are the limitations of nanoindentation?

Depending on the material characteristics, “pile up” or “sink in” of the sample material can cause problems in indentation depth calculations. For this reason, measurements on either very soft or very rough surfaces can be challenging or even impossible.

Need a nanoindentation analysis?

Measurlabs offers nanoindentation analyses of high quality with fast results and affordable prices. If you have any questions about your sample or its suitability for the method, our experts are always happy to help. You can contact us through the form below or by emailing us at

Suitable sample matrices

  • Polymers
  • Thin films
  • Alloys
  • Biological samples
  • Microelectronics

Ideal uses

  • Analyzing specific areas of a sample
  • Determination of local mechanical properties
  • Testing very small samples
  • Probing soft tissue samples
  • Examining thin film materials
  • Thin film adhesion
  • Modulus mapping
  • Failure analysis for e.g. coatings
  • Structural compliance testing

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Frequently asked questions

What is nanoindentation commonly used for?

Nanoindentation is used for analyzing the mechanical properties of surfaces on a very small scale. Examples of the properties studied with nanoindentation are hardness, elastic modulus, stiffness, fracture toughness, delamination, tensile strength and stress relaxation.

What are the limitations of nanoindentation?

Analyses of very soft or rough surfaces can be challenging or even impossible due to "pile up" or "sink in" of the material.

What kind of samples can be analyzed with nanoindentation?

Nanoindentation can be used for analyzing polymers, thin films, alloys, microelectronics, and biological samples.

What is Measurlabs?

Measurlabs offers a variety of laboratory analyses for product developers and quality managers. We perform some of the analyses in our own lab, but mostly we outsource them to carefully selected partner laboratories. This way we can send each sample to the lab that is best suited for the purpose, and offer high-quality analyses with more than a thousand different methods to our clients.

How does the service work?

When you contact us through our contact form or by email, one of our specialists will take ownership of your case and answer your query. You get an offer with all the necessary details about the analysis, and can send your samples to the indicated address. We will then take care of sending your samples to the correct laboratories and write a clear report on the results for you.

How do I send my samples?

Samples are usually delivered to our laboratory via courier. Contact us for further details before sending samples.