Probing material properties of polymeric surface layers with tapping mode AFM: Which cantilever spring constant, tapping amplitude and amplitude set point gives good image contrast and minimal surface damage?

Esben Thormann (Corresponding Author), Torbjörn Pettersson, John Kettle, Per M. Claesson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


A phase shift between the oscillatory motion and drive motion of an AFM-cantilever used for tapping mode AFM imaging can be related to adhesive and elastic properties of surface layers. In this study it was studied how optimal contrast between hard and soft surface layers can be achieved while minimizing the surface damage. This was investigated by performing classical force-distance measurements while driving the cantilever as in tapping mode imaging. The amplitude and phase response as a function of the average tip-surface separation was recorded. Five different cantilevers with a wide range of spring constants and four different tapping amplitudes were investigated and compared. Based on these experiments it is concluded that too stiff cantilever, high free tapping amplitude and low amplitude set point value often lead to surface damage, while too low spring constant and low free tapping amplitude result in poor phase image contrast. Intermediate values where little surface damage and significant image contrast are obtained were identified. In all cases it was observed that the best image contrast was obtained when the amplitude set point was chosen such that the amplitude during imaging was reduced to approximately 50% of the free amplitude.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-319
Number of pages7
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed



  • AFM
  • tapping model
  • phase
  • energy dissipation
  • spring constant
  • amplitude
  • set point

Cite this