When the sample is relatively robust, i.e. hard and strongly adhering, this allows imaging without tip-induced deformation in a broad range of tip-sample interaction forces. One may choose using both soft cantilevers to obtain true surface topography and stiff cantilevers to ensure high topographic and phase contrast.

Fig. 1. SEBS60 block-copolymer sample with a cryomicrotomed surface was imaged by Tapping Mode AFM under light (top) and hard (bottom) tapping conditions. The light tapping provide true topography (left), while hard tapping allows better material contrast in phase images (right). Image courtesy of Dr. Sergei Magonov (Digital Instruments / Veeco Metrology Group).
The harder the surface, the wider the choice of AFM techniques that can be used for its investigation. The contact mode technique is still the speediest and roughest among them.

When in Tapping mode, "hard" tapping conditions are usually used to obtain good material sensitive contrast in phase imaging, while "light" tapping keeps the maximum of the topography data (see Fig. 1). "Light" tapping conditions imply lower free amplitudes and higher setpoint values.

Contact mode

Long cantilevers having relatively low spring constant below are usually used in Contact mode. The choice between General Purpose and Long Scanning probes depends on the resolution needed.

When in liquid, one can use cantilevers without backside coating or probes with chemically inert Cr-Au coating.

Tapping mode

The tip-sample interaction force depends on the adhesive properties of material, the sharpness of the probe tip and the scanning mode. If the experimental conditions permit, one should avoid using stiff cantilevers that may cause severe deformation and even damaging of the sample. Softer cantilevers usually show better and more reproducible results. However, in some experiments, e.g. very hard and/or sticky samples, stiff cantilevers are required. For unknown physical properties of the domains it is recommended using probes of the HQ:NSC14 series that feature an intermediate spring constant of ~ 5 N/m.

Sharper tips provide higher lateral resolution. This advantage should be balanced against the scanning speed.

For imaging in liquids, the choice of the probe is usually limited to those having resonance frequency of 50 - 70 kHz in air (HQ:NSC18). It is generally recommended to use uncoated cantilevers in liquids or probes with l chemically stable Cr-Au coating.

Noncontact mode

Cantilevers having high spring constant of 20 - 100 N/m and the highest possible resonance frequency are usually used in noncontact mode.



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contact mode

Ambient conditions
HQ:CSC probes for contact mode

Long lifetime of probes
Hardened probes with wear-resistant coating

In liquid
Probes with stable reflective coating

In aggressive liquid media
Probes with chemically stable coating

tapping mode

Hard or sticky samples
HQ:NSC probes with high spring constant

Long lifetime of probes
Hardened probes with wear-resistant coating
HQ:NSC15/Hard/Al BS

True topography, soft samples
HQ:NSC probes with medium spring constant

High resolution
Hi'Res-C probes with medium spring constant

noncontact mode

UHV conditions
HQ:NSC probes for noncontact mode

High-resolution in UHV
Hi'Res-C probes for noncontact mode