Guide to Capturing the Best Scanning Electron Microscope Images

A scanning electron microscope (SEM) is a powerful tool that can tell you a lot about your sample. However, getting the right information depends on getting the best scanning electron microscope images possible. Is your equipment right for the job?

We created SEMView8000 with high-quality, informative imaging in mind. Our technology is capable of capturing 8k images on an intuitive, easy-to-use operator console that makes capturing and analyzing images simple. Better yet, SEMView8000 can be installed on your existing SEM column, meaning you can get higher quality images and better information from your existing technology without needing to purchase a new microscope.

Comparative Scanning Electron Microscope Images (64 Megapixel vs. 1 Megapixel)

What type of image does a scanning electron microscope produce? The level of detail you can capture through your SEM will depend on your column and on your operating system. Scanning electron microscopes upgraded with SEMView8000 are capable of capturing 64 megapixel (8k x 8k) images. For comparison, the maximum performance of many older SEMs is in the 1 to 4 megapixel range. The SEMView8000’s advanced imaging allows you to see the sample more clearly and zoom in on areas of concern, making it easier than ever to analyze your scanning electron microscope images.

Figure 1a. 8k x 8k image of TEM grid sample
Figure 1b. 1k x 1k image of TEM grid sample
Figure 1c. Digital zoom of 64MPixel feature
Figure 1d. Digital zoom of 1MPixel feature

The scanning electron images in figure 1 highlight the power of being able to digitally zoom into features of interest after the SEM micrographs have been saved.  By having a higher pixel density image, which the SEMView8000 provides, features easily appear with much more clarity when zoomed.  As an example, consider the green box in figure 1c. Here we can imagine that upon further examination of this feature we notice what can appear to be a defect, microcrack, delamination, or some type of indentation. This visual identification is possible with a 64MPixel image with digital zoom capability. As shown in figure 1d, it is not possible to observe this additional feature as the minor difference in greyscale imaging gets washed out due to the larger pixel sizes from a digitally zoomed 1MPixel image, causing a loss of potential information.

BSE and EDS Analysis of Your Sample

If we consider the green box in figure 1c, we may want to take our visual analysis even further by way of atomic number greyscale imaging via backscattered electron imaging (BSE) or elemental analysis by way of an energy-dispersive x-ray spectrometer (EDS).

The design of the SEMView8000 allows it to connect to virtually all scanning electron microscope columns and accommodate up to 4 auxiliary analog inputs. What this means is that in addition to the secondary electron (SE) detector, four additional detectors can be integrated for imaging, such as backscattered electron (BSE), cathodoluminescence (CL), electron beam induced current (EBIC) and others. As a note, an EDS system has its own electronics, and as such, a separate auxiliary port is not required. Of the various detector types mentioned, the two most used detectors are the BSE and EDS systems.

A high quality backscattered electron (BSE) detector can easily show the difference between elements by their brightness. The brighter a feature on a sample appears, the higher its atomic number. While experienced microscopists can learn quite a bit about a sample’s elemental makeup with a greyscale image, this can be taken even further with an energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) detector.

Figure 2. SEMView8000 interfaced into a field emission (FE) SEM column

With an EDS detector, individual elements can be assigned a specific color. The image is then combined into a single map, showing each element in its own highlighted color, allowing you to see exactly where each element is located in the sample, as shown in figure 2. In figure 2 you will note the backscattered electron and scanning electron microscope images (split screen) on the left monitor wrapped in the SEMTech Solutions Win10 SEM user interface. On the right monitor is the EDS map, showing both each individual element and the overall composite image.

Conclusion

What we have shown by having a higher pixel density is that you are able to see things you may have initially missed. What the SEMView8000 provides with 64MPixel scanning electron microscope images is the ability to act as a digital magnification platform after an image has been taken.

In a follow up correspondence to a recent use case on the SEMView8000, the end user stated, “For fracture images, the usefulness of 8K images allows us in one low magnification picture to get an idea of the fracture mechanisms, locations, and paths, instead of stitching together a bunch of images. With one 8K image, we can zoom into regions of interest. Then we take higher magnification images of those specific regions. It is much faster to zoom into a lot of locations in an image than on an SEM. Better throughput on our end and nicer images to boot.”

Additionally, for those companies whose IT department demands Windows11, the SEMView8000 is now fully capable. Having the latest Windows operating system provides added networking security and the ability to confidently have colleagues and customers remotely view your SEM analysis in real-time using a variety of online video communication platforms.

64 MPixel SEM Imaging
BSE and EDS X-ray Analysis
Remote SEM Viewing

Are you ready to get the most out of your SEM? We can help. Let’s discuss your SEM today.