Nanoindentation (Nano-indent)

Nanoindentation Main Image
Example image rendered from nanoindentation in quartz sample

Nanoindentation (nano-indent) is a quasi-static mode of nanomechanical analysis used to measure the hardness and reduced elastic modulus of solid samples. It is especially useful for evaluating thin film coatings.


  • Quick measurement
  • Accesses many mechanical properties through computational analysis
  • Hardness test for films greater than 10 nm thick
  • Minimal sample preparation required


  • Destructive
  • Works best for linear, isotropic samples
  • Soft materials and adhesives can introduce measurement error
  • Interpretation is challenging if films are less than 100 nm and/or surface is rough

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Sample Requirements

Example Outputs

From left: Method diagram (showing load over time) for nanoindentation characterization of fused quartz sample with Berkovich indenter; Force v. Displacement curve demonstrating the standard response of an elastic / plastic material; Profiled nanoindentation impression in the quartz.

Instruments Used

Anton Paar UNHT3 Ultra Nanoindentation Tester

Anton Paar UNHT3 Ultra Nanoindentation Tester

  • Multiple Nanomechanical Testing Heads:
    • UNHT3: Ultra Nanoindentation Tester
      Normal Load Range: 10 μN to 100 mN
    • NST3: Nano-scratch Tester
      Normal Load Range: 10 mN to 1 N
  • Depth Range: 10 nm to 100 μm
  • Acoustic enclosure with anti-vibration table
  • Heated stage
  • Integrated optical video microscopes for synchronized panoramic imaging during force measurement
  • Long-term thermal stability for elevated-temperature analysis
View Instrument Brochure

How Nano-indent Works

To make a nanoindentation measurement, an indenter tip (made of a material much harder than the sample: commonly diamond) is pressed into the sample surface. A force is applied to the tip and increased until it penetrates the surface to a user-defined stopping point. The force is then held for a preset duration of time, followed by unloading and retracting from the surface.

While the tip is pressed and released from the surface, a force vs. displacement curve is measured. Hardness and modulus are calculated instantaneously by the tool.

Typically an array of indents are done to provide reasonable measurement statistics and eliminate outlier measurements from issues such as surface particulates.

Hardness is determined by calculating the ratio of the maximum force to the area of the tip. Modulus is determined by fitting the unload-curve to a linear slope.