How to Buy Microplate Readers
19 February 2018

Introduction to Microplate Readers

Microplate readers are used to detect biological, chemical or physical events in microtiter plates via the measurement of light. Microplate readers/detectors are the key workhorses in many laboratories and are used extensively for many applications across a wide range of disciplines including life sciences, drug discovery, bioassay validation, quality control, drug safety, toxicity testing, clinical diagnostics and biopharmaceutical/pharmaceutical manufacturing processes. Although a well-established product category, microplate readers continue to evolve towards greater functionality, flexibility, speed and throughput. Currently, there are a wide variety of microplate readers available, offering different capabilities and functionalities.

Microplate readers differ by the type of detection mode. The most common detection modes are absorbance, fluorescence and luminescence. Additional detection modes include fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET), time-resolved fluorescence (TRF), fluorescence polarization, bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET), AlphaScreen and nephelometry.

Microplate readers also differ by detector technology. Light detection can be performed using filters, monochromators or spectrophotometry. Monochromator-based technology has the most flexibility in wavelength detection, so is most suitable for labs with variable detection requirements. Newer spectrometer-based readers can capture an entire absorbance spectrum of wavelengths, offering even more flexibility in detection. Filters are for fixed wavelength detection but offer greater sensitivity, so are more appropriate for labs with limited detection needs. Hybrid systems combining these technologies are also available. In addition, lasers rather than flash lamps are better for time-resolved fluorescence and AlphaScreen detection.

HOW-TO-BUY TIP: When considering the number of read modes required, multi-mode readers provide greater flexibility but if your current and future requirements are limited, it may be more cost-effective to purchase a reader dedicated to your main application.


Microplate readers can be purchased as either single-mode or multimode; the latter combines several read modes in one instrument. Multimode microplate reader