Inspecting metal objects with a microscope


What is a USB microscope and how does it work?

Do you know how a USB microscope works, its benefits and shortcomings - and how do you decide if it's the right solution for your needs or not?

Learn it all here.

More and more businesses are looking to replace their more traditional microscopes with a digital version and as part of their research, they come across the compact USB microscope.

If that’s the case for you as well, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll have a closer look at different types of USB microscopes, how they work and their benefits. Lastly, we’ll guide you to finding the best USB microscope for your needs.


What you’ll learn about USB microscopes:

What is a USB microscope?

As we’ll explain in greater detail in the Frequently asked questions about USB microscopes section, USB microscopes are available in 3 main types: As a handheld USB microscope, as a stand-alone microscope with a built-in screen or with a separate monitor. In this article, we’ll primarily focus on the most commonly known type: The handheld USB microscope.

A USB microscope is thus a lightweight and compact tool used to magnify objects (or areas of an object) that are too small to inspect with the naked eye. Instead of using an ocular, the viewer inspects their object via the monitor of a computer or via a built-in screen. A USB microscope is therefore considered a digital microscope, although a very simple one.

Magnified photo of cardriges, taken with a TAGARNO digital microscope

How does a USB microscope work?

With CMOS sensors, typically used in digital cameras and camera phones, the USB microscope is similar to a webcam but differentiates in its ability to magnify due to its macro lens. While some USB microscopes have built-in illumination, others depend on ambient lighting.

A USB microscope typically offers 20x-300x magnification and requires that the lens either touches an object or is kept at a short distance to magnify it.  This creates a small field of view but reduces the risk of unsharp images due to incorrect lens to object distance.


Benefits of a USB microscope

With its compact design, a USB microscope is extremely portable and can easily be moved from one workstation to another if it needs to be used for different processes.

Similarly, the compact design also makes it a suitable alternative to conventional stereo microscopes if you don’t need the high power magnification typically offered by the latter due to their optically more complex design.

USB microscopes are also widely available on online marketplaces like Amazon and E-bay at a significantly lower point than other kinds of microscopes. This makes them more accessible for education purposes or hobby projects. They are also great options if you need large quantities or if you are new to the world of digital microscopy and want a low-entry product.

Further, a USB microscope doesn’t have an ocular but instead uses a screen to display the magnified object. Whether built-in or you are using a computer or laptop, the digital display prevents the viewer from having to bend their neck to look through an ocular when inspecting an object. Instead, the viewer can sit up straight which creates a more comfortable and healthier setup that improves productivity and job satisfaction.

Lastly, the digital display reduces the risk of cross-contamination between operators and thus the need for cleaning the system between inspections, factors that have become increasingly important since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Woman using a digital microscope to inspect seed

What are the disadvantages of a USB microscope?

A USB microscope, however, is often compromised in terms of optical quality, lighting and working distance which is important factors to keep in mind when weighing the pros and cons of different types of microscopes.

If you’ve tested a USB microscope and find that the image quality isn’t up to standard, however, we recommend exploring the more professional USB microscopes available.

They will often produce significantly better images and more flexibility in terms of working distance and lighting options. Sometimes referred to as a USB digital microscope, these come with more features, including more camera settings, presets and software options, that make them better suited for industry professionals.

Using a USB microscope in different industries

A USB microscope can be used for simple magnification tasks on a large variety of samples and across industries, including Agriculture, Electronics, Forensic, Metal and Plastic inspection. If you use a professional USB digital microscope, you can expect better workflows, increased efficiency and optimized quality control in return.

Let’s have a look at how USB digital microscopes are used in different industries.



A high quality USB microscope is great for seed analysis and allows you to capture findings easily, collaborate with colleagues due to its digital display and work more comfortably. 



With a USB digital microscope, you can perform quality control on assembled PCBs and rework faulty boards. You can even use software to quickly detect issues and document them using the control box.



Detect even the smallest cracks, broken edges and burrs with a USB digital microscope. 



Use the USB digital microscope to check the quality of your injection molded plastic components and identify runner system wear. 



Analyze and document microscopic forensic evidence with a USB digital microscope. 

USB microscopes from TAGARNO

Frequently asked questions about USB microscopes

1. What is a USB microscope used for?

A USB microscope is used across industries and companies worldwide to inspect anything that’s too small to see with the naked eye. How the USB microscope is used will depend from industry to industry and which type of USB microscope they’ve chosen.

2. What types of USB microscopes are available?

There’s many types of USB microscopes available. These include:

  • Handheld USB microscopes
  • USB microscopes with a stand and built-in screen
  • USB microscopes with a stand but no built-in screen

The latter is often the more professional and advanced option, sometimes referred to as a USB digital microscope. A USB microscope with no built-in screen needs to be connected to a separate computer to use its screen. While this may take up more workspace, the USB microscope will use USB 3.0 ports which is a non-compressed display format that will not reduce the amount of detail before displaying it on a computer. A USB microscope with USB 3.0 ports will thus produce significantly better images than USB microscopes that use USB 2.0 ports.

Not having the screen built-in also offers significantly more flexibility in terms of movements and where you can install the microscope.

3. What is the difference between USB microscopes and stereo microscopes?

The biggest difference between a USB and stereo microscope is how you’re inspecting your samples.

While a stereo microscope uses an eyepiece, a USB microscope uses a computer screen. Depending on where the computer screen is installed, this can create a significantly more comfortable setup and provide more flexibility in terms of movement and where the microscope can be installed.

Other differences between a stereo and USB microscope include:

  • A USB microscope is much more compact than a stereo microscope and can thus be moved from workstation to workstation as needed
  • It’s a lot easier to capture photos of your work using a USB microscope that is already using a monitor to display the sample than capturing photos through an eyepiece


For the more advanced USB microscopes, the following differences also apply:

  • USB digital microscopes offer auto focus while stereo microscopes do not
  • USB digital microscopes offer features and software that you can use as part of your inspections to improve your efficiency and accuracy of analyses


4. What make TAGARNOs USB microscopes special?

TAGARNOs USB digital microscopes are designed, engineered, and manufactured in Denmark. None of them have a built-in screen and thus fall within the category of professional USB microscopes.

All the TAGARNO USB digital microscopes also have a built-in computer which means that all features and software run on the microscope itself and are controlled via the included control box.


What is the best USB microscope?

Knowing that there’s many types of USB microscopes to choose from, which USB microscope you believe is the best will depend on your needs.

However, if you’re a business that’s looking to do accurate and efficient inspections, you need a USB microscope that produces high quality images with optical zoom and auto focus. The USB microscope thus needs to use USB 3.0 ports to avoid that the output is compressed.

All USB microscopes from TAGARNO meet these requirements and are great options for businesses worldwide. Which one is right for you will depend on which features you need. We recommend that you explore the options listed below or visit our technical specifications comparison page.

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