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Affordable cell counting, what are the true costs?

Manual counting is cheap, at least that is what many believe. And perhaps they are right, when comparing a basic hemocytometer to a basic automated setup, the purchase cost can differ a 1000x or more.

Manual counting is cheap, at least that is what many believe. And perhaps they are right, when comparing a basic hemocytometer to a basic automated setup, the purchase cost can differ a 1000x or more. But next to purchasing a counting setup there are additional costs to be included. These are often overseen costs, such as the operating time of a setup. In time these additional costs could surpass the initial purchase very quickly.  

To give you a more in-depth insight of the total cost of cell counting we present you to the following article. Here, several aspects will be discussed to give a better insight into the costs of cell counting.

Tip #2: A better understanding in the total costs of cell counting

The procedure for manual counting is simple: harvest the cells, dilute them, put them on a hemocytometer slide, observe through the microscope and start clicking. Anybody with basic cell culture experience can do it and it is a cheap way to get accurate counts and thus significant results. But is it the cheapest way?


A certain level of expertise is needed to perform a manual cell count accurately. The ability to distinguish between live cells, dead cells, cell clumps and debris takes time and training. To improve productivity in the laboratory, automated cell counters were introduced. Improved spirits and automated results come with a financial cost. This raises the financial question, is manual counting less expensive than automated counting?

What counting setup is financially best?

Whatever your counting setup is, there are always 3 cost factors to account for, initial purchase cost, operating cost (e.g. consumables) and operator cost. Manual counting is by far the cheapest option regarding purchasing. You have your setup consisting of a glass counting chamber and a clicker for around € 150.-. This does not include a common bright-field microscope which is needed but seen as common lab equipment. The operating cost is one coverslip per measurement, which comes down to about € 0.02. Simply stated, it is a very inexpensive setup.

So why are automated cell counters financially interesting? When taking operator cost into account for both manual and automated setup something interesting occurs.

“The times, they are a changin”

Even with Bob Dylan music playing in the lab, a seasoned operator will spend at least four minutes to analyze the cells. This compared to an automated setup which will only take several seconds. This reduces the amount of operator cost dramatically especially with increasing amount of counts.

Even with an initial purchasing cost, starting around € 3000, an automated setup can be a return on investment with increasing amounts of cell counts. This even surpasses the increase of operating costs, as automated setups often require more expensive consumables. These custom disposable counting consumables start upwards of € 0.35 per count, a 15x increase compared to the cover slip required by manual counting.

Now, what can be done with this information? If we calculate the total costs for both manual and automated setups, including initial purchase cost, operating and operator cost, we see a break-even point where automated counting will become more expensive due to its high operating costs, see figure 1.


Fig.1: Representation of total cost of both manual and automated counting both included their respective purchase cost, operating cost and operator cost. Around 2600 performed counts a break-even point is reached.



The initial cost of a counting setup is an important factor when comparing cell counters. But only looking at the initial purchase price may cost you more in the long run. We showed that by incorporating all costs of a setup a better financial comparison between different systems can be made.

It is advised to make your own comparison as purchase cost, operating cost and operator cost can differ greatly based upon your situation and location. From this, the break-even points can differ greatly when comparing manual and automated systems or in some cases may not occur at all.



blogimage_5-tip-mailing.pngDo you want to count your cells much more easy and better and can't wait for the other tips? Download our FREE whitepaper "5 Tips for better cell counting" and read the full story without having to wait. With this whitepaper we will give you 5 tips for better cell counting. The following themes are discused:

  1. Sample preparation
  2. The costs of cell counting
  3. Cell concentration calculation
  4. Accuracy of cell counters
  5. The divide between manual and automated cell counters 








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