Microscope stages are platforms where specimens are placed for observation with a microscope. They are often equipped with a mechanical device which holds the specimen slide in place, but allows the back-and-forth and side-to-side movement of the slide. There are many different types of microscope stages. Examples include automated, manual, motorized, rotary, and Z-axis stages. The motion and operation of an automated stage is controlled from a personal computer (PC) or other control system. By contrast, manual stages are adjusted by hand. Motorized stages such as scanning stages have a motorized drive system to move the slide. Scanning stages can be designed to hold one slide or multiple slides, allowing the user to examine numerous samples without changing slides on the microscope stage and refocusing the lens. Rotating or rotary stages are round platforms that can rotate 360 degrees, and typically come with a measurement scale printed on the edge. Z-axis stages allow adjustments to the distance from the microscope to the stage surface.

Microscope stages differ in terms of travel, lighting, and features. Maximum X-distance is the greatest distance that stages can travel in the X direction. Maximum Y-distance is the greatest distance that stages can travel in the Y direction. Minimum step size or resolution is the smallest amount by which a microscope stage can be adjusted. There are two lighting styles for microscope stages: reflected and transmitted. Reflected light comes from the microscope or other light source above the stage. Transmitted light originates within the stage or from below the stage. In terms of features, microscope slides may be cleanroom-compatible, graduated, programmable, or temperature-controlled. Graduated stages or measuring stages are equipped with hardware and/or software to allow the user to take or make measurements of the specimen.

Most microscope stages are used with glass microscope slides and covers. Some microscopes use a special printed microscope slide. A microscope printed slide is specially-treated with substances to allow for easier slide preparation. For example, printed slides for biological applications may be treated with bonding substances that encourage cells to adhere to the slide. Printed microscope slides also feature printed grids or arrays, typically using a hydrophobic ink to ensure that the ink doesn’t react with the water or solution from the specimen. Another type of microscope slide is a prepared microscope slide. Prepared microscope slides contain specimens already treated and mounted on the slides. Many biological supply companies produce these slides for students to help them learn how to use a microscope and begin to recognize specific organisms. Prepared microscope slides can feature botanical specimens, stained biological cells, or cross-sections of microorganisms. Microscope stage incubators may also be available from companies that sell microscope stages.