LA-ICP-MS ImageTool


* The user manual for the LA-ICP-MS ImageTool app was originally developed by Ms Andrea De-Bruin as part of her project for the degree of MChem at Loughborough University, 2016-17. It has since been revised to account for updates made to the app. Thanks also to Andrea for the design of the app logo/icon.
app logo/icon


You are welcome to download and use the Image Tool for free, please help  yourself. All we ask is that you let us know that you've got a copy and perhaps what your interest is in this app. Any feedback or other information you send us will be used solely to guide the development of this and related apps, it will not be passed on to 3rd parties. There is no obligation to respond to this request, but if you're willing, please send an email to Amy: Thank you.

Background to the Image Tool

The Image Tool was created in response to the data processing demands of high-speed LA-ICP-MS imaging platforms. These new generation systems produce reduced temporal dispersion of the signal, with peak widths typically under 30 ms for a single shot, compared to >200 ms for the prior technology. This enables greater flexibility in the choice of data acquisition parameters.

Until recently, the approach to LA-ICP-MS imaging has been restricted to ‘rastering’. This involves ablating lines of overlapping craters, usually with a laser repetition rate that far exceeds the temporal dispersion of the system. Thus, rastering results in the material from successive ablation shots mixing during transport and the resulting images are blurred/distorted from the spatial coordinates that they represent. To maintain resolution, a more effective approach would be to perform ‘pixel-by-pixel’ analysis. Here, the signal from each shot is allowed to wash out before the next, adjacent location is sampled. The area under each peak is integrated and converted to an individual colour coded pixel, which represents the location that was sampled. Clearly this strategy is only feasible with high speed systems, due to the time constraints associated with waiting for signal washout.

Most of the existing imaging software used for LA-ICP-MS was designed to handle data generated by rastering and is not compatible with pixel-by-pixel approaches. Some users have created their own in-house methods for processing high-speed data, or else have accepted the loss of image resolution associated with rastering. This Image Tool was created to process data generated by the ‘NWR image’ system, but it is equally applicable to other laser ablation platforms. The creators have decided to make the Image Tool freely available as they wish to help remove an obstacle that could otherwise slow down the growth of high-speed LA-ICP-MS. It is hoped that users of high-speed LA systems will use the Image Tool to assist them in considering the most appropriate data acquisition and processing parameters for their data.

For more information about this app, please take a look at the following paper:

A new freeware tool for image processing and its application to high speed LA-ICP-MS imaging

Amy J. Managh and Peter Reid
Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, April 18, 2019.

Capabilities of the Image Tool

The Image Tool is intended to process data files that contain a series of baseline separated peaks. The software finds the location of the peaks and segments the data according to user defined parameters. The data within each segment is summed and converted to a colour coded pixel in an image.

The software can be operated in one of two modes:

Peak recognition mode is useful in situations where a trigger cable has not been used or where the trigger is sending an irreproducible signal. The software determines where the first peak in each file begins and segments the data from that point onwards. This mode is also useful for certain non- imaging applications, such as single particle ICP-MS. When the ‘generate Excel files’ option is selected, all peaks meeting the user defined criteria are extracted into a separate Excel file for further analysis.

In situations where a reproducible trigger cable has been used, it is likely that the user will know exactly where the relevant data starts in each file. In this situation, peak recognition can be disabled to enable faster analysis.

Although it was not the intended application, the Image Tool is also compatible with data that has been produced from raster scanning. In this situation, the user should disable peak recognition in the first screen and set a segment size in the second screen that is equal spacing of the time points in their data file.

The app is provided free of charge with no warranties or guarantees - use it or not as you wish.

Demo Limitations

You are free to use the Demo version of this app indefinitely. However, it will not process more than 250 data files in a single run. If you would like a free unlimited version of this app, please contact Peter or Amy (details below). If you have any IT-related questions, ask Peter. However, if you have chemistry-related questions or you're unsure of its applicability to your instrument, then you should contact Amy.

IT System Requirements

This app has been developed to run on any recent version of Windows from Windows 7 onwards. Also, it can run on any recent version of OS X/macOS on the Macintosh from v 10.7.5 onwards (including Mojave, 10.14.x). The app has no special requirements in terms of memory, disk space, processor speed or graphics card, it'll simply run faster or slower depending on the actual specification of your computer.

Note that the app can output the peak information in the form of Excel XLSX spreadsheet files, as well as in plain text format (*.TXT). If you want to use this Excel facility, you'll need to have a copy of Microsoft Excel installed. This needs to be version 2007 for Windows or 2008 for Macintosh or later in either case.

Also, a good text editor is useful for manipulating both the TXT outputs and the associated app text files (*.ini and *.rst, see below). We suggest the use of NotePad++ for Windows and BBEdit for the Mac if you don't have something suitable already. Here are links to both of these:

Instrument Requirements

See the User Manual for details.


This app doesn't require any special installer or uninstaller if you decide to remove it. Simply unzip the archive you've downloaded and place the "LA-ICP-MS ImageTool" folder wherever is convenient. For Mac users, usually you'd place this in the Applications folder, but it can be on the Desktop or in the Documents folder instead.

For Windows users, the usual place might be inside the Program Files folder, but it can be on the Desktop if you prefer. To uninstall the app, just throw away its folder.

Note that Mac users may need to open the app the first time by right-clicking the app and selecting Open from the pop-up menu and then entering the account details for the admin user. Similarly, Window users are likely to be asked to give permission to run the app for the first time. This is because we haven't gone through the processes to register the app with Apple and Microsoft - it's not worth the effort for limited distribution apps. If you're unhappy about this or at all unsure that you trust my apps, don't use them! Otherwise, just do what's required once and you'll not be bothered again when you use the app from now onwards.

The app uses two associated text files "LA-ICP-MS ImageTool.ini" and "LA-ICP-MS ImageTool.rst" control the facilities and behaviour of the app. These 2 files must remain alongside the app itself (*.exe or *.app).

Sample Screen-shots and Images

main screen, initial processing, peak identification

2nd phase screen, segmentation and image generation

sample image in pop-up image viewer

sample image in pop-up image viewer

Contact Details

If you have any IT-related questions, ask Peter. However, if you have chemistry-related questions or you're unsure of its applicability to your instrument, then you should contact Amy. Our contact details are as follows:

  Dr Peter Reid
Reid-IT Limited
LE11 3SP, UK
Dr Amy Managh
Department of Chemistry
Loughborough University
Loughborough, Leicestershire
LE11 3TU, UK

This page was last updated 14 June 2019.