Pipette Types: Everything you need to know about single channel options

So, it’s time to buy a new pipette and the options are overwhelming. Where do you start?

In this two-part series, we are going to examine single channel and multi-channel pipettes and help you navigate through the options and come out triumphant over this purchasing challenge.
We are going to start our series by examining single channel pipettes and discuss how you can find the best ones for your lab. A pipette purchase may seem small, but the reality is that it is a huge investment for your data quality and for your users. So, finding the right one is critical.

How do you know if a single channel pipette is what you are looking for?

A single channel pipette may be the right choice if your source and destination containers are small, such as twist-top, flip-cap, or conical tubes. However, because single channel pipettes are typically compact in size, they are versatile and can also be used with troughs, or 96-/384-well plates. One drawback is that single channel pipettes can only perform one transfer at a time, therefore they can introduce some ergonomic constraints. There are electronic versions of single channel pipettes available and those will be discussed in more detail below. Multi-channel pipettes are another solution to ergonomic concerns, and those will be discussed in more detail in the next article in this series.

Ask yourself…

We are not going to focus on any specific brands in this piece as that will be up to you to decide. We will go over pipette types, considerations, and budgeting. Let’s get started!

1. What kind of liquids are you going to be transferring?

This is more important than you think as it relates to your users and to the accuracy of the transfer.

2. Do you need the flexibility of adjusting the volume you are transferring?

3. Are you going use this pipette for different applications?

Figures 1 & 2 help with selecting adjustable volume vs. fixed volume, and positive displacement vs. air displacement pipette types.

Figure 1.

Figure 1Zoom

Figure 2.

Figure 2Zoom

4. Do you need a manual or an electronic pipette?

As stated above, single channel pipettes have some ergonomic constraints. If you are going to be using the pipette to complete repeated sequential transfers, an electronic pipette may be more ideal than a manual pipette. An example of a repeated sequential transfer would be transferring master mix from a flip-cap tube to a 96-well plate. Using a manual pipette to do this can add some significant ergonomic strain as it would take 96 individual transfers, whereas with an electronic pipette you could cut this down by one-third or more, depending on the volumes and tip sizes you are working with. Cost will also be a consideration as electronic pipettes can be on the pricey side when compared to manual pipettes.

5. What kind of budget do you have to work with for the initial purchase and for repairs?

Table 1. Cost Comparisons




(Manual or Electronic)
  • Potential warranty
  • Latest technology
  • Available parts (repairs)

  • Cost can be high (electronic may be higher than manual)
  • May not match existing models you have on hand

(Manual or Electronic)
  • Some vendors may offer limited coverage protection
  • Cost is usually less than new
  • You can likely find matches to existing models you already have
  • Parts may be harder to come by if it's an older model
  • Unknown history

6. Do you plan on using the same pipette tips you currently are using or evaluating new ones?

You may want to research the specifications of the pipette or ask the vendor (see below) about tip recommendations. If the pipette tip does not seat correctly, you can cause damage to the pipette by using excessive force to seat and eject the pipette tip. This topic will be explored more in the next article in this miniseries.

Here are some questions you can pose to the vendor to help you get better acquainted with the recommended care for the pipette. Make sure you take regulatory standards into account as well, and if there are any specific internal requirements (SOPs, training) you need to follow, those would also be good questions to ask the vendor.

  1. What is the recommended maintenance plan for the pipette?
  2. Are there any special tools required to complete basic maintenance? If so, are they included with the pipette?
  3. Do you have calibration recommendations? Frequency? Services?
  4. Do you offer maintenance or repair services?
  5. What are the conditions of the coverage or warranty?

Once you have these questions answered, you will need to determine if you are equipped to complete the recommended maintenance on the pipette and how you will handle calibration.

7. Have you discussed your purchase with laboratory personnel? Do they have requirements or recommendations?

If you have your decision narrowed down to a few options, getting user feedback may be beneficial. Your users can evaluate the specifications and ensure it will meet their safety and application needs. They may have also had previous experience with certain types and can help you make the best decision for your lab.

While the world of pipette purchasing seems overwhelming, you can narrow down your needs by going through a few simple questions, just as we laid out above. The next time you need to buy a pipette…….no problem, you got this!

If you are thinking that you would benefit from a multi-channel pipette, stay tuned for the next article in this series.

Additional Resources

About the Author

breeann bryanBreeann Bryan

Breeann Bryan is a dedicated laboratory professional with a LEAN Six Sigma Black Belt. Her background ranges from the bench to operations management. She is proud to share the knowledge she has gained from her experience and empower others to tackle their process improvement challenges. Whether it’s troubleshooting data quality issues or finding out how to maximize efficiency in the lab, she firmly believes that everyone deserves to have the right tools needed for the job.