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Instrumental developments for imaging and individual particle detection for biomolecular mass spectrometry (imaging) and fundamental atomic and molecular physics studies are reviewed. Ion-counting detectors, array detection systems and high mass detectors for mass spectrometry (imaging) are treated. State-of-the-art detection systems for multi-dimensional ion, electron and photon detection are highlighted. Their application and performance in three different imaging modes – integrated, selected and spectral image detection – are described. Electro-optical and microchannel-plate-based systems are contrasted. The analytical capabilities of solid-state pixel detectors – both charge coupled device (CCD) and complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chips – are introduced. The Medipix/Timepix detector family is described as an example of a CMOS hybrid active pixel sensor. Alternative imaging methods for particle detection and their potential for future applications are investigated. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.