Detection techniques currently used in scanning force microscopy impose limitations on the geometrical dimensions of the probes and, as a consequence, on their force sensitivity and temporal response. A new technique, based on scattered evanescent electromagnetic waves ( SEW), is presented here that can detect the displacement of the extreme end of a vertically mounted cantilever. The resolution of this method is tested using different cantilever sizes and a theoretical model is developed to maximize the detection sensitivity. The applications presented here clearly show that the SEW detection system enables the use of force sensors with sub-micron size, opening new possibilities in the investigation of biomolecular systems and high speed imaging. Two types of cantilevers were successfully tested: a high force sensitivity lever with a spring constant of 0.17 pN nm(-1) and a resonant frequency of 32 kHz; and a high speed lever with a spring constant of 50 pN nm(-1) and a resonant frequency of 1.8 MHz. Both these force sensors were fabricated by modifying commercial microcantilevers in a focused ion beam system. It is important to emphasize that these modified cantilevers could not be detected by the conventional optical detection system used in commercial atomic force microscopes.