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A variety of methods are available for monitoring of cell forces. In this paper, a novel approach using an in-plane deformable microsystem is utilized in which displacements induced by cultured cells are measured via optical profilometry. The high resolution obtainable from profilometry gives an order of magnitude improvement in measurement resolution compared to conventional optical techniques and demonstrates a spatial measurement resolution of 12 nm (126 nN). The work focuses on both fixed and living fibroblasts and epithelial cells with estimates of forces exerted significantly higher using living cells compared to fixed cells. The methodology was developed to give no restriction to the cell environment, thereby allowing the potential for a broad range of experiments in the field.