The design of ultra-low power micro-hotplates on a polyimide (PI) substrate supported by thermal simulations and characterization is presented. By establishing a method for the thermal simulation of very small scale heating elements, the goal of this study was to decrease the power consumption of PI micro-hotplates to a few milliwatts to make them suitable for very low power applications. To this end, the mean heat transfer coefficients in air of the devices were extracted by finite element analysis combined with very precise thermographic measurements. A simulation model was implemented for these hotplates to investigate both the influence of their downscaling and the bulk micromachining of the polyimide substrate to lower their power consumptions. Simulations were in very good agreement with the experimental results. The main parameters influencing significantly the power consumption at such dimensions were identified and guidelines were defined allowing the design of very small (15 x 15 mu m) and ultra-low power heating elements (6 mW at 300 degrees C). These very low power heating structures enable the realization of flexible sensors, such as gas, flow or wind sensors, for applications in autonomous wireless sensors networks or RFID applications and make them compatible with large-scale production on foil such as roll-to-roll or printing processes.