Nanoimprint lithography Scanning probe lithography Photolithography

Nanolithography is a growing field of techniques within nanotechnology dealing with the engineering (etching, writing, printing) of nanometer-scale structures. From Greek, the word can be broken up into three parts: "nano" meaning dwarf, "lith" meaning stone, and "graphy" meaning to write, or "tiny writing onto stone." Today, the word has evolved to cover the design of structures in the range of 10−9 to 10−6 meters, or structures in the nanometer range. Essentially, the field is a derivative of lithography, only covering significantly smaller structures. All nanolithographic techniques can be separated into two categories: those that etch away molecules leaving behind the desired structure, and those that directly write the desired structure to a surface (similar to the way a 3D printer creates a structure).

The field of nanolithography was born out of the need to increase the number of transistors in an integrated circuit in order to maintain Moore's Law. While lithographic techniques have been around since the late 18th century, none were applied to nanoscale structures until the mid-1950s. With evolution of the semiconductor industry, demand for techniques capable of producing micro- and nano-scale structures skyrocketed. Photolithography was applied to these structures for the first time in 1958 beginning the age of nanolithography.[1] Since then, photolithography has become the most commercially successful technique, capable of producing sub-100 nm patterns.[2] There are several techniques associated with the field, each designed to serve its many uses in the medical and semiconductor industries. Breakthroughs in this field contribute significantly to the advancement of nanotechnology, and are increasingly important today as demand for smaller and smaller computer chips increases. Further areas of research deal with physical limitations of the field, energy harvesting, and photonics.[2]

Important techniques

Optical lithography

Optical Lithography (or photolithography) is one of the most important and prevalent sets of techniques in the nanolithography field. Optical lithography contains several important derivative techniques, all that use very short light wavelengths in order to change the solubility of certain molecules, causing them to wash away in solution, leaving behind a desired structure. Several optical lithography techniques require the use of liquid immersion and a host of resolution enhancement technologies like phase-shift masks (PSM) and optical proximity correction (OPC). Some of the included techniques in this set include multiphoton lithography, X-Ray lithography, light coupling nanolithography (LCM), and extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUVL).[2] This last technique is considered to be the most important next generation lithography (NGL) technique due to its ability to produce structures accurately down below 30 nanometers.

Electron-beam lithography

Electron beam lithography (EBL) or electron-beam direct-write lithography (EBDW) scans a focused beam of electrons on a surface covered with an electron-sensitive film or resist (e.g. PMMA or HSQ) to draw custom shapes. By changing the solubility of the resist and subsequent selective removal of material by immersion in a solvent, sub-10 nm resolutions have been achieved. This form of direct-write, maskless lithography has high resolution and low throughput, limiting single-column e-beams to photomask fabrication, low-volume production of semiconductor devices, and research&development. Multiple-electron beam approaches have as a goal an increase of throughput for semiconductor mass-production.

EBL can be utilized for selective protein nanopatterning on a solid substrate, aimed for ultrasensitive sensing.[3]

Scanning probe lithography

Scanning probe lithography (SPL) is another set of techniques for patterning at the nanometer-scale down to individual atoms using scanning probes, either by etching away unwanted material, or by directly-writing new material onto a substrate. Some of the important techniques in this category include dip-pen nanolithography, thermochemical nanolithography, thermal scanning probe lithography, and local oxidation nanolithography. Dip-pen nanolithography is the most widely used of these techniques.[4]

Nanoimprint lithography

Nanoimprint lithography (NIL), and its variants, such as Step-and-Flash Imprint Lithography and laser assisted directed imprint (LADI) are promising nanopattern replication technologies where patterns are created by mechanical deformation of imprint resists, typically monomer or polymer formations that are cured by heat or UV light during imprinting.[citation needed] This technique can be combined with contact printing and cold welding. Nanoimprint lithography is capable of producing patterns at sub-10 nm levels.[citation needed]

Miscellaneous techniques

Charged-particle lithography

This set of techniques include ion- and electron-projection lithographies. Ion beam lithography uses a focused or broad beam of energetic lightweight ions (like He+) for transferring pattern to a surface. Using Ion Beam Proximity Lithography (IBL) nano-scale features can be transferred on non-planar surfaces.[5]


Magnetolithography (ML) is based on applying a magnetic field on the substrate using paramagnetic metal masks call "magnetic mask". Magnetic mask which is analog to photomask define the spatial distribution and shape of the applied magnetic field. The second component is ferromagnetic nanoparticles (analog to the Photoresist) that are assembled onto the substrate according to the field induced by the magnetic mask.

Nanosphere lithography

Nanosphere lithography uses self-assembled monolayers of spheres (typically made of polystyrene) as evaporation masks. This method has been used to fabricate arrays of gold nanodots with precisely controlled spacings.[6]

Neutral particle lithography

Neutral particle lithography (NPL) uses a broad beam of energetic neutral particle for pattern transfer on a surface.[7]

Plasmonic lithography

Plasmonic lithography uses surface plasmon excitations to generate beyond-diffraction limit patterns, benefiting from subwavelength field confinement properties of surface plasmon polaritons.[8]

Proton beam writing

This technique uses a focused beam of high energy (MeV) protons to pattern resist material at nanodimensions and has been shown to be capable of producing high-resolution patterning well below the 100 nm mark.[9]

Stencil lithography

Stencil lithography is a resist-less and parallel method of fabricating nanometer scale patterns using nanometer-size apertures as shadow-masks.

Quantum optical lithography

Quantum optical lithography (QOL), is a diffraction-unlimited method able to write at 1 nm resolution[10] by optical means, using a red laser diode (λ = 650nm).Complex patterns like geometrical figures and letters were obtained at 3 nm resolution[11] on resist substrate. The method was applied to nanopattern graphene at 20 nm resolution.[12]


  1. ^ "Jay W. Lathrop | Computer History Museum". www.computerhistory.org. Retrieved 2019-03-18.
  2. ^ a b c "ASML: Press - Press Releases - ASML reaches agreement for delivery of minimum of 15 EUV lithography systems". www.asml.com. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  3. ^ Shafagh, Reza; Vastesson, Alexander; Guo, Weijin; van der Wijngaart, Wouter; Haraldsson, Tommy (2018). "E-Beam Nanostructuring and Direct Click Biofunctionalization of Thiol–Ene Resist". ACS Nano. 12 (10): 9940–9946. doi:10.1021/acsnano.8b03709. PMID 30212184.
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  5. ^ Dhara Parikh, Barry Craver, Hatem N. Nounu, Fu-On Fong, and John C. Wolfe, "Nanoscale Pattern Definition on Nonplanar Surfaces Using Ion Beam Proximity Lithography and Conformal Plasma-Deposited Resist", Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems, VOL. 17, NO. 3, JUNE 2008
  6. ^ A. Hatzor-de Picciotto, A. D. Wissner-Gross, G. Lavallee, P. S. Weiss (2007). "Arrays of Cu(2+)-complexed organic clusters grown on gold nano dots" (PDF). Journal of Experimental Nanoscience. 2 (1): 3–11. Bibcode:2007JENan...2....3P. doi:10.1080/17458080600925807.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ J C Wolfe and B P Craver, "Neutral particle lithography: a simple solution to charge-related artefacts in ion beam proximity printing", J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 41 (2008) 024007 (12pp)
  8. ^ Xie, Zhihua; Yu, Weixing; Wang, Taisheng; et al. (31 May 2011). "Plasmonic nanolithography: a review". Plasmonics. 6 (3): 565–580. doi:10.1007/s11468-011-9237-0.
  9. ^ Watt, Frank (June 2007). "Proton Beam Writing". Materials Today. 10 (6): 20–29. doi:10.1016/S1369-7021(07)70129-3.
  10. ^ Pavel, E; Jinga, S; Vasile, B S; Dinescu, A; Marinescu, V; Trusca, R; Tosa, N (2014). "Quantum Optical Lithography from 1 nm resolution to pattern transfer on silicon wafer". Opt Laser Technol. 60: 80–84. doi:10.1016/j.optlastec.2014.01.016.
  11. ^ Pavel, E; Prodan, G; Marinescu, V; Trusca, R (2019). "Recent advances in 3- to 10-nm quantum optical lithography". J. Micro/Nanolith. MEMS MOEMS. 18 (2): 020501. doi:10.1117/1.JMM.18.2.020501.
  12. ^ Pavel, E; Marinescu, V; Lungulescu, M (2019). "Graphene nanopatterning by Quantum Optical Lithography". Optik. 203: 163532. doi:10.1016/j.ijleo.2019.163532.