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A photomask Semiconductor photomask.jpg
A photomask
A schematic illustration of a photomask (top) and an integrated circuit created using that mask (bottom) Mask illustration.svg
A schematic illustration of a photomask (top) and an integrated circuit created using that mask (bottom)

A photomask is an opaque plate with holes or transparencies that allow light to shine through in a defined pattern. They are commonly used in photolithography.

Photolithography, also called optical lithography or UV lithography, is a process used in microfabrication to pattern parts of a thin film or the bulk of a substrate. It uses light to transfer a geometric pattern from a photomask to a photosensitive chemical photoresist on the substrate. A series of chemical treatments then either etches the exposure pattern into the material or enables deposition of a new material in the desired pattern upon the material underneath the photoresist. In complex integrated circuits, a CMOS wafer may go through the photolithographic cycle as many as 50 times.



A simulated photomask. The thicker features are the integrated circuit that is desired to be printed on the wafer. The thinner features are assists that do not print themselves, but help the integrated circuit print better out-of-focus. The zig-zag appearance of the photomask is because optical proximity correction was applied to it to create a better print. OpcedPhotomask.png
A simulated photomask. The thicker features are the integrated circuit that is desired to be printed on the wafer. The thinner features are assists that do not print themselves, but help the integrated circuit print better out-of-focus. The zig-zag appearance of the photomask is because optical proximity correction was applied to it to create a better print.

Lithographic photomasks are typically transparent fused silica blanks covered with a pattern defined with a chrome metal-absorbing film. Photomasks are used at wavelengths of 365 nm, 248 nm, and 193 nm. Photomasks have also been developed for other forms of radiation such as 157 nm, 13.5 nm (EUV), X-ray, electrons, and ions; but these require entirely new materials for the substrate and the pattern film.

Extreme ultraviolet lithography a next-generation lithography technology using an extreme ultraviolet (EUV) wavelength, currently expected to be 13.5 nm.

Extreme ultraviolet lithography is a next-generation lithography technology using a range of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) wavelengths, roughly spanning a 2% FWHM bandwidth about 13.5 nm. In August 2019, Samsung announced the use of EUV for its own 7nm Exynos 9825 chip. However, yield issues have been a concern. In September 2019, Huawei announced a 5G version of its Kirin 990 chip that was made in a TSMC 7nm process with EUV, as well as a non-5G version that was made in a conventional TSMC 7nm process; however, the release dates for the first phones to use the Kirin 990 chips have not been confirmed yet. ASML, the sole EUV tool supplier, reported in June 2019 that pellicles required for critical layers still required improvements.

X-ray Röntgen radiation

X-rays make up X-radiation, a form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Most X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 0.01 to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz (3×1016 Hz to 3×1019 Hz) and energies in the range 100 eV to 100 keV. X-ray wavelengths are shorter than those of UV rays and typically longer than those of gamma rays. In many languages, X-radiation is referred to as Röntgen radiation, after the German scientist Wilhelm Röntgen, who discovered it on November 8, 1895. He named it X-radiation to signify an unknown type of radiation. Spelling of X-ray(s) in the English language includes the variants x-ray(s), xray(s), and X ray(s).

A set of photomasks, each defining a pattern layer in integrated circuit fabrication, is fed into a photolithography stepper or scanner, and individually selected for exposure. In double patterning techniques, a photomask would correspond to a subset of the layer pattern.

Semiconductor device fabrication manufacturing process used to create integrated circuits

Semiconductor device fabrication is the process used to manufacture semiconductor devices, particularly the metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) devices used in the integrated circuit (IC) chips that are present in everyday electrical and electronic devices. It is a multiple-step sequence of photolithographic and chemical processing steps during which electronic circuits are gradually created on a wafer made of pure semiconducting material. Silicon is almost always used, but various compound semiconductors are used for specialized applications.


A stepper is a device used in the manufacture of integrated circuits (ICs) that is similar in operation to a slide projector or a photographic enlarger. The term "stepper" is short for step-and-repeat camera. Steppers are an essential part of the complex process, called photolithography, that creates millions of microscopic circuit elements on the surface of tiny chips of silicon. These chips form the heart of ICs such as computer processors, memory chips, and many other devices.

In photolithography for the mass production of integrated circuit devices, the more correct term is usually photoreticle or simply reticle. In the case of a photomask, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the mask pattern and the wafer pattern. This was the standard for the 1:1 mask aligners that were succeeded by steppers and scanners with reduction optics. [1] As used in steppers and scanners, the reticle commonly contains only one layer of the chip. (However, some photolithography fabrications utilize reticles with more than one layer patterned onto the same mask). The pattern is projected and shrunk by four or five times onto the wafer surface. [2] To achieve complete wafer coverage, the wafer is repeatedly "stepped" from position to position under the optical column until full exposure is achieved.

Mass production production of large amounts of standardized products

Mass production, also known as flow production or continuous production, is the production of large amounts of standardized products, including and especially on assembly lines. Together with job production and batch production, it is one of the three main production methods.

Integrated circuit electronic circuit manufactured by lithography; set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece (or "chip") of semiconductor material, normally silicon

An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny MOS transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, faster, and less expensive than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability, and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs.

Features 150 nm or below in size generally require phase-shifting to enhance the image quality to acceptable values. This can be achieved in many ways. The two most common methods are to use an attenuated phase-shifting background film on the mask to increase the contrast of small intensity peaks, or to etch the exposed quartz so that the edge between the etched and unetched areas can be used to image nearly zero intensity. In the second case, unwanted edges would need to be trimmed out with another exposure. The former method is attenuated phase-shifting, and is often considered a weak enhancement, requiring special illumination for the most enhancement, while the latter method is known as alternating-aperture phase-shifting, and is the most popular strong enhancement technique.

Phase-shift mask resolution-improving photomask

Phase-shift masks are photomasks that take advantage of the interference generated by phase differences to improve image resolution in photolithography. There exist alternating and attenuated phase shift masks. A phase-shift mask relies on the fact that light passing through a transparent media will undergo a phase change as a function of its optical thickness.

Quartz mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms in a continuous framework of SiO₄ silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall chemical formula of SiO₂

Quartz is a mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms in a continuous framework of SiO4 silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall chemical formula of SiO2. Quartz is the second most abundant mineral in Earth's continental crust, behind feldspar.

As leading-edge semiconductor features shrink, photomask features that are 4× larger must inevitably shrink as well. This could pose challenges since the absorber film will need to become thinner, and hence less opaque. [3] A recent[ when? ] study by IMEC has found that thinner absorbers degrade image contrast and therefore contribute to line-edge roughness, using state-of-the-art photolithography tools. [4] One possibility is to eliminate absorbers altogether and use "chromeless" masks, relying solely on phase-shifting for imaging.

The emergence of immersion lithography has a strong impact on photomask requirements. The commonly used attenuated phase-shifting mask is more sensitive to the higher incidence angles applied in "hyper-NA" lithography, due to the longer optical path through the patterned film. [5]

EUV photomasks work by reflecting light instead of blocking light.

Photomasks are made by applying photoresist to a quartz substrate with chrome plating on one side and exposing it using a laser or an electron beam in a process called maskless lithography. [6] The photoresist is then developed and the unprotected areas with chrome are etched, and the remaining photoresist is removed. [7] [8] [9]

Mask error enhancement factor (MEEF)

Leading-edge photomasks (pre-corrected) images of the final chip patterns magnified by four times. This magnification factor has been a key benefit in reducing pattern sensitivity to imaging errors. However, as features continue to shrink, two trends come into play: the first is that the mask error factor begins to exceed one, i.e., the dimension error on the wafer may be more than 1/4 the dimension error on the mask, [10] and the second is that the mask feature is becoming smaller, and the dimension tolerance is approaching a few nanometers. For example, a 25 nm wafer pattern should correspond to a 100 nm mask pattern, but the wafer tolerance could be 1.25 nm (5% spec), which translates into 5 nm on the photomask. The variation of electron beam scattering in directly writing the photomask pattern can easily well exceed this. [11] [12]


The term "pellicle" is used to mean "film", "thin film", or "membrane." Beginning in the 1960s, thin film stretched on a metal frame, also known as a "pellicle", was used as a beam splitter for optical instruments. It has been used in a number of instruments to split a beam of light without causing an optical path shift due to its small film thickness. In 1978, Shea et al. at IBM patented a process to use the "pellicle" as a dust cover to protect a photomask or reticle. In the context of this entry, "pellicle" means "thin film dust cover to protect a photomask".

Particle contamination can be a significant problem in semiconductor manufacturing. A photomask is protected from particles by a pellicle a thin transparent film stretched over a frame that is glued over one side of the photomask. The pellicle is far enough away from the mask patterns so that moderate-to-small sized particles that land on the pellicle will be too far out of focus to print. Although they are designed to keep particles away, pellicles become a part of the imaging system and their optical properties need to be taken into account. Pellicles material are Nitrocellulose and made for various Transmission Wavelengths. [13]

Pellicle Mounting Machine MLI Pellicle Mounting Machine MLI.jpg
Pellicle Mounting Machine MLI

Leading commercial photomask manufacturers

The SPIE Annual Conference, Photomask Technology reports the SEMATECH Mask Industry Assessment which includes current industry analysis and the results of their annual photomask manufacturers survey. The following companies are listed in order of their global market share (2009 info): [14]

Major chipmakers such as Intel, Globalfoundries, IBM, NEC, TSMC, UMC, Samsung, and Micron Technology, have their own large maskmaking facilities or joint ventures with the abovementioned companies.

The worldwide photomask market was estimated as $3.2 billion in 2012 [15] and $3.1 billion in 2013. Almost half of the market was from captive mask shops (in-house mask shops of major chipmakers). [16]

The costs of creating new mask shop for 180 nm processes were estimated in 2005 as $40 million, and for 130 nm - more than $100 million. [17]

The purchase price of a photomask, in 2006, could range from $250 to $100,000 [18] for a single high-end phase-shift mask. As many as 30 masks (of varying price) may be required to form a complete mask set.

See also

Related Research Articles

Microelectromechanical systems technology of very small devices

Microelectromechanical systems is the technology of microscopic devices, particularly those with moving parts. It merges at the nano-scale into nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) and nanotechnology. MEMS are also referred to as micromachines in Japan, or micro systems technology (MST) in Europe.

Photoresist light-sensitive material used in photolithography and photoengraving

A photoresist is a light-sensitive material used in several processes, such as photolithography and photoengraving, to form a patterned coating on a surface. This process is crucial in the electronic industry.

Immersion lithography photolithography technique for manufacturing integrated circuits

Immersion lithography is a photolithography resolution enhancement technique for manufacturing integrated circuits (ICs) that replaces the usual air gap between the final lens and the wafer surface with a liquid medium that has a refractive index greater than one. The resolution is increased by a factor equal to the refractive index of the liquid. Current immersion lithography tools use highly purified water for this liquid, achieving feature sizes below 45 nanometers. ASML and Nikon are currently the only manufacturers of immersion lithography systems.

Electron-beam lithography

Electron-beam lithography is the practice of scanning a focused beam of electrons to draw custom shapes on a surface covered with an electron-sensitive film called a resist (exposing). The electron beam changes the solubility of the resist, enabling selective removal of either the exposed or non-exposed regions of the resist by immersing it in a solvent (developing). The purpose, as with photolithography, is to create very small structures in the resist that can subsequently be transferred to the substrate material, often by etching.

Maskless lithography utilizes methods that directly transfer the information onto the substrate, without utilizing an intermediate static mask, i.e. photomask that is directly replicated. In microlithography typically radiation transfer casts an image of a time constant mask onto a photosensitive emulsion . Traditionally mask aligners, steppers, scanners, but also other non-optical techniques for high speed replication of microstructures are common. The concept takes advantage of high speed or parallel manipulation technologies that have been enabled by large and cheap available computing capacity, which is not an issue with the standard approach that decouples a slow, but precise structuring process for writing a mask from a fast and highly parallel copy process to achieve high replication throughputs as demanded for in industrial microstructuring.

Nanolithography is a growing field of techniques within nanotechnology dealing with the engineering 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, 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.

Next-generation lithography or NGL is a term used in integrated circuit manufacturing to describe the lithography technologies slated to replace open air, visible light photolithography. As of 2016 the most advanced form of photolithography is immersion lithography, in which water is used as an immersion medium for the final lens. It is being applied to the 16 nm and 14 nm nodes, with the required use of multiple patterning. The increasing costs of multiple patterning have motivated the continued search for a next-generation technology that can flexibly achieve the required resolution in a single processing step.

In semiconductor fabrication, a resist is a thin layer used to transfer a circuit pattern to the semiconductor substrate which it is deposited upon. A resist can be patterned via lithography to form a (sub)micrometer-scale, temporary mask that protects selected areas of the underlying substrate during subsequent processing steps. The material used to prepare said thin layer is typically a viscous solution. Resists are generally proprietary mixtures of a polymer or its precursor and other small molecules that have been specially formulated for a given lithography technology. Resists used during photolithography are called photoresists.

ASML is a Dutch company and currently the largest supplier in the world of photolithography systems for the semiconductor industry. The company manufactures machines for the production of integrated circuits. The company is a component of the Euro Stoxx 50 stock market index.

Optical proximity correction photolithography enhancement technique

Optical proximity correction (OPC) is a photolithography enhancement technique commonly used to compensate for image errors due to diffraction or process effects. The need for OPC is seen mainly in the making of semiconductor devices and is due to the limitations of light to maintain the edge placement integrity of the original design, after processing, into the etched image on the silicon wafer. These projected images appear with irregularities such as line widths that are narrower or wider than designed, these are amenable to compensation by changing the pattern on the photomask used for imaging. Other distortions such as rounded corners are driven by the resolution of the optical imaging tool and are harder to compensate for. Such distortions, if not corrected for, may significantly alter the electrical properties of what was being fabricated. Optical proximity correction corrects these errors by moving edges or adding extra polygons to the pattern written on the photomask. This may be driven by pre-computed look-up tables based on width and spacing between features or by using compact models to dynamically simulate the final pattern and thereby drive the movement of edges, typically broken into sections, to find the best solution,. The objective is to reproduce on the semiconductor wafer, as well as possible, the original layout drawn by the designer.

Contact lithography, also known as contact printing, is a form of photolithography whereby the image to be printed is obtained by illumination of a photomask in direct contact with a substrate coated with an imaging photoresist layer.

A mask shop is a factory which manufactures photomasks for use in the semiconductor industry. There are two distinct types found in the trade. Captive mask shops are in-house operations owned by the biggest semiconductor corporations, while merchant mask shops make masks for most of the industry.

Multiple patterning is a class of technologies for manufacturing integrated circuits (ICs), developed for photolithography to enhance the feature density. It is expected to be necessary for the 10 nm and 7 nm node semiconductor processes and beyond. The premise is that a single lithographic exposure may not be enough to provide sufficient resolution. Hence additional exposures would be needed, or else positioning patterns using etched feature sidewalls would be necessary.

Computational lithography is the set of mathematical and algorithmic approaches designed to improve the resolution attainable through photolithography. Computational lithography has come to the forefront of photolithography in 2008 as the semiconductor industry grappled with the challenges associated with the transition to 22 nanometer CMOS process technology and beyond.

SUSS MicroTec

SÜSS MicroTec SE is a supplier of equipment and process solutions for the semiconductor industry and related markets. The microstructuring systems like photolithography tools are used for manufacturing of processors, memory chips, MEMS, LED and other micro system devices.

Peter Trefonas is a DuPont Fellow at DuPont, where he works on the development of electronic materials. He is known for innovations in the chemistry of photolithography, particularly the development of anti-reflective coatings and polymer photoresists that are used to create circuitry for computer chips. This work has supported the patterning of smaller features during the lithographic process, increasing miniaturization and microprocessor speed.


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