A video explaining photolithography. It is part of the Nanoscale exhibition. Filmed at the Cornell Nanoscale Facility. Produced by Brant Penman. Photolithography (or "optical lithography") is a process used in microfabrication to selectively remove parts of a thin film or the bulk of a substrate. It uses light to transfer a geometric pattern from a photo mask to a light-sensitive chemical photo resist, or simply "resist," on the substrate. A series of chemical treatments then engraves the exposure pattern into the material underneath the photo resist. In complex integrated circuits, for example a modern CMOS, a wafer will go through the photolithographic cycle up to 50 times.
Photolithography shares some fundamental principles with photography in that, the pattern in the etching resist is created by exposing it to light, either using a projected image or an optical mask. This procedure is comparable to a high precision version of the method used to make printed circuit boards. Subsequent stages in the process have more in common with etching than to lithographic printing. It is used because it affords exact control over the shape and size of the objects it creates, and because it can create patterns over an entire surface simultaneously. Its main disadvantages are that it requires a flat substrate to start with, it is not very effective at creating shapes that are not flat, and it can require extremely clean operating conditions.