IBM J. Res. Dev

Printing meets lithography: Soft approaches to high-resolution printing

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We are developing a high-resolution printing technique based on transferring a pattern from an elastomeric stamp to a solid substrate by conformal contact. This is an attempt to enhance the accuracy of classical printing to a precision comparable with optical lithography, creating a low-cost, large-area, high-resolution patterning process. First, we introduce the components of this technique, called soft lithography, and review its evolution. Topics described in detail are the stamp material, stamp architecture, pattern design rules, and printing tools. The accuracy of the prints made by thin patterned elastomeric layers supported on a stiff and flexible backplane is then assessed, and defects are characterized using a new electrical metrology approach. This is followed by a discussion of various printing processes used in our laboratory: 1) thiol printing for high-resolution patterns of noble metals that may also be used as sacrificial masks; 2) confined contact processing with liquids in cavities or channels to chemically convert a substrate or deposit layers of materials or biomolecules; 3) printing of catalysts to mediate patterned deposition of metals; and 4) structured, light-guiding stamps for transferring high-resolution patterns into photoresists. Finally, we compare classical and high-resolution printing approaches, and describe their potential for emerging micro- and nano-scale patterning technologies.