The natural progression of today's semiconductor industry is toward smaller geometric features and registration requirements. Typically, this progression results in high capital equipment investments, along with a large capacity reduction per investment dollar for most lithographic exposure processes. One major cause for the capacity loss is the industry's willingness to migrate from full-field scanning projection printers to a lower throughput field-by-field alignment step-and-repeat exposure system. Standard Microsystems Corporation (SMC) sought to achieve higher performance on its scanners without compromising throughput. The original goal at SMC was to improve Perkin-Elmer's Micralign 641 HT machine-to-machine registration specification of ± 0.30 micron to less than ± 0.25 micron. With this in mind, we set out to investigate the true alignment and registration limitations of a Micralign Model 600 HT Series Projection Aligner. Although SMC was apparently successful at matching two Micralign 641 HT systems to ± 0.25 micron by manually reading verniers, this technique proved to be time consuming and prone to human error. Electrical probing of wafers was considered, but the special masks and processing steps and its destructive nature were considered undesirable. For this study, an automatic optical overlay measurement system was used to optimize overlay on the SMC Micralign systems. The results were enlightening. The specified overlay of ± 0.30 micron for 98% of the data improved to better than ± 0.25 micron, 3 sigma. These results were achieved without the use of Automatic Magnification Compensation (AVM/AMC). We also discovered that many otherwise transparent mechanical/optical anomalies, such as contamination and scan interference, could be readily identified. Experimental data is presented and the beneficial application of this technique to a production process is discussed.