Because microlens array requires well-defined and continuous surface relief profile, special methods are needed to supplement the normal microlithography to produce those spherical structures . Various techniques have been developed, and the most widely used is multi-step photolithography with thermal resist reflow. However, the alternative grayscale photolithography technique appears to be the one as the most flexible and versatile method .
Indeed, this approach is a one-level lithography process enabling the development of 3D profiles in a photoresist masking layer. In addition, with the need to maintain or improve image quality at an ever-smaller pixel size, grayscale technic can offer one way to compensate the loss of the photosensitive area by achieving zero-gap microlens. One other advantage of grayscale is the possibility to have, from a single lithography, objects of different shapes, but also at the same time of different sizes (especially heights); which is possible with classical lithography only by doing multi-patterning.
There are several options for performing grayscale lithography, for example the HEBS mask (high energy beam sensitive) which darkens under exposure to electrons. The option that has been chosen is to use a grayscale reticle, with varying chromium features densities that locally modulate the intensity of transmitted UV light. Being non-uniformly exposed, this allows the creation of a relief structure in the resist layer after development. The resist height after development depends on the intensity of the incident light, the exposure time and the contrast of the resist. So contrary to conventional lithography where the goal is to achieve straight resist pattern profiles, grayscale lithography enables the realization of progressive profiles, which requires smooth resist contrast curve. The other specificity of these resists is that they must crosslink without flowing.
In this paper, we evaluate resists from different suppliers to generate microlenses smaller than 5μm via a grayscale mask. The study consists in establishing the contrast curves of these resists according to different process parameters, giving the designer great control of grayscale levels that can be achieved for a given resist. Then, pattern various microlenses shapes in these resists to evaluate the residual resist thickness according to the gray levels. With the final objective of establishing a relationship between these contrast curves and the profile variations at the microlens level to compute a suitable and accurate grayscale mask .