Sub-wavelength lithography requires knowledgeable application of resolution enhancement techniques (RETs) such as optical proximity correction (OPC) and phase shift mask (PSM). Use of RETs, in turn, requires that new photomask specifications and special requirements for mask defect printability be taken into consideration. This is especially true, as the photomask's critical dimensions become more aggressive (400 nm moving toward 300 nm). Traditionally, mask defect analysis and subsequent defect disposition has been accomplished by first performing automated reticle inspection, and then by visual inspection ultimately dependent on operator judgement. As the semiconductor industry moves to more challenging process generations this methodology is no longer viable for assessing the impact of a defect on the printed wafer. New techniques for more accurate, production-worthy defect printability analysis and defect disposition procedures are required. Developed at Numerical Technologies, Inc. is the Virtual StepperTM System that offers a fast, accurate software solution for defect printability analysis based on state-of- the-art lithography simulation techniques for advanced masks production using OPC and PSM. The newly developed Virtual Stepper System feature, Automatic Defect Severity Scoring (ADSS) provides fully automated and accurate defect impact analysis capability by calculating a consistent Defect Severity Score (DSS) for each defect detected by an inspection tool. DSS is an overall score that quantifies the impact of a given defect on surrounding features and can be used as a comprehensive indicator of defect printability. Taken into consideration, are not only printing defects, but defects which cause critical dimension (CD) errors altering a given process window.