In an optical vortex, the wavefront spirals like a corkscrew, rather than forming planes or spheres. Since any nonzero optical amplitude must have a well-defined phase, the axis of a vortex is always dark. Printed in negative resist at 248nm and NA=0.63, 250nm pitch vortex arrays would produce contact holes with 80nmk1<0.4), depending on exposure dose. Arrays of vortices with kpitch>0.6 can be patterned using a chromeless phase-edge mask composed of rectangles with nominal phases of 0°, 90°, 180° and 270°. Analytic and numerical calculations have been performed to characterize the aerial images projected from such vortex masks using the Kirchhoff-approximation and rigorous EMF methods. Combined with resist simulations, these analyses predict process windows with ≈10%Elat and >200nm DOF for 80nm CDs on pitches greater than or equal to 250nm at σ greater than or equal to 0.15. Smaller CDs and pitches are possible with shorter wavelength and larger NA while larger pitches give rise to larger CDs. At pitch >0.8μm, the vortices begin to print independently for σ greater than or equal to 0.3. Such “independent” vortices have a quasi-isofocal dose that gives rise to 100nm contacts with Elat>9% and DOF>500nm at σ=0.3. The extra darkness of the nominal 270° phase step can be accommodated by fine-tuning the etch depth. A reticle fabrication process that achieves the required alignment and vertical wall profiles has been exercised and test masks analyzed. In an actual chip design, unwanted vortices and phase step images would be erased from the resist pattern by exposing the wafer with a second, more conventional trim mask. Vortex via placement is consistent with the coarse-gridded grating design paradigms which would - if widely exercised - lower the cost of the required reticles. Compared to other ways of producing deep sub-wavelength contacts, the vortex via process requires fewer masks and reduces the overlay and process control challenges. A high resolution negative-working resist process is essential, however.