The LIGA-process is used to manufacture micro structures by deep X-ray lithography. LIGA is the german acronym for lithography, electroplating and moulding (Lithographie, Galvanik und Abformung). The LIGA-process has been developed in the "Institut für Kernverfahrenstechnik" (IKVT), today "Institute for Microstructure Technology" (IMT) in the Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe GmbH since the late 1980th [Sai 2008]. Today several institutes use the LIGA-process, e.g. [Goe 2006].

Primarily the LIGA-process provides high aspect ratio micro structures in polymers like e.g. PMMA (better known as acrylic glass). Via electroplating these structures can be replicated in metals like gold, nickel, magnetic nickel-iron alloys or copper. Even replications in ceramics are possible. An industrial low cost production of micro structures is possible when a nickel tool is fabricated for hot embossing or injection moulding.

The main characteristics of LIGA-structures are:

  • large layout freedom in the mask geometry
  • high aspect ratios of up to >100 achievable
  • parallel side walls with flank angle very close to 90° (deviation: about 1 µm for 1 mm high structures)
  • smooth side walls (Ra in the 10 nm range) suitable e.g. for optical micro mirrors
  • lateral precision in the few micrometre range over distances of several centimetres
  • structural details on side walls in the 30 nm range possible
  • different side wall angles via double exposure possible

The LIGA-process includes these principal steps:

1.   Making an intermediate X-ray absorption mask (IM) with about 2.2 µm high gold absorber structures by electron beam writing.
2.   Copying the intermediate mask into a working mask (WM) with about 25 µm high gold absorber structures by X-ray lithography.
3.   Copying the working mask to 100 µm to 3000 µm high micro structures by deep X-ray lithography.
4. a) Electroplating metals like gold, copper or nickel into these structures to form metal micro structures.
  b) Making a several millimetre thick mould from these structures by nickel electroplating.
5.   Mass replication of the mould into thermoplastic resin.


The process steps are illustrated in the figures (all: ©01) below. All steps in this illustration are carried out with positive resists, i.e. resists that can be dissolved after electron beam or X-ray exposure. The process steps are described in detail below the figures.


Making an intermediate mask (IM):    
LIGA-process: silicon wafer as substrate LIGA-process: Coating the centre part with carbon LIGA-process: Coating with 2 µm titanium
Fig. 1: Silicon wafer as substrate Fig. 2: Coating the centre part with carbon Fig. 3: Coating with 2 µm titanium
LIGA-process: Coating with 3.5 µm resist LIGA-process: Electron beam exposure of the resist LIGA-process: After resist development
Fig. 4: Coating with 3.5 µm resist Fig. 5: Electron beam exposure of the resist Fig. 6: After resist development
LIGA-process: Electroplating with 2.2 µm gold LIGA-process: Dissolving remaining resist LIGA-process: Glueing a 6 mm steel frame
Fig. 7: Electroplating with 2.2 µm gold Fig. 8: Dissolving remaining resist Fig. 9: Glueing a 6 mm steel frame
LIGA-process: Cutting the titanium layer LIGA-process: Separating from the silicon wafer LIGA-process: Finished intermediate mask
Fig. 10: Cutting the titanium layer Fig. 11: Separating from the silicon wafer Fig. 12: Finished intermediate mask
Making a working mask (WM):    
LIGA-process: Working mask steel plate (polished front side) LIGA-process: Working mask steel frame (thinned back side) LIGA-process: Working mask blank coated with 2 µm titanium

Fig. 13: WM steel plate (polished front side)

Fig. 14: WM steel frame (thinned back side)
Fig. 15: WM blank coated with 2 µm titanium
LIGA-process: Working mask blank coated with 60 µm resist LIGA-process: X-ray lithography through the intermediate mask LIGA-process: Working mask blank after resist development
Fig. 16: WM blank coated with 60 µm resist Fig. 17: X-ray lithography through the IM Fig. 18: WM blank after resist development
LIGA-process: Working mask after electro plating 25 µm gold LIGA-process: Working mask after dissolving remaining resist LIGA-process: Backside of the etched working mask
Fig. 19: WM after electro plating 25 µm gold Fig. 20: WM after dissolving remaining resist Fig. 21: Backside of the etched WM

Making high aspect ratio resist structures by deep X-ray lithography:

LIGA-process: X-ray lithography from the working mask LIGA-process: X-ray lithography from the working mask, seen from below LIGA-process: Developed structure
Fig. 22: X-ray lithography from WM Fig. 23: As fig. 22, seen from below Fig. 24: Developed structure
Electro forming of metal micro structures:  
LIGA-process: Electroplating LIGA-process: Flood exposure for resist removing LIGA-process: Metal micro structure on substrate
Fig. 25: Electroplating Fig. 26: Flood exposure for resist removing Fig. 27: Metal micro structure on substrate
LIGA-process: Metal micro structure    
Fig. 28: Metal micro structure    
Electro forming of a nickel mould tool:    
LIGA-process: Nickel electroplating in process LIGA-process: Nickel electroplating finished LIGA-process: Nickel mould after electroplating
Fig. 29: Nickel electroplating in process Fig. 30: Nickel electroplating finished Fig. 31: Nickel mould after electroplating
LIGA-process: Wire eroding of the mould, step 1 LIGA-process: Wire eroding of the mould, step 2 LIGA-process: Flood exposure before resist removing
Fig. 32: Wire eroding of the mould, step 1 Fig. 33: Wire eroding of the mould, step 2 Fig. 34: Flood exposure before resist removing
LIGA-process: Finished nickel mould    
Fig. 35: Finished nickel mould    
Replication by hot embossing:    
LIGA-process: Moulding for mass replication LIGA-process: Final machine finishing  
Fig. 36: Moulding for mass replication Fig. 37: Final machine finishing  


The LIGA-process (as it is used in the IMT) in detail:

1. Fabrication of an intermediate mask (IM):

First an intermediate X-ray absorption mask (IM) is made by electron beam writing a CAD generated layout into a resist layer (fig. 5). As substrate normally a silicon wafer is used, just because it is flat, smooth and not to expensive (fig. 1). This substrate is coated with a carbon layer in a sputter process. This layer is needed later to be able to separate the mask from the substrate. At the border of the wafer a few millimetres remain uncoated (fig. 2). Then the whole wafer is coated with a 2 µm thick titanium layer in another sputter process (fig. 3). The titanium will not stick to the carbon layer, but to the silicon wafer where the silicon is visible. This prevents the titanium layer to lift of from the wafer by internal stress. Titanium (low atomic number!) is used, because of its good transparency for X-rays. After this the wafer is spin coated with a 3.5 µm thick PMMA resist layer (fig. 4). PMMA is a positive resist. In the electron beam exposure step, in resist areas hit by the electrons, the long PMMA-molecules are damaged and can be dissolved in the following development step (fig. 6). In some cases also negative resists are used. These are cross-linked by the exposure, so exposed areas remain after the development process. Subsequently a 2.2 µm thick gold layer is deposited on the titanium layer where no resist covers the titanium (fig. 7). Gold (high atomic number!) is used because of its high X-ray absorption coefficient. In this step the thickness of the gold is critical: when the gold is overgrowing the resist layer, the wanted geometry of the mask is lost and it becomes useless. In the next step the remaining resist is dissolved in a solvent suitable for non-exposed PMMA (fig. 8). Then a 6 mm thick invar-steel (mechanically invariant to temperature changes) frame is glued onto the titanium membrane, giving mechanical stability to the fragile membrane (fig. 9). With a knife the titanium membrane is cut through at the outer contour of the frame (fig. 10) and the mask (fig. 12) is carefully separated from the substrate (fig. 11). The X-ray absorption contrast of the intermediate mask is sufficient to produce structures of up to about 70 µm thickness by X-ray lithography. As in most cases this height will not be sufficient, a so called working mask with a higher X-ray absorption contrast is needed.

2. Making a working mask (WM):

A working mask is an X-ray lithographic copy of an intermediate mask with the aim to get a mask with a higher X-ray absorption contrast. One way to make a working mask starts with a steel plate with a polished front side (fig. 13). The back side of this plate is thinned by milling, leaving only a wall of a few millimetres (fig. 14). The front side is coated with a 2 µm titanium membrane by sputtering (fig. 15). Then a 60 µm thick PMMA resist layer is deposited on the titanium membrane (fig. 16). The resist layer is structured by X-ray lithography via the intermediate mask (fig. 17). After developing the exposed areas (fig. 18) 25 µm thick gold absorbers are electroplated (fig. 19). Subsequently the remaining resist is exposed to X-rays without using a mask, so it can be stripped afterwards in the same developer (fig. 20). The last step is to etch the cavity in the back side of the mask with a selective etching medium, so the steel is removed and only the free standing titanium membrane is remaining (fig. 21).

3. Producing high aspect ratio resist structures by deep X-ray lithography:

In the deep X-ray lithography step a shadow projection of the working mask into a quite thick PMMA resist layer (100 µm to 3 mm) is performed (fig. 22, 23). PMMA layers of this thickness mostly are glued to the substrate. Normally a proximity distance of 50 µm to 150 µm is introduced between the mask and the resist surface to protect the mask from damages that might result from a contact between mask and resist. The direct lithographic micro structure is finished after a development step (fig. 24).

4. Electro forming:

When metal micro structures are required, an electro forming step is added. In this case the micro structures are fabricated on an electrically conducting substrate or the substrate and the micro structures are covered with a thin layer of e.g. gold. Then, in the electro forming step the required metal is deposited (fig. 25). When the process is stopped before the metal layer is higher than the resist structure, the produced structures can be used as metallic micro structures. As the original resist micro structures still remain on the substrate, a flood exposure step (without mask) is introduced to be able to dissolve the resist structures afterwards (fig. 26). The metallic micro structures have to be separated from the substrate (fig. 27). This can be done by mechanical force when the surface of the substrate is very smooth, so the adhesion between the structures and the substrate is low. If the forces become to high, the micro structures might be deformed. In this case a sacrificial layer (e.g. titanium) on the substrate can be used. This layer is etched selectively (e.g. with HF), so the metallic micro structures are separated from the substrate (fig. 28).

When a mass production is required, a nickel mould has to be fabricated. In this case the electro forming step is continued until the deposited nickel layer has reached several millimetres in thickness (fig. 29, 30). Then this nickel block (fig. 31) is removed from the substrate (e.g. an 8 mm thick copper block) and by wire-cut electrical discharge machining it is brought into a precisely defined outer shape (fig. 32, 33). Again a flood exposure (fig. 34) is used to prepare the removing of the remaining resist in the mould (fig. 35).

5. Mass replication by hot embossing or injection moulding:

The nickel moulding tool can then be used several ten thousands of cycles to replicate micro structures via hot embossing or injection moulding (fig. 36). In the case of hot embossing the resulting structures mostly have to be machine finished (fig. 37).


[Goe 2006] J. Goettert, P. Datta, Y. Desta, Y. Jin, Z. Ling, V. Singh, LiGA Research and Service at CAMD, International MEMS Conference 2006, Journal of Physics: Conference Series 34, pp. 912–918, DOI: 10.1088/1742-6596/34/1/151, 2006
[Sai 2008] Edited by V. Saile, U. Wallrabe, O. Tabata, J. G. Korvink, LIGA and its Applications, Advanced Micro & Nanosystems, vol. 7, Wiley-VCH, ISBN 978-3-527-31698-4, 2008

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