An efficient optimization strategy for the design of diffractive optical elements that is based on rigorous diffraction theory is described. The optimization algorithm combines diffraction models of different degrees of accuracy and computational complexity. A fast design algorithm for diffractive optical elements is used to yield estimates of the optimum surface profile based on paraxial diffraction theory. These estimates are subsequently evaluated with a rigorous diffraction model. This scheme allows one to minimize the need to compute diffraction effects rigorously, while providing accurate design. We discuss potential applications of this scheme as well as details of an implementation based on a modified Gerchberg–Saxton algorithm and the finite-difference time-domain method. Illustrative examples are provided in which we use the algorithm to design Fourier array illuminators.
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