Improved diffraction efficiencies can be obtained in the paraxial domain of diffractive optics by considering light explicitly as an electromagnetic rather than a scalar field because of the extra freedoms provided by the state of polarization. For example, diffractive beam splitters with 100% efficiency are made possible by means of space-variant subwavelength-carrier surface-relief elements. Some aspects of the general design theory of polarization-modulating elements for vector fields, including design freedoms and constraints, are presented. Upper bounds of diffraction efficiency are derived and compared with those for the scalar case. Iterative design algorithms are developed. Several design examples with different constraints are presented, and the effects of replacing continuous-fringe structures by pixel structures containing locally linear gratings are evaluated.
© 2003 Optical Society of America
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