Surface-relief diffractive optical elements made interferometrically typically are recorded with the off-axis technique, for which the fringe maxima lie on planes that are predominantly perpendicular to the recording surface and with an intensity variation that is sinusoidal. Such a structure can be readily replicated by mechanical means. Volume diffractive elements, on the other hand, which result from beams propagating in opposite directions, have fringe planes that are predominantly parallel to the surface and, as such, cannot be mechanically replicated. A new type of surface-relief diffractive structure called Aztec is discussed here; it combines features of both off-axis and volume recording geometries, with the result being a phase-quantized, or terraced, surface-relief pattern. The groove profile, instead of being sinusoidal, resembles a stepped pyramid. This structure has been replicated by metal mastering and molding into plastic in the same manner as conventional embossed surface-relief elements, but the diffraction characteristics are typical of volume phase reflective structures. Light of a given wavelength is resonantly diffracted from steps that are a half-wavelength apart and with a bandwidth that is inversely proportional to the number of steps. Color control has been achieved by overcoating the step structure with a clear dielectric that shifts the resonant wavelength to a new value, depending on the index of refraction of the dielectric. Information content is less for the single-layered, but stepped, Aztec structure than for the usual multilayered volume diffractive element. Deep Aztec stepped gratings have also been fabricated by optical lithography, using multiple-mask techniques.
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