We propose a new way to design gratings with desired diffraction properties by using subwavelength feature sizes perpendicular to the ordinary superwavelength grating period. This is different from well-known one-dimensional binary-blazed gratings that use a structuring along the grating period and thus opens new flexibility in generating arbitrary effective-index distributions in the direction of the grating period. Since the subwavelength features form contiguous areas, they are called area-coded effective medium structures (ACES). Compared with well-known binary subwavelength structures in two-dimensional arrangements consisting of pillars, ACES are more stable and have comparable efficiency properties. As an example we show how to design in principle a four-level area-coded effective medium grating, compare the efficiency of ACES with binary-blazed and échelette gratings, and optimize the subwavelength period of ACES.
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