Simple fabrication of three-dimensional ramped microstructures using SU-8 negative photoresist

Luis G. Rigat-Brugarolas1,2, Antoni Homs-Corbera1,2 and Josep Samitier1,2,3

1 Nanobioengineering group, Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), Barcelona, Spain 2 Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Bioingeniería, Biomateriales y Nanomedicina (CIBER-BBN), Zaragoza, Spain.

3 Department of Electronics, Barcelona University (UB), Martí I Franques, 1, Barcelona, 08028, Spain.

Why is this useful?

At present, normal photolithographic techniques constitutes binary image transfer methodologies, where the developed pattern consists of regions with or without photoresist depending whether the UV Light has been in contact with the sample or not during the exposure process.1 Complex 3D patterns construction is of increasing importance in the miniaturization of fluidic devices.2 In the following work we introduce a photoresist-based technique to produce three-dimensional ramped microstructures for lab-on-a-chip applications.

We present a new technique that can be used to form multilevel features in SU-8 or any other negative photoresist using a single photolitograpy step, thus minimizing stages in the fabrication process in a simple and cheap way. This method thereby allows using a normal photomask without needing to add a complementary grayscale pattern, enabling complex microchannel structures.

What do I need?

  • Common items and devices used in photolitographic processes (mask aligner, hot plates, chemical baths, negative photoresist and transparent substrate)
  • Step Variable Metallic Neutral Density Filters (Thorlabs, Inc., NJ, USA).

What do I do?

  1. Dispose the sample in the mask aligner with the SU-8 photoresist on the bottom side as depicted in Figure 1. This will force UV light to cross through the transparent substrate and to first polymerize those photoresist regions in contact with the substrate.
  2. Place the photomask in the aligner standard position, normal to the light beam.
  3. Select the filter (continuous, step, etc.) according to your needs (see an example in Figure 2).
  4. Place the filter in the position between the photomask and the UV light source, with the filter’s design in contact with the photomask (see Figure 3).
  5. Enter a correct UV exposure time; since another element is going to be added in the UV light trajectory, this value has to be adjusted (final result in Figure 4).

Fig 1: Scheme of disposal of the SU-8 photoresist in the mask aligner for achieving relief structures.

Fig 2: Example of rectangular step filter available at Thorlabs, Inc.

Fig 3: Step filter placed between the photomask and the UV light source.

Fig 4: Example of three-dimensional ramped structure constructed using SU-8. Relief characterization obtained with a profilometer. The white line represents the structure obtained after the development process (with an angle value of 30º), showing a slope from 0 µm to 12 µm (in this case, a rectangular step filter was used). The red line shows what it would look like the profile if no filter had been dispose between the photomask and the UV light source.

What else should I know?

As with any negative photoresist, grayscale exposure in conventional processes will lead to hardening the surface, removing the substrate if unattached during the development, in a methodology normally used to create cantilever structures. This is why it is important, when trying to create relief structures, to turn the sample and expose it from the glass substrate side leaving the SU-8 or any other negative photoresist on the bottom side.


We thank David Izquierdo and Juan Pablo Agusil for their technical help and for providing the material.


[1] S.D. Minteer. Microfluidic techniques: reviews and protocols. Humana Press, 2006. ISSN: 1064-3745.

[2] C. Chen, D. Hirdes, A. Folch. Gray-scale photolithography using microfluidic photomasks. PNAS, 2003. DOI:10.1073

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