See how Denton Vacuum has pioneered thin film for 6 decades.


Magnetron sputtering is a highly versatile thin film deposition technique for coating films with excellent adhesion and high density. A type of physical vapor deposition (PVD) coating technology, magnetron sputtering is a plasma-based coating process where a magnetically confined plasma is created near the surface of a target material. Positively charged energetic ions from the plasma collide with the negatively charged target material, and atoms from the target are ejected or “sputtered”, which then deposit on a substrate.

Magnetron sputtering uses a closed magnetic field to trap electrons, increasing the efficiency of the initial ionization process and creating the plasma at lower pressures, reducing both background gas incorporation in the growing film and energy losses in the sputtered atom through gas collisions. Magnetron sputtering is often chosen for the deposition of metallic and insulating coatings that have specific optical or electrical properties.

Magnetron Sputtering

Diagram of the magnetron sputtering process

Trust a Pioneer in Magnetron Sputtering

Denton Vacuum has provided some of the largest early magnetron sputtering systems for large area glass coating in response to increasing demand for high-quality functional films in many diverse market sectors. We were among the first to use sputtering for biological sample preparation by eliminating energetic electrons to keep them from damaging fragile organic material, like in our Desk V “gold standard” SEM preparation series.

Continuing this tradition of innovation, Denton offers flexible sputtering platforms that can be configured with multiple magnetron sources. Our systems are configurable to support a variety of sputtering approaches. Conductive target materials, such as metals, are typically sputtered with DC power supplies. Magnetic materials, such as nickel or iron, are DC sputtered with enhanced magnet packs. Insulating target materials are reactively sputtered with either RF or Pulsed DC power delivery systems. A fully integrated Plasma Emission Monitor (PEM) system was developed to enable high-rate, controlled reactive sputtering. Denton has ongoing internal R&D programs to help advance the state-of-the art in both metallic and reactive sputtering.

Cathode Options and Configurations

Planar Cathode Placement – Rectangular or Round

In a planar cathode configuration, the cathode is mounted directly above the substrate. With this configuration, you can gain tight uniformity on one side of the substrate during sputtering for properties such as film thickness, sheet resistance and refractive index. It’s the ideal configuration for applications where co-sputtering is not a requirement. This cathode set-up also offers improved yield, good lift-off capability and a high deposition rate. Round cathodes are used in single substrate systems, and rectangular cathodes are used with in-line systems. You can read more about the benefits here.

A diagram showing the cathode placed directly above the substrate during sputtering.

Confocal Cathodes

In a confocal cathode configuration, multiple cathodes are positioned confocally to the substrate. This is the preferred method for applications requiring co-sputtering of multiple materials during thin film deposition. It allows you to deposit multiple materials without breaking vacuum. Confocal cathodes can also help you minimize target cost and optimize material transfer efficiency. It’s an ideal method for applications where high throughput or uniformity is not a necessity. You can read more about the benefits here.

Image of confocal cathodes

Isoflux Inverted Cylindrical Cathodes

With Denton’s patented Isoflux inverted cylindrical cathode, the substrate is placed on the inside of the cathode, and it is then sputtered on all sides, from all directions. This configuration offers excellent thickness control and precision, particularly for substrates with curved surfaces, which are used in precision optics. It’s the ideal option for applications where all sides of the substrate need to be coated uniformly, with high repeatability and exacting specs, such as implantable medical devices.

Image of a cylindrical cathode

Magnetron Sputtering Deposition Systems

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