The act of applying a thin film to a surface is thin-film deposition – any technique for depositing a thin film of material onto a substrate or onto previously deposited layers. "Thin" is a relative term, but most deposition techniques control layer thickness within a few tens of nanometres. Molecular beam epitaxy allows a single layer of atoms to be deposited at a time.
It is useful in the manufacture of optics (for reflective, anti-reflective coatings or self-cleaning glass, for instance), electronics (layers of insulators, semiconductors, and conductors form integrated circuits), packaging (i.e., aluminium-coated PET film), and in contemporary art (see the work of Larry Bell). Similar processes are sometimes used where thickness is not important: for instance, the purification of copper by electroplating, and the deposition of silicon and enriched uranium by a CVD-like process after gas-phase processing.
Deposition techniques fall into two broad categories, depending on whether the process is primarily chemical or physical.
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