X-ray masks have been fabricated by depositing a compressively stressed refractory material on a wafer, annealing to a zero stress state, and then forming the membrane. Amorphous TaSiN and TaSi alloys deposited with a magnetron sputter tool have been extensively characterized in terms of resistivity, composition, defectivity, surface roughness, and crystalline state. Optimization in terms of these parameters has resulted in base line selection of absorber films of the following compositions: Ta61Si17N21 and Ta75Si23 . The process is shown to be extendable to an entire class of amorphous annealable refractory materials. Careful studies of deposition and annealing conditions have resulted in a 43 reduction of image placement to the 30 nm maximum vector level. Finally, the importance of stress gradients is experimentally verified. © 1995 American Vacuum Society.