PURPOSE To evaluate a novel technique for resolving field placement errors into their components and to quantify the improvement in accuracy potentially achievable by translation and rotation of the radiation beam. METHODS AND MATERIALS One hundred and eighty-five films (both simulator and portal) from seventeen patients receiving radiotherapy to the head and neck region were analyzed in pairs. The computer based comparisons of complex fields with curved edges employed the intersections of perpendiculars from two reference points with the field periphery to define field match points. Field placement errors were resolved into those due to patient motion within the immobilization shell and those due to incorrect beam position, orientation, or shape. RESULTS The median and the 95 percentile of the distribution of differences between prescribed (simulator) fields and treated (portal) fields referenced to the patients anatomy were 4.4 mm and 8.9 mm, respectively. The analysis suggests that with appropriate translation and rotation of the beam with respect to the immobilization shell these figures could be reduced to 3.1 mm and 8.2 mm, respectively, confirming the large contribution of patient motion within the shell to field placement accuracy. Comparisons between treated fields indicated smaller variability during treatment than between simulation and treatment. CONCLUSION The perpendicular intersection method described here was found appropriate for the identification of field match points. The distributions of field placement errors were similar to those in a published study of straight edged fields. Translation and rotation of the applied field with respect to the immobilization shell would generally result in only a small improvement in field placement accuracy.