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Azobenzene polymers and oligomers show intriguing surface relief features when irradiated with polarized laser light. We show through atomic force microscopic investigation of side-chain azobenzene polymers after irradiation through an amplitude mask that large peaks or trenches result depending on the architecture of the polymer. Extensive mass transport over long distances has been observed, paving the way for easy replication of nanostructures. We also show that it is possible to store microscopic images as topographic features in the polymers just through polarized light irradiation. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.