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An approximate method is proposed to calculate the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) scattering from a defect within a multilayer coating. In this single surface approximation (SSA) the defective multilayer structure is replaced by a single reflecting surface with the shape of the top surface of the multilayer. The range of validity of this approximation has been investigated for Gaussian line defects using two-dimensional finite-difference-time-domain simulations. The SSA is found to be valid for sufficiently low aspect ratio defects such as those expected for the critical defects nucleated by particles on the mask substrate. The critical EUVL defect size is calculated by combining the SSA with a multilayer growth model and aerial image simulations. Another approximate method for calculating the aerial image of an unresolved defect is also discussed. Although the critical substrate defects may be larger than the resolution of higher numerical aperture cameras, the point defect approximation provides a useful framework for understanding the printability of a wide range of defects. © 2002 American Vacuum Society.