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The exposure characteristics of six polymer resists to 1.5 MeV H+, He+, and O+ ions and to 20 keV electrons were measured. The resists used were polystyrene (PS), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), PMMA mixed with 20% of a copolymer of vinyl acetate and vinyl chloride (VMCC), poly(glycidyl methacrylate‐co‐3‐chlorostyrene) (GMC), poly(butene‐1‐sulfone) (PBS), and a novolac. The deposited energy per unit volume required to expose a resist was found to be a function of the spatial energy dissipation rate of the ion in the resist. This has been accounted for in terms of the nature of the energy distribution around the primary particle track in conjunction with whether the resist requires the activation of a single site or two adjacent sites to produce exposure.