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A new approach for the generation of large-area periodic surface structures on different materials, like polymers and semiconductors, by direct laser ablation is presented. The surfaces were illuminated with the interference pattern emerging in close proximity behind a laser irradiated phase mask. In the experiments, nanosecond and picosecond laser pulses at 248 nm were applied. To prevent contamination or damage of the phase mask caused by the ablated material, the mask is protected by a thin water film or a thin quartz plate. In addition we present a technique to eliminate a lateral variation of the generated structures due to insufficient alignment precision of the workpiece.