A scanning x-ray microscope has been built at the Daresbury synchrotron radiation source and used to obtain images at soft x-ray wavelengths (∼2–4 nm). The focusing element of the microscope is a zone plate, fabricated by a contamination writing process developed at King's College. Zone plates with the finest zone widths, and hence theoretical resolutions, below 20 nm have been fabricated in this way. The contamination material is carbon, and as such is unsuitable for high-efficiency focusing. In order to increase the zone plate efficiency, a shadowing pattern transfer process has been developed and used to replicate contamination lines with 25 nm widths into more suitable materials.