Abstract Maintenance-free RF sources for negative hydrogen ions with moderate extraction areas (100–200 cm 2) have been successfully developed in the last years at IPP Garching in the test facilities BATMAN and MANITU. A facility with larger extraction area (1000 cm 2), ELISE, is being designed with a “half-size” ITER-like extraction system, pulsed ion acceleration up to 60 kV for 10 s and plasma generation up to 1 h. Due to the large size of the source, the magnetic filter field (FF) cannot be produced solely by permanent magnets. Therefore, an additional magnetic field produced by current flowing through the plasma grid (PG current) is required. The filter field homogeneity and the interaction with the electron suppression magnetic field have been studied in detail by finite element method (FEM) during the ELISE design phase. Significant improvements regarding the field homogeneity have been introduced compared to the ITER reference design. Also, for the same PG current a 50% higher field in front of the grid has been achieved by optimizing the plasma grid geometry. Hollow spaces have been introduced in the plasma grid for a more homogeneous PG current distribution. The introduction of hollow spaces also allows the insertion of permanent magnets in the plasma grid.