Various investigations show that damage threshold of optical coatings by intense ultrashort laser pulses is closely related to the intensity of electric field at layer interfaces. LIDT measurements of high reflectance optical coatings using femtosecond pulses at 800 nm wavelength are presented. ZrO2, HfO2 and Ta2O5 as high refractive index materials for two sets of experiments were chosen. Two different coating designs were investigated: standard quarter-wavelength design with SiO2 overcoat and modified "E-field" non quarter-wavelength design with suppressed electric field. Damage sites were studied using optical and AFM microscopes. Relation between electric field distribution and damage morphology was observed. The results demonstrate, that suppressing electric field at layer interfaces enables to increase LIDT for high reflectance coatings almost twice if compared to standard quarter-wavelength design when using ultrashort laser pulses. However electric field distribution is sensitive to variations in thicknesses of outer layers, so deposition process should be precisely controlled to get improvement in LIDT of coatings.© (2007) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.