The drilling process in different materials (diamond, steel, ceramics and PMMA) was studied for a large range of pulse lengths from about 100 fs to 10 ns using different approaches. In transparent materials the penetration process was visualized with high-speed video analysis and microscopy. The drilling rate as well as the relation between processing energy density and ablation threshold were determined in situ. The penetration of the laser beam inside the channel and the influence of laser-ignited plasma were investigated by transmission measurements. Mechanisms of energy coupling and heat losses were examined by applying simple analytical calculations. Proposals for the basic understanding of the drilling process are presented.© (2002) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.