A model thin-film system based on SiO2 coating with artificially introduced gold nanoparticles was investigated for the mechanism of 351-nm, pulsed-laser-radiation interaction with well-characterized nanoabsorbers. Damage morphology, represented by craters, provides strong evidence of the important role of the melting and vaporization processes. Measured crater volumes and numerical estimates based on them suggest that crater formation cannot proceed through laser-energy absorption confined within the particle. It instead starts in the particle and then, due to energy transfer, spreads out to the surrounding matrix during the laser pulse.© (2001) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.