Laser-induced chemical processing of solid surfaces has the potential for being an important and powerful technique for fabrication of a variety of devices. Successful applications rest on a detailed understanding of the nature of laser-induced reactions and their effects on the properties of materials. In this paper fundamental studies illustrating key features of laser etching and deposition are reviewed. Topics covered include the effect of the choice of precursor and deposition conditions on film composition and morphology, self-propagation of exothermic reactions, thermal and electronic effects in laser-assisted etching of semiconductors, metals and polymers, and special aspects of laser-surface photophysics as they may affect chemical reactions. © 1986 Springer-Verlag.