The nature of uv ablation of organic polymers is discussed in terms of a pseudo-zeroth-order rate law of the form dx/dt = k0e -(Eact/kT), where Eact is assumed to be the strength of the weakest bonds in the polymer and T is the local temperature increase from the incident laser pulse. Equations derived from previous models that assumed nonthermal photodecomposition were duplicated from this photothermal model. Even for the simple case of single-photon absorption, nonideal behavior is affected by radiationless decay, pulse length, and thermal diffusion. These effects were probed. Results indicated that thermal diffusion may have a significant effect on the threshold fluence and to some degree on the shape of the etch depth versus fluence curve. Absorption dynamics (saturation and radiationless decay) appear to be the dominant factor in determining the functional dependence of etch depth on fluence. As a result of competition between absorption saturation and radiationless decay, the penetration depth is intensity dependent. High fluence as well as short temporal pulses (subnanosecond) penetrate more deeply into the polymer than predicted by simple Beer's law absorption. The apparent existence of an optimum pulse length, for a given absorbing system, is another result of the absorption dynamics.