90° elastic domains were observed after local polings in epitaxial ferroelectric Pb(Zr0.2Ti0.8)O3 thin films via piezoresponse force microscopy. An area of internal stress arises under a conductive atomic force microscope tip due to the opposite signs of the converse piezoelectric effects in the switched domain and the unswitched films surrounding. The formation of 90° domains leads to the relaxation of the internal stress and stabilization of 180° domain after turning off the electric field applied by the tip. The criterion that formulates the necessary condition for realization of the relaxation mechanism is presented as well. © 2004 American Institute of Physics.