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Plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) is being increasingly used for the fabrication of transparent dielectric optical films and coatings. This involves single-layer, multilayer, graded index, and nanocomposite optical thin film systems for applications such as optical filters, antireflective coatings, optical waveguides, and others. Beside their basic optical properties (refractive index, extinction coefficient, optical loss), these systems very frequently offer other desirable “functional” characteristics. These include hardness, scratch, abrasion, and erosion resistance, improved adhesion to various technologically important substrate materials such as polymers, hydrophobicity or hydrophilicity, long-term chemical, thermal, and environmental stability, gas and vapor impermeability, and others. In the present article, we critically review the advances in the development of plasma processes and plasma systems for the synthesis of thin film high and low index optical materials, and in the control of plasma–surface interactions leading to desired film microstructures. We particularly underline those specificities of PECVD, which distinguish it from other conventional techniques for producing optical films (mainly physical vapor deposition), such as fabrication of graded index (inhomogeneous) layers, control of interfaces, high deposition rate at low temperature, enhanced mechanical and other functional characteristics, and industrial scaleup. Advances in this field are illustrated by selected examples of PECVD of antireflective coatings, rugate filters, integrated optical devices, and others. © 2000 American Vacuum Society.