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The variation in the distribution and intensity of plasma between the target and substrate and its effect on the film deposition rate and uniformity in a rf sputtering system was photographed by incorporating a mirror arrangement within the chamber. The distribution was studied as a function of magnetic field, substrate bias potential, substrate temperature, and rf power. The thickness of the films and hence, their deposition rate, was determined by Rutherford backscattering technique. On flat substrates, the film deposition rate and uniformity were strongly dependent on the strength of the magnetic field. Substrates with irregular geometry exhibited a dark sheath. The diameter of the dark space was a function of both bias potential and magnetic field strength. The plasma distribution was also found to change with the orientation of the substrates. The application of this study in rf sputter deposition of hard coatings on drills and cutting tools are discussed.