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A photothermal model of ablation is used to investigate the time scales for polymer degradation by UV laser light. In the absence of a significant incubation effect, strong absorbers (e.g., polyimide) are expected to decompose roughly three orders of magnitude faster than weak absorbers (e.g., polymethylmethacrylate), owing to the higher surface temperature attained during the absorption. This difference in the time scales reflects processes taking place at significantly different temperatures and should extrapolate to the overall ablation process. The very short calculated time scales (femtoseconds for polyimide and picoseconds for polymethylmethacrylate) indicate that polymer decomposition occurs rapidly compared to the actual ejection of material. For multipulsed ablation experiments, significant incubation modification tends to increase the absorbance of weak absorbers, making the effect less marked than in the ideal case. Incubation effects are attributed to nonablative decomposition that occurs at cooler temperatures (≪1000 K).