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We have studied the molecular orientation of the commonly used organic semiconductor copper phthalocyanine (CuPC) grown as thin films on the technically relevant substrates indium tin oxide, oxidized Si, and polycrystalline gold using polarization-dependent x-ray absorption spectroscopy, and compare the results with those obtained from single crystalline substrates [Au(110) and GeS(001)]. Surprisingly, the 20–50 nm thick CuPC films on the technical substrates are as highly ordered as on the single crystals. Importantly, however, the molecular orientation in the two cases is radically different: the CuPC molecules stand on the technical substrates and lie on the single crystalline substrates. The reasons for this and its consequences for our understanding of the behavior of CuPC films in devices are discussed. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.