Optical interference filters made by layers of optical coatings are used to shape and transport laser beams. If a defect is present in the stack (cosmetic defect, stoichiometry defect, absorption band…), and high laser power density is reached, a strong energy into the material can be deposited involving the destruction of the coatings (either by melting or mechanical failure). One of the key methods to achieve high performance coatings is to reduce such defects as much as possible. Hafnia (HfO2) coatings are undoubtedly one of the most successful materials for high power laser applications. Associated with a low index material such as silica, high laser induced damage threshold (LIDT) interference filters can be achieved. Hafnia is often the LIDT limiting factor. During the evaporation HfO2 particles create buried defects in the deposited material. These defects are sources of the coating damage during laser irradiation. To avoid this phenomenon we have evaporated metallic hafnium that was oxidized by oxygen inlet into the vacuum chamber or use an oxygen ion beam bombardment during the film growth. Argon or, better, xenon ions in the beam produced densities as high as 99% of the bulk, with low water content, and an improved optical transmission in the mid infrared window. This article deals with the optimization of such a deposition process regarding coating density, mechanical stresses, and optical properties (optical absorption). Films deposited by HfO2 evaporation are compared especially using photothermal mapping. The stoichiometry of the defects determined thanks to localized Auger spectroscopy clearly indicates how injurious such defects could be for high laser flux applications. Finally, laser damage thresholds of the films at 1.06 μm are measured and possible damage mechanism discussed.

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