There are many different techniques to produce PVD coatings; common PVD processes for producing ceramic or metallic alloy coatings are magnetron sputter, cathodic arc evaporation, electron beam evaporation, ion beam sputter, and laser ablation, most in a high vacuum (1/1 millionth of an atmosphere) space in an actively pressure controlled chamber. Since the process is conducted inside a sealed vacuum chamber and produces no byproducts, it is universally viewed as an entirely environmentally benign manufacturing method.

PVD coatings that have been commercially produced using these techniques can be made of metals, metallic alloys, and ceramics, as well as organic and inorganic polymers. These PVD coatings can be applied on the surface of plastics, metals, glass, and ceramics. Typical decorative PVD coatings are less than 0.5 micrometer (0.0127 inch) in thickness, thus in most cases do not cause issues with the dimensional tolerance of the coated surface. PVD coatings also boast a low thermal expansion coefficient and coefficient of friction.