Ablation rates measured as the depth of tissue excavation per unit time were determined in human and canine aortas subjected to radiation with ultraviolet (UV) excimer (ArF 193 nm, KrF 248 nm, XeF 351 nm) and visible lasers [continuous wave (cw) and 50-ms chopped argon ion, 478 nm-514 nm; pulsed double-frequency Nd:YAG, 532 nm]. For UV and pulsed double-frequency Nd:YAG lasers ablation rates were constant in time and depended linearly on average laser power, but for cw and chopped argon lasers ablation rates varied with irradiation time and were nonlinearly dependent on laser power. In human aortas, atherosclerosis without gross calcification had no influence on ablation rates. Charring and tissue disruption were observed with cw and chopped argon ion, whereas excimer and pulsed Nd:YAG lasers produced only minimal injury to surrounding tissue. We conclude that the determination of ablation rates is useful for the selection of laser wavelengths and power densities applicable to angioplasty and that UV and pulsed visible laser permit a better control of ablation compared to continuous wave lasers.