Electrical discharge machining is used in the machining of complicated shapes in hardened molds and dies. In rough die-sinking stage, attempts are made to enhance material removal rate with a consequential reduction in cycle time. Powder mix and ultrasonic assistance are employed in the electrical discharge machining process to create gap conditions favoring material removal. In the present work, experiments are carried out on hardened D3 die steel using full-factorial design based on three levels of voltage, current and pulse on time. The gap phenomena in graphite powder-mixed and ultrasonic-assisted rough electrical discharge machining are studied using a detailed analysis of pulse shapes and their characteristic trains. Two new parameters, namely, energy expended over a second (E) and performance factor (PF) denoting the ratio of energy associated with sparks to total discharge energy, bring out gap conditions effectively. In comparison with the conventional electrical discharge machining for the selected condition, it is seen that the graphite powder mixed in the dielectric enhances the material removal rate by 20.8% with E of 215 J and PF of 0.227, while these values are 179.8 J and 0.076 for ultrasonic-assisted electrical discharge machining with marginal reduction of 3.9%. Cross-sectional images of workpieces also reveal the influence of electrical discharge machining conditions on the machined surface. The proposed approach can be extended to different powder mix and ultrasonic conditions to identify condition favoring higher material removal. © IMechE 2019.