In recent times, copper sulphide (Cu2S) diffusion in the transformer insulation is a major problem reducing the life of transformers. It is therefore essential to identify a simple methodology to understand the diffusion of Cu2S into the solid insulation [oil impregnated pressboard (OIP)]. In the present work, laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) was adopted to study the diffusion of Cu2S into the pressboard insulation and to determine the depth of diffusion. The diffusion of Cu2S in pressboard was confirmed by electrical discharge studies. In general, flashover voltage and increase in ageing duration of pressboard insulation/Cu concentration had inverse relationship. The characteristic emission lines were also studied through optical emission spectroscopy. Based on LIBS studies with Cu powder dispersed pressboard samples, Cu I emission lines were found to be resolvable up to a lowest concentration of 5 μg/cm2. The LIBS intensity ratio of Cu I–Ca II emission lines were found to increase with increase in the ageing duration of the OIP sample. LIBS studies with OIP samples showed an increase in the optical emission lifetime. LIBS results were in agreement with the electrical discharge studies. © 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.