Thick alumina coatings were synthesized on 7075 Al-alloy substrates through the microarc oxidation (MAO) route. Different oxidation times namely 1, 3, 5, 10, 20 and 30 min were employed and the coated samples were subjected to coating thickness and surface roughness measurements. Phase composition of the surface layers of the coatings was evaluated through X-ray diffraction. In addition, the surface features of the coatings were studied using scanning electron microscopy. Influence of coating time on the kinetics of coating formation, surface roughness, microhardness, number and size of the microarc discharge channels was investigated. On the basis of the experimental results, a phenomenological mechanism for the formation of the alumina-based ceramic coatings during the MAO process has been proposed. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.