Microstructural modifications resulting from time dependent variations of the bias voltage during the deposition of thin hard coatings are discussed. TiN-coatings are produced by reactive magnetron sputtering in several modes: (a) stepwise increase of the bias voltage during the deposition, (b) alternating sputtering with and without substrate voltage and (c) pulsed bias voltage. On the basis of X-ray diffraction measurements, it is demonstrated that residual stress gradients and texture gradients can be designed tailor-made. Furthermore, results of microhardness measurements and scratch tests indicate an improvement of the mechanical properties, especially for the application of a pulsed bias voltage. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science S.A.