The plasma-based electron beam (PBEB) irradiation with a maximum diameter of 60 mm has been used to smoothen the workpiece surface. After PBEB irradiation, the machined surface roughness is reduced, and its corrosion resistance is improved. However, for die and tool steels, some craters still exist on the surface after PBEB irradiation, which remain a big problem for the roughness improvement and quality control of the machined surfaces. In this study, four types of work materials have been tested during PBEB irradiation. The effects of non-metallic inclusions (MnS and carbide) and impurities on the generation of craters were investigated. In addition, craters formed on the work materials with different nitrogen concentrations have also been observed after PBEB irradiation. Finally, a case study is given, and it is found that PBEM irradiation can achieve good surface finish of die steel materials. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.