Laser surface hardening is a noncontact process that provides a chemically inert and clean environment as well as flexible integration with operating systems. This article provides a brief discussion on the various conventional surface-modification techniques to enhance the surface and mechanical properties of ferrous and nonferrous alloys. The techniques are physical vapor deposition, chemical vapor deposition, sputtering, ion plating, electroplating, electroless plating, and displacement plating. The article describes five categories of laser surface modification, namely, laser surface heat treatment, laser surface melting such as skin melting or glazing, laser direct metal deposition such as cladding, alloying, and hardfacing, laser physical vapor deposition, and laser shock peening. The article provides detailed information on absorptivity, laser scanning technology, and thermokinetic phase transformations. It also describes the influence of cooling rate on laser heat treatment and the effect of processing parameters on temperature, microstructure, and case depth hardness.