Matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) applications, such as proteomics, genomics, clinical profiling and MALDI imaging, have created a growing demand for faster instrumentation. Since the commonly used nitrogen lasers have throughput and life span limitations, diode-pumped solid-state lasers are an alternative. Unfortunately this type of laser shows clear performance limitations in MALDI in terms of sensitivity, resolution and ease of use, for applications such as thin-layer sample preparations, acceptance of various matrices (e.g. DHB for glycopeptides) and MALDI imaging. While it is obvious that the MALDI process has some dependence on the characteristics of the laser used, it is unclear which features are the most critical in determining laser performance for MALDI. In this paper we show, for the first time, that a spatially structured laser beam profile in lieu of a Gaussian profile is of striking importance. This result enabled us to design diode-pumped Nd : YAG lasers that on various critical applications perform as well for MALDI as the nitrogen lasers and in some respects even better. The modulation of the beam profile appears to be a new parameter for optimizing the MALDI process. In addition, the results trigger new questions directing us to a better understanding of the MALDI process. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.