Abstract The influences of C 2H 2 gas flow rate on the synthesis, microstructure, and mechanical properties of the Ti–Si–C–N films were investigated. Quaternary Ti–Si–C–N coatings were deposited on WC-Co substrates using Ti and TiSi (80:20 at.%) alloy target on a dual cathodic arc plasma evaporation system. The Ti–Si–C–N coatings were designed with Ti/TiN/TiSiN as an interlayer to enhance the adhesion strength between the top coating and substrate. The Ti–Si–C–N coatings were deposited under the mixture flow of N 2 and C 2H 2. Composition analysis showed that as the C 2H 2 gas flow increased, the Ti, Si and N contents decreased and the carbon content increased in the coatings. The results showed the maximum nanohardness of approximately 40 GPa with a friction coefficient of 0.7 was obtained at the carbon content of 28 at.% (C 2H 2 = 15 sccm). However, as the C 2H 2 gas flow rate increased from 15 to 40 sccm (carbon content from 25.2 to 56.3 at.%), both the hardness and friction coefficient reduced to 20 GPa and 0.3, respectively. Raman analysis indicated the microstructure of the deposited coating transformed from Ti–Si–C–N film to TiSi-containing diamond-like carbon films structure, which was strongly influenced by the C 2H 2 flow rate and is demarcated at a C 2H 2 flow of 20 sccm. The TiSi-containing diamond-like carbon films reveal low-friction and wear-resistant nature with an average friction coefficient between 0.3 and 0.4, lower than both TiSiN and Ti–Si–C–N films.