Abstract The elastic properties of thermal barrier coatings (TBCs) are important for modelling the lifetime of these coatings. A new test setup has been developed to measure the system modulus of electron-beam enhanced physical vapour deposited (EB-PVD) TBC coatings by miniaturized bend tests. Due to the brittleness, low stiffness and small thickness of the top coat and its complex microstructure, it is difficult to measure its Young's modulus by standard mechanical testing. For this reason, a special sample material has been prepared which consists of a 1 mm thick layer of EB-PVD TBC. This material was isothermally heat treated for different times at 950 °C, 1100 °C and 1200 °C and then tested in a specially developed miniaturized bend test. The bend test setup permits mechanical tests with a high resolution in stress and strain, where the strain is measured by digital image correlation. So the stiffness of the free-standing TBC samples could be measured with a high accuracy and the sintering behaviour of the EB-PVD TBC and the consequent rise of Young's modulus could be determined. The results show a significant increase of the system modulus with heat treatment time and temperature caused by sintering of the coating. An activation energy of 220 kJ/mol for the process has been determined. In addition, the material was tested by nanoindentation in order to measure Young's modulus on a local scale, and the porosity of the samples was determined by quantitative image analysis.