Abstract WC-based hard alloys were deposited from a slab source anode on to low carbon steel and pure Ti substrates using a pulsed air arc. The depositions were conducted with a series of pulses with current amplitudes of 75 A, 300 A, and 500 A, a pulse duration of 150 μs, and a pulse repetition rate of 100 Hz. The influence of the electrode material, discharge energy and deposition time on the electrode erosion rate, mass transfer direction, and the wear resistance and friction coefficient of the coatings was investigated. Anodic and cathodic mass change characteristics depended on both the anode and cathode materials. Using a steel cathode and a WC anode, depositions of the anode material always formed on the cathode. For the same WC anode but a Ti cathode, coatings only formed locally in the craters of the eroded cathode. The anodic mass loss when using the steel cathodes was about a factor of 3 larger than when using the Ti cathodes. The microhardness of the coated substrates was larger by factors of 5–12 than the uncoated Ti and low carbon steel substrates. The coatings increased the wear resistance of the steel and Ti substrates by factors of 4.3 and 1.4, respectively. The poorer performance of the coated Ti substrates is attributed to the intensive erosion of the Ti cathodes (compared to the steel cathodes) and the discontinuous nature of the coatings (i.e. only in the erosion caters).