Abstract Ceramic surfaces were microstructured by excimer laser radiation in order to improve the tribological properties under hydrodynamic and elastohydrodynamic sliding conditions. The laser-induced lubricant pockets generated high local pressures and thus caused a thicker lubricant film, allowing an optimal separation of the contact surfaces even at lower sliding velocities. Wear-intensive boundary lubrication at frequent starting and running-out procedures may be minimized. Initial studies investigating the influence of different geometries of lubricant pockets on the film thickness were carried out using a block-on-ring tribometer. The results for alumina and silicon carbide showed that the structuring of the surface topography resulted in a significant improvement in the lubricant film thickness compared with untreated surfaces.