The aim of this work was to develop an instrumented experimental methodology of quantitative material evaluation based on the acoustic emission (AE) monitoring of a dead-weight Vickers indentation. This was to assess the degree of cracking and hence the toughness of thermally sprayed coatings. AE data were acquired during indentation tests on samples of coatings of nominal thickness 250-325 mu m at a variety of indentation loads ranging from 49 to 490 N. Measurements were carried out on five different carbide and ceramic coatings (HVOF as-sprayed WC-12% Co (JP5000 and JetKote), HIPed WC-12% Co (JetKote) and as-sprayed Al2O3 (APS/Metco and HVOF/theta-gun)). The raw AE signals recorded during indentation were analysed and the total surface crack length around the indent determined. The results showed that the total surface crack length measured gave fracture toughness (K-1c) values which were consistent with the published literature for similar coatings but evaluated using the classical approach (Palmqvist/half-penny model). Hence, the total surface crack length criteria can be applied to ceramic and cermet coatings which may or may not exhibit fracture via radial cracks. The values of K-1c measured were 3.4 +/- 0.1 MPa m(1/2) for high-velocity oxygen fuel (HVOF) (theta-gun) Al2O3, 4.6 +/- 0.3 MPa m(1/2) for as-sprayed HVOF (JetKote) WC-12% Co, 7.1 +/- 0.1 MPa m(1/2) for as-sprayed HVOF (JP5000) WC-12% Co and 7.4 +/- 0.2 MPa m(1/2) for HIPed HVOF (JetKote) WC-12% Co coatings. The crack lengths were then calibrated against the AE response and correlation coefficients evaluated. The values of K-1c measured using AE correlations were 3.3 MPa m(1/2) for HVOF (theta-gun) Al2O3, 2.6 MPa m(1/2) for APS (Metco) Al2O3, 2.5 MPa m(1/2) for as-sprayed HVOF (JetKote) WC-12% Co, 6.3 MPa m(1/2) for as-sprayed HVOF (JP5000) WC-12% Co and 8.6 MPa m(1/2) for HIPed HVOF (JetKote) WC-12% Co coatings. It is concluded that within each category of coating type, AE can be used as a suitable surrogate for crack length measurement for assessing coating quality. Hence, a full measure of crack prevalence which would require time-consuming fractal dimension analysis can be made redundant for a given coating type, offering a motivation for AE-based indentation testing as a measure of quality control. Similarly, for cases where surface crack length cannot be measured due to delamination/spallation of surface, AE-based fracture toughness provides a benchmark for coating quality assessment.