Optical techniques for real-time full-penetration monitoring for Nd:YAG laser welding have been investigated. Coaxial light emission from the keyhole is imaged onto three photodiodes and a camera. We describe the spectral and statistical analyses from photodiode signals, which indicate the presence of a full penetration. Two image processing techniques based on the keyhole shape recognition and the keyhole image intensity profile along the welding path are presented. An intensity ratio parameter is used to determine the extent of opening at the rear of a fully opened keyhole. We show that this parameter clearly interprets a hole in formation or a lack of penetration when welding is performed on workpieces with variable thicknesses at constant laser power. © 2005 Optical Society of America.