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In the plasma electrolytic oxidation (PEO) coating of light metal alloys, changing the electrical parameters and electrolytic composition can change the discharge behaviour and, ultimately, the thickness, surface morphology and porosity of the coating. In the present study a combination of cathodic and anodic current pulses with suitable Ton and Toff periods were used to control the porosity and other structural defects of PEO coatings of an AM60B magnesium alloy. In order to investigate the effect of a current mode on the plasma discharge behaviour and coating microstructure during the PEO treatment of magnesium alloy, the emission intensities of six different spectral lines from the plasma species were recorded simultaneously as a function of both time and current mode using optical emission spectroscopy (OES) system. The fluctuations in signal intensities and temperature during the coating process reflect differences in location of both the discharge initiation, and discharge type. The coating surface morphology and microstructure that are obtained can be linked to the plasma discharge behavior. These results are discussed in relation to the discharge behaviour, and how such changes in discharge behaviour relate to the coating mechanisms.