In this study, a plasma electrolytic oxidation (PEO) process was used to produce oxide coatings on commercially pure aluminium (1100 alloy) at a pulsed dc power mode. The effects of process parameters (i.e. current density and treatment time) on the plasma discharge behaviour during the PEO treatment were investigated using optical emission spectroscopy (OES) in the visible and near ultraviolet (NUV) band (285-800 nm). The elements present in the plasma were identified. Stark shifts of spectral lines and line intensity ratios were utilized to determine the plasma electron concentrations and temperatures, respectively. The plasma electron temperature profile, coating surface morphology and coating composition were used to interpret the plasma discharging behaviour. The different coating morphologies and compositions at different coating surface regions are explained in terms of three types of discharge, which originate either at the substrate/coating interface, within the upper layer, or at the coating top layer. The high spike peaks on the plasma intensity and temperature profiles corresponded to discharges originated from the substrate/coating interface, while the base line and small fluctuations were due to discharges at the coating/electrolyte interface.