In this report, we investigate and visualize the effect of shape irregularity on contact damage in a brittle coating on a stiff metal substrate. Hertzian contact damage in a dental porcelain layer of thickness between 0.25 and 0.75 mm, fused onto a Ni-Cr alloy substrate in both curved and planar geometries was studied with the aid of the finite element method and experimental investigation. Three failure modes were examined with varying porcelain layer thickness: cone cracking at the upper surface of the porcelain, median or interface cracking at the layer/substrate interface and plastic deformation below the contact area in the substrate. It is shown that curvature has very little effect on the initiation of surface cone cracks in this system, but substantial effect on the initiation of interface radial cracks. In particular, curvature reduces the critical load for the onset of interface cracks. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.