An article having a substrate is protected by a thermal barrier coating system. An interfacial layer contacts the upper surface of the substrate. The interfacial layer may comprise a bond coat only, or a bond coat and an overlay coat. The interfacial layer has on its upper surface a preselected, controllable pattern of three-dimensional features, such as grooves in a parallel array or in two angularly offset arrays. The features are formed by an ablation process using an ultraviolet laser such as an excimer laser. A ceramic thermal barrier coating is deposited over the pattern of features on the upper surface of the interfacial layer.