Nanostructured multilayer films of TiN/TiBN with different bilayer thicknesses (Λ) were deposited onto Si(1 0 0) wafers (for mechanical analyses) and AISI M42 tool steels (for tribological measurements) at room temperature by reactive unbalanced magnetron sputtering in an Ar-N2 gas mixture. The effects of different Λ values on mechanical and tribological properties were studied by atomic force microscope (AFM), scanning electron microscope (SEM), microindentation measurements, Rockwell-C tester, nano- and micro-scratch tester, impact tester, pin-on-disc tribometer, and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). It was found that the mechanical and tribological properties of multilayer films (typically 1.4 ± 0.1 μm in thickness) were closely related to Λ (varied from 1.4 to 9.7 nm). For the best multilayer film with Λ = 1.8 nm, a maximum hardness of ∼29.5 GPa was achieved and the best cohesive and adhesive strength was evidenced in terms of critical load values of LC1 (∼37 N), LC2 (>80 N) and the highest adhesion strength (HF1). Moreover, by the dynamic impact testing this multilayer film could endure impact cycles up to 4 × 105 without adhesive failure. It was also found that the nano-scratch test under single-pass and constant-load conditions showed that the frictional coefficients decreased with Λ and increased with normal load due to the ploughing effect. The enhanced hardness in the multilayer films with small Λ values improved the wear resistance and lowered the frictional coefficients. The frictional coefficients obtained at 5 N were kept at ∼0.5 and increased from ∼0.52 to ∼0.65 when Λ increased from 1.8 to 9.7 nm at 2 N. By FTIR analyses, the multilayer films with Λ = 1.8 and 2.2 nm showed the presence of h-BN which provided a lubricating function resulted in lower frictional coefficients and wear rates. The tribological properties of the TiN/TiBN multilayer films with different Λ values are also explained in terms of mechanical properties and wear mechanisms. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.