ZnS thin films with the hexagonal structure have been produced by sulfurizing sputter deposited Zn in sulfur vapor for 1 h. These films have been analyzed by X-ray diffraction (XRD), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), synchrotron radiation photoelectron spectroscopy (SR-PES), Auger electron spectroscopy (AES) and UV-VIS transmission spectra. It is found that at the sulfidation temperature (T-S) of 400 degrees C a little and partial Zn can be transformed to ZnS. At T-S = 500 degrees C, the total conversion of Zn in sulfur vapor can take place and form ZnS with a c-axis preferred orientation. The Zn-to-ZnS conversion is kinetically a reactive diffusion process. Also the ZnS thin film has much greater size of grains than the as-deposited Zn film, due to ZnS recrystallization and growth in sulfur vapor. Residual sulfur existing on the surface of ZnS grains leads to the poor optical transparency and great broadening of absorbing edge in the optical transmittance. However, ZnS thin film prepared by gradient sulfidation exhibits the improved optical transmittance, with a band-gap energy of 3.64 eV. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.