Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)-based thin film optical waveguides are fabricated and characterized. Various waveguide parameters, namely, refractive index, propagation losses and depth, birefringence, and polarization conversion properties of dip-coated thin film optical waveguides are evaluated. The effective refractive index of PVA film is found to be between 1.506 and 1.531 for various concentrations. The propagation losses are 2.35 to 0.30 dB/cm for various thicknesses. The propagation loss reduces when the thickness of the film is increased. The low propagation losses, birefringence insensitivity, high transmission in the aged and annealed waveguides, control over film refractive index, the good adhesiveness of the film and good compatibility with substrate show that PVA-based waveguides are promising candidates for the optoelectronic field. © 2004 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.