The aim of this paper is to study the benefits of applying ultrashort pulsed lasers over nanosecond pulsed lasers for selective (i.e., superficial) heat treatment of materials in general and for selective heat treatment of thin films in particular. To this end, a background of the physics that govern the absorption of light and subsequent diffusion of heat in semiconductor and metallic materials is provided, when exposed to picosecond or nanosecond laser pulses, with a fluence below the ablation threshold. A numerical model was implemented using a commercial finite-element modeling package, to simulate the temperature fields in thin films induced by laser pulses. The results of the simulations provide insight in the temperature cycles and corresponding timescales, as function of the processing parameters, such as fluence, pulse duration, pulse repetition frequency, and laser wavelength. Numerical simulations were run for thin films of molybdenum (Mo) and zinc oxide (ZnO) on a glass substrate, which are materials commonly adopted as (back and front) electrodes in thin film solar cells.