A detailed description is given of a recently established life-times method, in which the time decay of atomic fluorescence is recorded following pulsed laser excitation of an atomic vapor produced by cathodic sputtering in a rare-gas discharge. The method is readily applicable to neutral and singly ionized atoms of a wide range of elements, including the highly refractory elements for which, until very recently, little lifetime data have been available. A theoretical discussion is presented of the form of the time-resolved fluorescence signal detected following pulsed laser excitation of a group of atoms, with particular emphasis on possible sources of distortion in the fluorescence decay curves. Ex-amples are given of lifetime measurements on both neutral and singly ionized atoms of a number of refractory elements and comparisons made with other recent laser-induced fluorescence measurements. Some new lifetime data are reported for levels in Zr I, Zr II, Ag I, and Cu I.