The control of plasma characteristics is one of the important issues in many atmospheric pressure plasma applications. In order to accomplish this control, a feasibility study was performed by investigating the role of helium gas in an argon glow plasma that were produced in ambient air by 13.56 MHz radio-frequency power. Optical emission spectroscopy was used to measure rotational temperature and emission spectra acquired between 300 and 840 nm. Based on electrical and optical measurements, parameters such as gas temperature, breakdown voltage, power coupling efficiency, spatial uniformity of rotational temperature, and the sum of the emission intensity were controlled by varying the argon and helium gas mixing ratio. The addition of helium gas (from 0 to 10 lpm) to the argon flow (of 10 lpm) lowered the breakdown voltage (from 430 to 300 V-pk) and the rotational temperature (from 465 to 360 K). However, an excessive addition of helium resulted in a reduction of the spatial uniformity and efficiency of power coupling. When the ratio of helium to argon flow was between 0.3 and 0.5, a high spatial uniformity with a relatively low gas temperature and breakdown voltage was achieved. This suggests that mixing of the supply gas is a useful way of controlling the plasma characteristics that may be utilized for applications with specific required discharge conditions. (c) 2006 American Institute of Physics.