The process works slightly differently depending on whether an ion with a positive or a negative electric charge is being produced. A positively charged ion is produced when an electron bonded to an atom (or molecule) absorbs the proper amount of energy to escape from the electric potential barrier that originally confined it, thus breaking the bond and freeing it to move. The amount of energy required is called the ionization energy. A negatively charged ion is produced when a free electron collides with an atom and is subsequently caught inside the electric potential barrier, releasing any excess energy.
In general, ionization can be broken down into two types: sequential ionization and non-sequential ionization. In classical physics, only sequential ionization can take place; refer to the Classical ionization section for more information. Non-sequential ionization violates several laws of classical physics; refer to the Quantum ionization section.