High-definition metrology (HDM) systems with fine lateral resolution are capable of capturing the surface shape on a machined part that is beyond the capability of measurement systems employed in manufacturing plants today. Such surface shapes can precisely reflect the impact of cutting processes on surface quality. Understanding the cutting processes and the resultant surface shape is vital to high-precision machining process monitoring and control. This paper presents modeling and experiments of a face milling process to extract surface patterns from measured HDM data and correlate these patterns with cutting force variation. A relationship is established between the instantaneous cutting forces and the observed dominant surface patterns along the feed and circumferential directions for face milling. Potential applications of this relationship in process monitoring, diagnosis, and control are also discussed for face milling. Finally a systematic methodology for characterizing cutting force induced surface variations for a generic machining process is presented by integrating cutting force modeling and HDM measurements.