Sub-micron-scale, micron-scale and greater than micron-scale, crack-free and regularly-shaped structures of high-contrast refractive index are provided in transparent storage media by controllably focusing ultrashort laser pulses in the bulk of virtually any transparent medium respectively during operation in a "low energy," a "high energy", and a "third" operating regime. In any operating regime, the crack-free and regularly-shaped structures of high-contrast refractive index may be controllably patterned in 2-D or 3-D so as to permanently store both digital and non-digital information in the bulk of the transparent storage medium. For digital-type information, greater than one (1) Terabit, and up to one hundred (100) Terabit, digital information storage capacity in a CD-ROM sized disc is provided. Virtually any non-digital information may be permanently stored therewithin, such as corporate logos, alphanumeric characters, security codes, and artistic images, or diffraction gratings, diffractive optical elements or other optical structures. Information permanently stored in 2-D or 3-D in the bulk of any transparent medium is read by the unaided eye, and by optical microscopy (scattered and transmitted light modes), phase contrast microscopy, laser DIC microscopy and confocal microscopy in dependance on the type of the information and on the operating regime. Information may be written or read in series or in parallel.