This paper presents the results of a comprehensive experimental study of the desiccation of fine-grained soils. Air-drying of initially saturated soil slabs in controlled conditions is investigated, by performing three kinds of tests: free desiccation tests, constrained desiccation tests (prevented shrinkage), and crack pattern tests. Strains, suction, water content, and crack geometry are investigated. Results reveal that unconstrained drying exhibits two stages: a domain with large, mostly irrecoverable deformations and degree of saturation close to 100%, followed by a domain with lower deformations at a decreasing degree of saturation. Homogeneous soil macroscopic cracking is possible only in the presence of boundary constraints and/or moisture gradients, inducing the build-up of tensile stresses. Results also show that, for the initially saturated remoulded soils tested here, in the whole sample and near a crack initiation point, the degree of saturation remains very close to 100% until cracking, while cracking onset, the air-entry suction, and the shrinkage limit are close to each other. Cavitation nuclei and the formation of an irregular drying front at cracking initiation are commented upon in light of this observation. Finally, results suggest that the crack pattern geometry is the result of energy redistribution. A quantification of the process is proposed.