Selective laser melting (SLM) is a powder based additive manufacturing technique suitable for producing high precision metal parts. However, distortions and residual stresses within products arise during SLM because of the high temperature gradients created by the laser heating. Residual stresses limit the load resistance of the product and may even lead to fracture during the built process. It is therefore of paramount importance to predict the level of part distortion and residual stress as a function of SLM process parameters which requires a reliable thermal modelling of the SLM process. Consequently, a key question arises which is how to describe the laser source appropriately. Reasonable simplification of the laser representation is crucial for the computational efficiency of the thermal model of the SLM process. In this paper, first a semi-analytical thermal modelling approach is described. Subsequently, the laser heating is modelled using point, surface and volumetric sources, in order to compare the influence of different laser source geometries on the thermal history prediction of the thermal model. The present work provides guidelines on appropriate representation of the laser source in the thermal modelling of the SLM process.