Up to 18-Gbps direct encoding of blue laser diode (BLD) is demonstrated for free-space data transmission. By reshaping the orthogonal frequency multiplexed (16-QAM OFDM) stream with sidelobe filtering, the raw data rate expedites from 17.2 to 18.4 Gbps. Employing an ultrafast p-i-n photodiode with smaller active area diameter and lower noise equivalent power significantly enlarges the data rate by 1.6 Gbps or upgrades the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) by 0.2 dB. Replacing the 80-mW BLD with the 120-mW one essentially increases the received SNR by 0.4 dB under enhanced modulation throughput. Reinforcing the beam collimation and collection by increasing the numerical aperture with a plano-convex hyper-hemispherical lens further improves the SNR by 0.6 dB. After optimization, the 16-QAM OFDM data with and without sidelobe filtering are respectively delivered at raw data rates of 16.4 and 18 Gbps with spectral-density usage efficiency as high as 4 bit/s/Hz over 16 m in free space, wherein the BLD carried QAM-OFDM data stream remains its capacity after reformation with sidelobe filtering as the superior inter-carrier-interference immunity reinforces.