The pattern of differentiated cell types within tissues and organs is often established by organizers, the localized sources of secreted ligands. Although the mechanisms underlying organizer function have been extensively studied, only in a few cases is it clear how an organizer ultimately controls each individual cell's fate across a field of progenitor cells. One of these cases involves the establishment of a precise pattern of cell differentiation across the embryonic epidermis in Drosophila. Here, we review several recent reports that help to elucidate the regulatory principles used to control this pattern. Because organizers are conserved, the same fundamental principles might operate in other organizers.