Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) and mosaicplasty are both claimed to be successful for the repair of defects of the articular cartilage of the knee but there has been no comparative study of the two methods. A total of 100 patients with a mean age of 31.3 years (16 to 49) and with a symptomatic lesion of the articular cartilage in the knee which was suitable for cartilage repair was randomised to undergo either ACI or mosaicplasty; 58 patients had ACI and 42 mosaicplasty. Most lesions were post-traumatic and the mean size of the defect was 4.66 cm2. The mean duration of symptoms was 7.2 years and the mean number of previous operations, excluding arthroscopy, was 1.5. The mean follow-up was 19 months (12 to 26). Functional assessment using the modified Cincinatti and Stanmore scores and objective clinical assessment showed that 88% had excellent or good results after ACI compared with 69% after mosaicplasty. Arthroscopy at one year demonstrated excellent or good repairs in 82% after ACI and in 34% after mosaicplasty. All five patellar mosaicplasties failed. Our prospective, randomised, clinical trial has shown significant superiority of ACI over mosaicplasty for the repair of articular defects in the knee. The results for ACI are comparable with those in other studies, but those for mosaicplasty suggest that its continued use is of dubious value.