Because the plant epidermis is readily accessible and consists of few cell types on most organs, the epidermis has become a well-studied model for cell differentiation and cell patterning in plants. Recent advances in our understanding of the development of three epidermal cell types, trichomes, root hairs, and stomata, allow a comparison of the underlying patterning mechanisms. In Arabidopsis, trichome development and root epidermal patterning use a common mechanism involving closely related cell fate transcription factors and a similar lateral inhibition signaling pathway. Yet the resulting patterns differ substantially, primarily due to the influence of a prepattern derived from subepidermal cortical cells in root epidermal patterning. Stomatal patterning uses a contrasting mechanism based primarily on control of the orientation of cell divisions that also involves an inhibitory signaling pathway. This review focuses on comparing and contrasting these patterning pathways to identify and illustrate general themes that may be broadly applicable to other systems. Where these pathways occur in the same tissue, interaction and competition between these pathways is also discussed.