Actin filaments are major components of at least 15 distinct structures in metazoan cells. These filaments assemble from a common pool of actin monomers, but do so at different times and places, and in response to different stimuli. All of these structures require actin-filament assembly factors. To date, many assembly factors have been identified, including Arp2/3 complex, multiple formin isoforms and spire. Now, a major task is to figure out which factors assemble which actin-based structures. Here, we focus on structures at the plasma membrane, including both sheet-like protrusive structures (such as lamellipodia and ruffles) and finger-like protrusions (such as filopodia and microvilli). Insights gained from studies of adherens junctions and the immunological synapse are also considered.