Imaginal discs are sacs of folded epithelium arising during embryogenesis. They proliferate during the larval instars, and at metamorphosis secrete the adult cuticle, therefore being responsible for the characteristic surface patterning of this insect. Each disc has intrinsic growth controls and their cell lineage shows constraints known as compartments. Spatial patterns emerge through interaction between adjacent cells. Molecular genetic analysis of mutants with changed pattern has implicated transcription factors, secreted, membrane-bound and growth factor related proteins in the position-signalling mechanism. Their accessibility to contemporary cell biological techniques makes imaginal discs a model system for investigating patterning in animal tissues.