The magnetic resonance (MR) imaging characteristics of five primary intradural epidermoid tumors are described. At 0.35 T, the most consistent finding on spin echo imaging was a tumor signal intensity that differed from brain and CSF. On T1-weighted images [repetition time (TR) 0.5 s, echo time (TE) 30-40 ms] all tumors exhibited a signal intensity intermediate between brain and CSF. On moderately T2-weighted images (TR 2.0 ms, TE 60-80 ms) the tumor signal intensity was greater than brain and CSF in all cases. The tumor signal consistency was mixed in four of five lesions and homogeneous in one. The tumor margins were well defined in all cases; in three cases the tumor margins were irregular, in one case smooth, and in the last case, one margin was irregular and the remaining margins were smooth. These findings are contrasted with the MR appearance of arachnoid cysts. Using identical imaging factors, four arachnoid cysts were studied and exhibited a homogeneous signal intensity that was identical to CSF on all pulse sequences; their margins were smooth and well defined in each case. These MR findings contribute to the characterization of extraaxial lesions.