Within the past decade, imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) has been increasingly recognized as an indispensable technique for studying biological systems. Its rapid evolution has resulted in an impressive array of instrument variations and sample applications, yet the tools and data are largely confined to specialists. It is therefore important that at this junction the IMS community begin to establish IMS as a permanent fixture in life science research thereby making the technology and/or the data approachable by non-mass spectrometrists, leading to further integration into biological and clinical research. In this perspective article, we provide insight into the evolution and current state of IMS and propose some of the directions that IMS could develop in order to stay on course to become one of the most promising new tools in life science research. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.