The high incidence of osteoarthritis and the recent advent of several new surgical and non-surgical treatment approaches have motivated the development of quantitative techniques to assess cartilage loss. Although magnetic resonance (MR) imaging is the most accurate non-invasive diagnostic modality for evaluating articular cartilage, improvements in spatial resolution, signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), and contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) would be valuable. Cartilage presents an imaging challenge due to its short T(2) relaxation time and its low water content compared with surrounding materials. Current methods sacrifice cartilage signal brightness for contrast between cartilage and surrounding tissue such as bone, bone marrow, and joint fluid. A new technique for imaging articular cartilage uses driven equilibrium Fourier transform (DEFT), a method of enhancing signal strength without waiting for full T(1) recovery. Compared with other methods, DEFT imaging provides a good combination of bright cartilage and high contrast between cartilage and surrounding tissue. Both theoretical predictions and images show that DEFT is a valuable method for imaging articular cartilage when compared with spoiled gradient-recalled acquisition in the steady state (SPGR) or fast spin echo (FSE). The cartilage SNR for DEFT is as high as that of either FSE or SPGR, while the cartilage-synovial fluid CNR of DEFT is as much as four times greater than that of FSE or SPGR. Implemented as a three-dimensional sequence, DEFT can achieve coverage comparable to that of other sequences in a similar scan time. Magn Reson Med 42:695-703, 1999.