Mass spectrometry is now an indispensable tool for lipid analysis and is arguably the driving force in the renaissance of lipid research. In its various forms, mass spectrometry is uniquely capable of resolving the extensive compositional and structural diversity of lipids in biological systems. Furthermore, it provides the ability to accurately quantify molecular-level changes in lipid populations associated with changes in metabolism and environment; bringing lipid science to the "omics" age. The recent explosion of mass spectrometry-based surface analysis techniques is fuelling further expansion of the lipidomics field. This is evidenced by the numerous papers published on the subject of mass spectrometric imaging of lipids in recent years. While imaging mass spectrometry provides new and exciting possibilities, it is but one of the many opportunities direct surface analysis offers the lipid researcher. In this review we describe the current state-of-the-art in the direct surface analysis of lipids with a focus on tissue sections, intact cells and thin-layer chromatography substrates. The suitability of these different approaches towards analysis of the major lipid classes along with their current and potential applications in the field of lipid analysis are evaluated.