Genomic imprinting in mammals results in the expression of genes from only one parental allele. Imprinting occurs as a consequence of epigenetic marks set down either in the father's or the mother's germ line and affects a very specific category of mammalian gene. A greater understanding of this distinctive phenomenon can be gained from studies using large genomic clones, called bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs). Here, we review the important applications of BACs to imprinting research, covering physical mapping studies and the use of BACs as transgenes in mice to study gene expression patterns, to identify imprinting centres, and to isolate the consequences of altered gene dosage. We also highlight the significant and unique advantages that rapid BAC engineering brings to genomic imprinting research.