Pancreatic diseases, chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and diabetes mellitus, taken together, occur in >10% of the world population. Pancreatic diseases, as with other diseases, benefit from early intervention and appropriate diagnosis. Although imaging technologies have given clinicians an unprecedented toolbox to aid in clinical decision-making, advances in these technologies and development of molecular-based diagnostic tools could enable physicians to identify diseases at an even earlier stage and, thereby, improve patient outcomes. In this Review, we discuss and identify gaps in the use of imaging techniques for the early detection and appropriate treatment stratification of various pancreatic diseases, including diabetes mellitus, acute and chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Imaging techniques discussed are MRI, CT, PET and ultrasonography. Additionally, the identification of new molecular targets for imaging and the development of contrast agents that are able to give molecular information in noninvasive radionuclear imaging and ultrasonography are emerging areas of innovation that could lead to increased diagnostic accuracy and improved patient outcomes.