High critical current density (Jc) is essential for most large-scale applications of high-temperature superconductors (HTSs). In addition to the weak link problem, weak flux pinning is a major cause of the rapid decline of Jc with magnetic field at high temperatures. Through intensive research in the past 10 years the weak pinning problem has been partially overcome and Jc has reached a level approaching the requirement for some commercial applications. In this article, a number of techniques by which effective pinning centres can be introduced to improve flux pinning in Bi-(Pb)-Sr-Ca-Cu-O HTSs are reviewed. These include surface pinning through a spiral growth, fine precipitates produced through phase transformation or phase formation-decomposition, inclusions through chemical doping or addition, cascades and columnar defects created by fast-neutron and heavy ion beam irradiation and various defects induced by mechanical deformation. In particular, the results of Bi-2223 formation-decomposition and cold deformation versus hot deformation have a significant implication for HTS wire fabrication. Comparative studies with comprehensive electrical, magnetic and microstructural characterizations have been carried out to assess the effectiveness of these techniques. © 1997 IOP Publishing Ltd.