The mobility of phospolipids in free-standing and supported membranes was investigated on the level of individual molecules. For the analysis of trajectories a new statistical treatment was developed that permitted us to clearly distinguish different types of diffusional motion. A freely diffusing subfraction of lipids within supported membranes was identified. Its mobility was characterized by a mean lateral diffusion constant of D(supp) = 4.6 &mgr;m(2)/s. In comparison, the mobility of lipids embedded in "free-standing" planar membranes yielded an increase in the mean diffusion constant by a factor of 4.5, D(free) = 20.6 &mgr;m(2)/s. This increase is attributed to the ultrathin (</=1 nm) lubricating water layer between membranes and glass support.