Aim To assess the prevalence of arterial phase (AP) ring-enhancing small hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC) on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); detail additional MRI features that enable HCC diagnosis; and examine arterial timing as one possible cause of this appearance. Materials and methods Patients undergoing HCC screening with both computed tomography (CT) and MRI within 40 days were examined at a single institution over a 7- year time period ending in 2013. From this initial group, small (1–3 cm), (AP) ring-enhancing HCC on MRI were studied. Results From the initial group of 64 patients with 129 HCC, 20 patients with 78 HCCs had a small diameter with 32 (41%) having an AP ring at MRI. The mean age of this latter group was 63-years old, with the average tumour diameter of 1.9 cm. Histopathology and secondary imaging supported a diagnosis of HCC in 20 (100%) patients and 31 (97%) lesions. Most of the ringed lesions had early AP timing. Conclusion This study revealed a high prevalence (41%) of small, AP ring HCC with MRI. The use of other MRI sequences adds support in making the proper diagnosis with this appearance. Early AP timing may help create this pattern.