The ability to control equilibrium trajectory to buckling via uniform/non-uniform prebuckling stresses introduced using piezoelectric actuators creates interesting possibilities for designing smart structures. Recent innovative applications consider buckling as a favorable phenomenon in contrast to the conventional wisdom that considers the peak load carrying capacity as the sole design consideration. A circular-cylindrical shell under axial compression can be effectively used in many such applications if active tailoring of its buckling response is demonstrated. The effect of localized as well as distributed placement of piezoelectric patch actuators is analyzed in the present study based on the mechanics of deformation of a cylindrical shell under axial compression. The study establishes the possibility of active tailoring of buckling parameters such as peak load carrying capacity, initial stiffness, and first critical load. The results indicate that the principal curvatures of the cylindrical shell surface play a significant role in dictating the inter-actuator gap for the effective placement of discrete actuators. © 2020 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.