The extracellular matrix is a key component during regeneration and maintenance of tissues and organs, and it therefore plays a critical role in successful tissue engineering as well. Tissue engineers should recognise that engineering technology can be deduced from natural repair processes. Due to advances in such distinct areas as biology, engineering, physics and chemistry and the possibility of using robotics to facilitate the search for new treatments, we can identify the basic principles and extrapolate them into tools to mimic the regenerative process. Ubiquitously distributed throughout the body, the extracellular matrix surrounding the cells plays a key instructive role, in addition to the previously recognised supportive role. In this review we will highlight the role of the extracellular matrix and discuss the latest technological possibilities to exploit the extracellular matrix in tissue engineering.