BACKGROUND: Drop drying is a key factor in a wide range of technical applications, including spotted microarrays. The applied nL liquid volume provides specific reaction conditions for the immobilization of probe molecules to a chemically modified surface. RESULTS: We investigated the influence of nL and μL liquid drop volumes on the process of probe immobilization and compare the results obtained to the situation in liquid solution. In our data, we observe a strong relationship between drop drying effects on immobilization and surface chemistry. In this work, we present results on the immobilization of dye labeled 20mer oligonucleotides with and without an activating 5'-aminoheptyl linker onto a 2D epoxysilane and a 3D NHS activated hydrogel surface. CONCLUSIONS: Our experiments identified two basic processes determining immobilization. First, the rate of drop drying that depends on the drop volume and the ambient relative humidity. Oligonucleotides in a dried spot react unspecifically with the surface and long reaction times are needed. 3D hydrogel surfaces allow for immobilization in a liquid environment under diffusive conditions. Here, oligonucleotide immobilization is much faster and a specific reaction with the reactive linker group is observed. Second, the effect of increasing probe concentration as a result of drop drying. On a 3D hydrogel, the increasing concentration of probe molecules in nL spotting volumes accelerates immobilization dramatically. In case of μL volumes, immobilization depends on whether the drop is allowed to dry completely. At non-drying conditions, very limited immobilization is observed due to the low oligonucleotide concentration used in microarray spotting solutions. The results of our study provide a general guideline for microarray assay development. They allow for the initial definition and further optimization of reaction conditions for the immobilization of oligonucleotides and other probe molecule classes to different surfaces in dependence of the applied spotting and reaction volume.