Abstract Plasma polymer surfaces were fabricated such that the cell response to a range of carboxylic acid concentrations on a single sample could be investigated. Surface chemical gradients from hydrophobic plasma polymerised octadiene (OD) to a more hydrophilic plasma polymerised acrylic acid (AA) were formed on glass coverslips. Surface characterisation of the chemical gradients was performed using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy to determine elemental composition. Following culture of E14 and R1 mouse embryonic stem cells (mES) in differing culture media, cell pluripotency was determined by alkaline phosphatase staining. The results demonstrate that for these cell lines the capacity for self-renewal is maintained if the cells are restricted in their spreading to <120 μm 2.