Abstract The influences of crystallographic orientations on the evolution of dislocation structures and the refinement process of sub-grains in Al single crystals processed by one-pass equal-channel angular pressing (ECAP) were systematically investigated by means of scanning electron microscopy, electron backscatter diffraction and transmission electron microscopy. Three single crystals with different orientations, denoted as crystal I, crystal II and crystal III, were specially designed according to the shape of the ECAP die. For crystal I, its insert direction is parallel to [1 1 0] and its extrusion direction is parallel to [ 1 ¯ 1 1 ] . For crystal II, the ( 1 ¯ 1 1 ) plane is located parallel to the intersection plane of the ECAP die, and the [1 1 0] direction is along the general shear direction on the intersection plane. For crystal III, the ( 1 ¯ 1 1 ) plane is laid on the plane perpendicular to the intersection of the ECAP die, and the [1 1 0] direction is vertical to the general shear direction. For crystal I, abundant cell block structures with multi-slip characters were formed, and they should be induced by four symmetric slip systems, while for crystal II, there are two sets of sub-grain structures with higher misorientation, making an angle of ∼70°, which can be attributed to the interactions of the two asymmetric primary slip planes, whereas for crystal III, only one set of ribbon structures was parallel to the traces of ( 1 ¯ 1 1 ) with the lowest misorientation angle among the three single crystals, which should result from the homogeneous slip on the primary slip plane. The different microstructural features of the three single crystals provide clear experimental evidence that the microstructures and misorientation evolution are strongly affected by the crystallographic orientation or by the interaction between shear deformation imposed by the ECAP die and the intrinsic slip deformation of the single crystals. Based on the experimental results and the analysis of the ECAP deformation mechanism, a new possible deformation model is suggested for the crystalline materials subjected to ECAP.