Microfabrication using femtosecond pulse lasers is enabling access to a range of structures, surfaces and materials that was not previously available for scientific and engineering applications. The ability to produce micrometre sized features directly in polymer and metal substrates is demonstrated with applications in cell biology. The size, shape and aspect ratio of the etched features can be precisely controlled through the manipulation of the fluence of the laser etching process with respect to the properties of the target material. Femtosecond laser etching of poly(methyl methacrylate) and aluminium substrates has enabled the production of micrometre resolution moulds that can be accurately replicated using soft lithography. The moulded surfaces are used in the imaging of T cells and demonstrate the improved ability to observe biological events over time periods greater than 10 h. These results indicate the great potential femtosecond pulse lasers may have in the future manufacturing of microstructured surfaces and devices.