Nanoparticles are increasingly important in medical research for application to areas such as drug delivery and imaging. Understanding the interactions of nanoparticles with cells in physiologically relevant environments is vital for their acceptance, and cell–particle interactions likely vary based on the design of the particle including its size, shape, and surface chemistry. For this reason, the kinetic interactions of fluorescent nanoparticles of sizes 20, 100, 200, and 500 nm with human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) were determined by (1) measuring nanoparticles per cell at 37 and 4°C (to inhibit endocytosis) and (2) modeling experimental particle uptake data with equations describing particle attachment, detachment, and internalization. Additionally, the influence of cell substrate compliance on nanoparticle attachment and uptake was investigated. Results show that the number of binding sites per cell decreased with increasing nanoparticle size, while the attachment coefficient increased. By comparing HUVEC grown on either a thin coating of collagen or on top of three-dimensional collagen hydrogel, nanoparticle attachment and internalization were shown to be influenced significantly by the substrate on which the cells are cultured. This study concludes that both particle size and cell culture substrate compliance appreciably influence the binding of nanoparticles; important factors in translating in vitro studies of nanoparticle interactions to in vivo studies focused on therapeutic or diagnostic applications. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2011;108: 2988–2998. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.