Protein microarrays, on which thousands of discrete proteins are printed, provide a valuable platform for functional analysis of the proteome. They have been widely used for biomarker discovery and to study protein–protein interactions. The accomplishments of DNA microarray technology, which had enabled massive parallel studies of gene expression, sparked great interest for the development of protein microarrays to achieve similar success at the protein level. Protein microarray detection techniques are often classified as being label-based and label-free. Most of the microarray applications have employed labelled detection such as fluorescent, chemiluminescent and radioactive labelling. These labelling strategies have synthetic challenges, multiple label issues and may exhibit interference with the binding site. Therefore, development of sensitive, reliable, high-throughput, label-free detection techniques are now attracting significant attention. Label-free detection techniques monitor biomolecular interactions and simplify the bioassays by eliminating the need for secondary reactants. Moreover, they provide quantitative information for the binding kinetics. In this article, we will review several label-free techniques, which offer promising applications for the protein microarrays, and discuss their prospects, merits and challenges.