In this paper we report on the development of dynamically controlled three-dimensional (3D) micropatterned cellular co-cultures within photocurable and chemically degradable hydrogels. Specifically, we generated dynamic co-cultures of micropatterned murine embryonic stem (mES) cells with human hepatocellular carcinoma (HepG2) cells within 3D hydrogels. HepG2 cells were used due to their ability to direct the differentiation of mES cells through secreted paracrine factors. To generate dynamic co-cultures, mES cells were first encapsulated within micropatterned photocurable poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogels. These micropatterned cell-laden PEG hydrogels were subsequently surrounded by calcium alginate (Ca-Alg) hydrogels containing HepG2 cells. After 4 days, the co-culture step was halted by exposing the system to sodium citrate solution, which removed the alginate gels and the encapsulated HepG2 cells. The encapsulated mES cells were then maintained in the resulting cultures for 16 days and cardiac differentiation was analysed. We observed that the mES cells that were exposed to HepG2 cells in the co-cultures generated cells with higher expression of cardiac genes and proteins, as well as increased spontaneous beating. Due to its ability to control the 3D microenvironment of cells in a spatially and temporally regulated manner, the method presented in this study is useful for a range of cell-culture applications related to tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.