The present study aimed to investigate the effect of structure (design and porosity) on the matrix stiffness and osteogenic activity of stem cells cultured on poly(ester-urethane) (PEU) scaffolds. Different three-dimensional (3D) forms of scaffold were prepared from lysine-based PEU using traditional salt-leaching and advanced bioplotting techniques. The resulting scaffolds were characterized by differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), mercury porosimetry and mechanical testing. The scaffolds had various pore sizes with different designs, and all were thermally stable up to 300 °C. In vitro tests, carried out using rat bone marrow stem cells (BMSCs) for bone tissue engineering, demonstrated better viability and higher cell proliferation on bioplotted scaffolds compared to salt-leached ones, most probably due to their larger and interconnected pores and stiffer nature, as shown by higher compressive moduli, which were measured by compression testing. Similarly, SEM, von Kossa staining and EDX analyses indicated higher amounts of calcium deposition on bioplotted scaffolds during cell culture. It was concluded that the design with larger interconnected porosity and stiffness has an effect on the osteogenic activity of the stem cells. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.