Scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) of single atoms and molecules on ultrathin insulating films have led to a wealth of novel observations and insights. Based on the reduced electronic coupling to the metallic substrate, these techniques allow the charge state of individual atoms to be controlled, orbitals of individual molecules to be imaged and metal-molecule complexes to be built up. Near-contact AFM adds the unique capabilities of imaging and probing the chemical structure of single molecules with atomic resolution. With the help of atomic/molecular manipulation techniques, chemical binding processes and molecular switches can be studied in detail. © Schweizerische Chemische Gesellschaft.