Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMPs) are the endogenous inhibitors of the zinc-dependent endopeptidases of the matrix metalloproteinase families. There are four mammalian TIMPs (TIMP-1 to -4) but only TIMP-3 is sequestered to the extracellular matrix (ECM). The molecular basis for the TIMP-3:ECM association has never been fully investigated until now. In this report, we identify the unique amino acid configuration that constitutes the basis of the ECM binding motif in TIMP-3. By systematically exchanging the subdomains of the TIMPs and exhaustive mutation of TIMP-3, we have identified the surface residues directly responsible for ECM association. Contrary to the accepted view, we have found that TIMP-3 interacts with the ECM via both its N- and C-terminal domains. The amino acids involved in ECM binding are all basic in nature: Lys-26, Lys-27, Lys-30, Lys-76 of the N-terminal domain and Arg-163, Lys-165 of the C-terminal domain. Replacement of these residues with glutamate (E) and glutamine (Q) (K26/27/30/76E + R163/K165Q) resulted in a soluble TIMP-3 devoid of ECM-adhering ability. Using the ECM binding motif derived from TIMP-3, we have also created a TIMP-1 mutant (K26/27/30 + K76 transplant) capable of ECM association. This is the first instance of TIMPs being intentionally rendered soluble or ECM-bound. The ability to prepare TIMPs in soluble or ECM-bound forms also opens new avenues for future TIMP research.