A defined protocol for efficiently deriving endothelial cells from human pluripotent stem cells was established and vascular morphogenesis was used as a model system to understand how synthetic hydrogels influence global biological function compared with common 2D and 3D culture platforms. RNA sequencing demonstrated that gene expression profiles were similar for endothelial cells and pericytes cocultured in polyethylene glycol (PEG) hydrogels or Matrigel, while monoculture comparisons identified distinct vascular signatures for each cell type. Endothelial cells cultured on tissue-culture polystyrene adopted a proliferative phenotype compared with cells cultured on or encapsulated in PEG hydrogels. The proliferative phenotype correlated to increased FAK-ERK activity, and knockdown or inhibition of ERK signaling reduced proliferation and expression for cell-cycle genes while increasing expression for "3D-like" vasculature development genes. Our results provide insight into the influence of 2D and 3D culture formats on global biological processes that regulate cell function.