The use of scanning probes bearing catalysts to perform surface nanolithography combines the exquisite spatial precision of scanning probe microscopy with the synthetic capabilities of (bio)chemical catalysis. The ability to use these probes to direct a variety of localised chemical reactions enables the generation of nanoscale features with a high degree of chemical complexity in a "direct-write" manner. This article surveys the range of reactions that have been employed and the key factors necessary for the successful use of such catalytic scanning probes. These factors include the experimental parameters such as write speed, force applied to the probes and temperature; as well as the processes involved in the preparation of the catalysts on the probes and the surface that is to be fabricated. Where possible, the various reactions are also compared and contrasted; and future perspectives are discussed. This journal is © the Partner Organisations 2014.