In vitro differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) recapitulates early aspects of human embryogenesis, but the underlying processes are poorly understood and controlled. Here we show that modulating the bulk cell density (BCD cell number per culture volume) deterministically alters anteroposterior patterning of primitive streak (PS)-like priming. The BCD in conjunction with the chemical WNT pathway activator CHIR99021 results in distinct paracrine microenvironments codifying hPSCs towards definitive endoderm, precardiac or presomitic mesoderm within the first 24 h of differentiation, respectively. Global gene expression and secretome analysis reveals that TGFß superfamily members, antagonist of Nodal signalling LEFTY1 and CER1, are paracrine determinants restricting PS progression. These data result in a tangible model disclosing how hPSC-released factors deflect CHIR99021-induced lineage commitment over time. By demonstrating a decisive, functional role of the BCD, we show its utility as a method to control lineage-specific differentiation. Furthermore, these findings have profound consequences for inter-experimental comparability, reproducibility, bioprocess optimization and scale-up.