A new method is presented that uses parallel peptide array synthesis on cellulose membranes to characterize protease/peptide inhibitor interactions. A peptide comprising P5-P4' of the third domain of turkey ovomucoid inhibitor was investigated for both binding to and inhibition of porcine pancreatic elastase. Binding was studied directly on the cellulose membrane, while inhibition was measured by an assay in microtiter plates with punched out peptide spots. The importance of each residue for binding or inhibition was determined by substitutional analyses, exchanging every original amino acid with all other 19 coded amino acids. Seven hundred eighty individual peptides were investigated for binding behavior to porcine pancreatic elastase, and 320 individual peptides were measured in inhibition experiments. The results provide new insights into the interaction between the ovomucoid derived peptide and subsites in the active site of elastase. Combining these data with length analysis we designed new peptides in a step-wise fashion which in the end not only inhibited elastase 400 times more strongly than the original peptide, but are highly specific for the enzyme. In addition, the optimized inhibitor peptide was protected against exopeptidase attack by substituting D-amino acids at both termini.