Single Sn-phthalocyanine (SnPc) molecules adsorb on Cu(1 0 0) with the Sn ion above (Sn-up) or below (Sn-down) the molecular plane. Here we use a combination of atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning tunnelling microscopy (STM) and first principles calculations to understand the adsorption configuration and origin of observed contrast of molecules in the Sn-down state. AFM with metallic tips images the pyrrole nitrogen atoms in these molecules as attractive features while STM reveals a chirality of the electronic structure of the molecules close to the Fermi level EF, which is not observed in AFM. Using density functional theory calculations, the origin of the submolecular contrast is analysed and, while the electrostatic forces turn out to be negligible, the van der Waals interaction between the phenyl rings of SnPc and the substrate deform the molecule, push the pyrrole nitrogen atoms away from the substrate and thus induce the observed submolecular contrast. Simulated STM images reproduce the chirality of the electronic structure near EF.