Introduction: Desktop Printing Press

Picture of Desktop Printing Press

In my history class, I recently learned about Johannes Gutenberg and the role he played in the foundations for the Renaissance. I found myself captivated by his invention of the printing press, a revolutionary technology utilizing movable, inked type that could produce hundreds of Identical prints. I found myself asking "What would a modern re-imagining of this classic invention look like?" Before long, I had developed the idea for a desktop-based, "mini" printing press that used flash cards.

I cut all pieces of wood for this printer by hand, however, all pieces can be cut using a laser-cutter. I feel that this project is perfect for a laser-cutter, and its boundaries could be expanded greatly with one.

anyways, on to step 1!

Step 1: Materials & Tools

Picture of Materials & Tools
For this project, you will need:


-Masking tape
-Strips of adhesive velcro (more than is pictured)
-Ink pad (used in stamping)
-foam letters (if you have a laser cutter or 3D printer, these are not necessary)
-1/2 inch bolt (approx. 5 inches)
-1/2 inch nut 

-5/8 inch
-1/4 inch

-12 wood screws approx. 1/2 inch long


-Wood saw (unnecessary if you have a laser-cutter)
-Handheld drill
-Hot glue gun

-1/2 inch
-1 inch

-Drill bit for 1/2 inch long wood screws

Step 2: Cutting Wood

Picture of Cutting Wood
Begin by cutting:

-10 by 3 and 1/8th (1 piece) 
- 2 and 1/2 by 3 and 1/8th (3 pieces)

-5 by 3 (1 piece)
-2 and 1/2 by 6 (2 pieces)

For this step, you can use a hand saw, or use a laser cutter by creating a vector image.


Step 3: Drilling 5/8th Inch Plywood Holes

Picture of Drilling 5/8th Inch Plywood Holes
Now, we will drill all of the holes in the wooden pieces.

1. drill a 1/2 inch hole in the center of two of the '2 and 1/2 by 3 and 1/8th' pieces.
2. bore a 1 inch hole into the other '2 and 1/2 by 3 and 1/8th' piece, making sure not to go all the way through.
3. measure and mark the '10 by 3 and 1/8th' piece into quarters. Next, mark two dots 1/2 inch in from the sides of the 2nd quarter. Do this on both sides. (See picture for details) 
4. Mark two dots on each '2 and 1/2' side of the two '2 and 1/2 by 3 and 1/8th' pieces, 1/2 inch in from the sides, as before.
5.Drill all of these dots with the drill bit for the wood screws.

Step 4: Drilling 1/4th Inch Plywood Holes

Picture of Drilling 1/4th Inch Plywood Holes
Now, take the two '2 and 1/2 by 6' pieces of 1/4th inch plywood and mark the holes and lines to cut according to the photograph. Next,  drill all of these holes and cut out the area in the middle. (drill using the same drill bit for the wood screws)

Step 5: Creating the Platen

Picture of Creating the Platen
In this step, we will be creating the main force behind the printing press; the platen, the block of wood for pushing down. 
1. Drill a hole large enough to accommodate the wooden dowel about 2 inches from the top of the 1/2 inch bolt. (make sure to use proper technique when drilling the steel- lubrication and a steel drill bit are essential)
2.The dowel should now fit nicely through this hole. It will serve as the "handle" for moving the bolt. the bolt on top of the '2 and 1/2 by 3 and 1/8th' piece of wood with the 1 inch hole bored into it.
4. Next, slide a metal ring/washer down the bolt.
5. Hot glue the metal ring/washer to the piece of wood, not the bolt. the bolt should now swivel smoothly.

Step 6: Begin Construction

Picture of Begin Construction
In this step, we will bring together all of the pieces of wood that were just drilled.
1.Begin by screwing the two '2 and 1/2 by 6' pieces of wood into the '10 by 3 and 1/8th' piece (the base). Make sure that four drilled holes remain above the cut- out piece, and that the cut out piece points towards the long end of the base.
2. Next, after placing the bolt / platen flat in between the two '2 and 1/2 by 6' pieces, slide the two other '2 and 1/2 by 3 and 1/8th' pieces (with the 1/2 inch hole drilled in the center) down the bolt, and screw them into their corresponding holes on the '2 and 1/2 by 6' piece.

Step 7: Finishing Construction

Picture of Finishing Construction
Now, we will complete construction of the main press by gluing the nut for the bolt to turn through.
1.when the bolt / platen is at a good location, screw the nut on and hot glue it to the wood.
2. your press should now look like the final picture.

Step 8: Creating the Tray

Picture of Creating the Tray
It is now time to create the tray on which the movable type and flashcard will rest.
1. Take the '5 by 3' piece of plywood and cover it with strips of adhesive velcro. Use the thread-loop variation for this.

Step 9: Making the Movable Type

Picture of Making the Movable Type
Finally, it is time to construct the movable type that will be used.

I am using foam letters for this, however the exact same steps still apply if you are using laser-cut or 3D printed letters / decals.

1. take a sample of the letters that you want and lay them out, exactly as you would like to see them.
2. Next, take a piece of velcro (the nylon hook variation) enough to cover all of the letters.
3.cut the velcro into pieces just large enough to cover each letter.
4. apply the adhesive side of the velcro to the tops of the letters.
5. turn all of the letters around, and you should see your letters inverted.
6. the movable type is done!

Step 10: Printing

Picture of Printing
all of the components have been completed, so it is time to dive into the technique of printing!

NOTE- make sure yo cover your work area with newspaper, as ink can ruin any carpet or floor.

1. arrange all of the movable type on top of the tray as desired, completely inverted.
2.using the ink pad, gently apply ink to all of the letters.
3. stick two 5 inch pieces of masking tape halfway on each side of the tray.
4.Next, place the flashcard on top of the tray.
5. wrap the masking tape up onto the flashcard, holding it in place. 
6. Finally, press the tray / flashcard by turning the bolt clockwise with the dowel. (in two stages, as the press can only print 1/2 of the flashcard at a time)
7.Enjoy your print! 

NOTE- as foam letters are a long shot from being the perfect material for movable type, my print may appear grainy and oversized. However, with laser-cut wooden or plastic letters, this could be eliminated, and letters would appear crisp and could be made smaller.

Step 11: Some Notes

About this project:

- This project was the culmination of my growing interest in historic inventions and love of building. I hope to expand on it, and with a laser cutter I could easily produce modified presses with additional features. Since this project is potentially an almost completely-laser cut project, it could be a great introduction to laser-cutting and assembling. 

This is only my second Instructible, so any constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated!




jameth15 (author)2017-03-14

I'm hoping I can make this and use it for printmaking if my blocks of linoleum are small enough. Awesome instructable!

MU5ICI4N (author)jameth152017-09-27

Thanks jameth!!

cm2022 (author)2017-09-27

This is perfect for my history project! Approximately how long does it take to make this, from start to finish?

MU5ICI4N (author)cm20222017-09-27

I'm glad you're interested in building it, cm2022! I suppose it depends on the experience of the person building it, but I'd say a reasonable estimate would be an afternoon or two if you have all of the materials.

AndrewW255 (author)2016-08-22

i am going to make a similar version for my school 40 hour project thats due in 6 months getting started now!

Liefe (author)2016-03-22

This is cool. I am going to make this

MU5ICI4N (author)Liefe2016-06-02

Thanks Liefe! It would be awesome if you posted it if you make it!

Edbed (author)2016-05-31

This is amazing. I will have to make something similar.

MU5ICI4N (author)Edbed2016-06-02

Thanks Edbed! Let me know how it comes out!

gwellxd (author)2016-05-28

What does it mean when it says 5/8 inch plywood but then says 10 by 3 by 1/8? I'm making this for a school project and I'm shopping today someone please respond asap

MU5ICI4N (author)gwellxd2016-05-28

Hope I'm not too late!

The plywood is 5/8" thick, and that particular piece cut out of the 5/8" plywood has a length of 10" and a width of 3 and 1/8".

Let me know if this helps!



enginepaul (author)2013-05-28

Couple of comments from an old letterpress printer:
Yes, you can die-cut with that type of press but the pressures may require to add more bolts to fasten the frame uprights to the bed. The platen (the part that screws down to press the paper to the type) may need strengthening if lots of type is used.
I do like your idea.
Another history AND business note: Gutenberg had to sue the guy who ordered the bible that made him famous and he never collected.

dflood815 (author)enginepaul2016-02-28

Hi, I'm a history teacher and am thinking about having my class build something like this, but I am also interested in your history/business note - do you have any more detail about that? I love teaching info that doesn't make the history books!

enginepaul (author)dflood8152016-03-12

The info I gave was from memory. Your best bet is to start with Google.

MU5ICI4N (author)enginepaul2013-05-28

If I ever did utilize this press for shearing or die-cutting, I will take that advice into account. However, for the most part I will be using this for the occasional odd print, and I am fairly confident that the frame can withstand that.
Also, I had never heard that before! Gutenberg never fails to surprise me.

shukritobi (author)2016-01-28

Is it possible to use this for a die cut press?

bgunville (author)2015-06-11

This project reminds me of high school print shop, 50 yrs ago but we were not quite this primitive even back then :) close but not. I actually have or my son has the lead castings I made as one of the projects we did in the first classes.

I say kudos to you for your inquiring mind to make something like this.

Generalist (author)bgunville2015-10-02

I also had print shop experience, though it was in junior high school. We had two printing presses, a small one that was hand powered and a larger one that used an electric motor. We did some of the printing for the school, mostly theater programs.

MU5ICI4N (author)bgunville2015-06-12


Glad you could connect this with your high school shop :) They haven't been this primitive for quite some time- I wonder how a modern newspaper would fare with only Gutenberg presses!

That's awesome! The castings definitely seem like keepsakes to hold on to :)


perfectsleeper (author)2015-07-05

Cool.. another option to start letterpress printing for personal use.

marc.deloor.5 (author)2015-06-13

Very interesting! I do some printing, linocut... For a while I have been thinking making my own press for it. I'm definitely looking at yours in detail!

MU5ICI4N (author)marc.deloor.52015-06-21


Very cool, thanks for sharing! what exactly is linocut?

Thanks! I'd love a picture if you do end up making something similar!


jfriend7 (author)2013-09-13

I've got 3 letterpresses in my garage the biggest is a c&p; 8x12 and the smallest is even smaller than the one you have made... Is a "L letterpress"
But yours is really really cool.... Plus it's easier to use than any of mine...
Might add a typan and frisket though to help with alignment ( YouTube for directions)

MU5ICI4N (author)jfriend72013-10-17


Thanks a lot! I've always wanted to experiment with much larger presses.

P.S. I'm fairly new to press terminology, what is a typan and frisket?

jfriend7 (author)MU5ICI4N2015-06-12

For some reason I'm just now getting your message?!?

Tympan and frisket is like a frame for the paper to sit into so it hits the type/plate exactly the same place each and every time...
5th or 6th one down

MU5ICI4N (author)jfriend72015-06-21

Oh instructables, you so silly XD

Thanks for the info! Seems like it wouldn't be too hard to add a tympan and frisket along the platter to hold the index card in place... Might be worth checking out!

Cheers (hopefully this message won't take a year to deliver!)

Kaffe (author)MU5ICI4N2015-06-11

If you're near the Boston area Harvard has a letterpress class that teaches you the different presses via their business extension school. At the end of the class you're considered trained and can use the presses outside of class during open press nights at Harvard! :)

MU5ICI4N (author)Kaffe2015-06-12

that sounds awesome! I live in New England so that definitely may be worth checking out :) thanks for sharing!

billbillt (author)2015-06-11

this very cool and great... i like this...

MU5ICI4N (author)billbillt2015-06-12

thanks billbillt!

Blaise_Gauba (author)2015-06-11

Very cool. Nice work.

MU5ICI4N (author)Blaise_Gauba2015-06-12

thanks Blaise_Gauba!

GhaithA made it! (author)2015-01-13

here is an image of my printing press:

i made this for a "renaissance fair" project that is on Thursday Jan.15th. i also have a tri fold which has information on technology in the Renaissance

MU5ICI4N (author)GhaithA2015-01-14

that looks awesome! renaissance technology is a great topic :D

tvance929 (author)MU5ICI4N2015-06-11

ugh... 'Renaissance technologies' needs to be a great set of learnables on google...not a hedge fund. :(

nicholas.r.watts.5 (author)2015-02-06

I'm thinking big and looking for an actual printing press that I can make myself! I need to know would the type be sturdy enough to make a book or do I need to find something else?


For the purposes of a book, I think that this press should be sufficient! Of course, you'd have to scale all of the dimensions up to conform to the size of your pages, and I recommend that you increase the wood thickness of the side plates, as well as mount the nut under the top plate for increased strength. (I only glued mine on top because the thread of my bolt ended short of where I needed it to) Other than that, I can see no reason why this wouldn't work.


Thank you for that! I also need to know how big the type is?

The type I used was around 1/2 inch tall letters, however you can really use whatever type you want. If you have a laser cutter, you could cut your own letters in any font or size, or you could potentially buy small wooden letters in a craft store, whatever works really

ChowCharmaine (author)2015-02-01

How long does it take to make this machine? My group needs at simple machine that have to be done within a week. Can we do that?

MU5ICI4N (author)ChowCharmaine2015-02-02

you could probably finish the press within a day or two, depending on what materials you have on hand, tools, experience, etc. Once you have all of the supplies, and tools, it shouldn't take more than a day.

Hope this helps

GhaithA (author)2015-01-08

what if u go to home depot to cut your wood?

MU5ICI4N (author)GhaithA2015-01-12

Home Depot should be able to cut out the basic shapes with the correct wood and dimensions given, (Sides, Base, Platen, Plate, Middle and Top Blocks), however, for the detail work cutaways on the sides) and drill holes you might need to look outside of Home Depot. A coping saw is a good investment for around $15 or so, and as for the drilling, you can drill the holes in the wood with a hand drill but you may be out of luck without a power drill to drill the steal bolt. Maybe borrow a drill or take it to a machine shop?

Hope this helps


GhaithA (author)MU5ICI4N2015-01-12

i wrote that comment 2 days before i started; when i went to home depot, the guy there said the smallest cut they could do was 6 inches. my dad and i cut the wood with a hand saw at home and we bought a drill. i finished the printing press last night. looks good. hopefully you have more good ideas!?

thanks MU5IC4N

MU5ICI4N (author)GhaithA2015-01-12


Glad to hear you built it! It would be awesome if you uploaded a picture of it using the "I Made It!" Button. A drill is a great tool- next to my Hand saw and sandpaper, it's the tool I find myself using the most often. You can check out my other instructables by clicking on my profile name- I don't have too many as of yet, but I have a few projects I'm hoping to finish up soon!



Maxine26 (author)2014-05-29

hey! I'm also on a FIRST robotics team! (well two actually) way to go!

MU5ICI4N (author)Maxine262014-05-30

thanks! team 3958 Boston here :D

amado maricris (author)2013-09-03

Can I use this desktop printing press using silk screeN? Im using silk printing manually. I am thingking If there is a device to help me do it.

MU5ICI4N (author)amado maricris2013-10-17

Amado, I dont have any experience with silk screen, however you should be fairly confident that iif downward pressure is required, this will do the job!

tritian (author)2013-05-31

so in essence, you built a big old stamp? looks fun to build! =D

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a College Freshman interested in Mechanical Engineering, and Product Design. I love to play guitar, go on hikes, and make things out of ...
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