Introduction: How to Make Custom Scrabble(tm) Tiles.

Picture of How to Make Custom Scrabble(tm) Tiles.

A lady posted on a group I'm on asking if anyone knew of a source for a Scrabble set using the American Sign Language finger-spelling alphabet.  I was pretty sure there wasn't one but I suggested it would be an easy thing for her to make herself.  Well, on reflection a couple of days later I thought that if it were that easy, I might as well do it for her as a Christmas present for her and her pupils.

Making good quality Scrabble tiles from scratch was perhaps a little too ambitious, but making labels to stick to existing Scrabble tiles was definitely an option.

This instructable uses an inkjet printer to print the stickers, and a Cricut paper cutter to cut them to exactly the right size to stick to the Scrabble tiles.  You'll also need a rotary guillotine (or a metal edge at least a foot long plus a sharp cutting knife - either a scalpel or an exacto knife)

By the way I'm using the old-style plastic tiles that came before the wooden ones in the USA.  These are still the current design in Europe and Mexico.  (You can find them on eBay fairly often; I bought mine in Mexico which is just a few miles away from where I live)

(This technique should be possible with the wooden tiles but the artwork will have to be created differently to match.)

Step 1: Print the Replacement Tile Tops

Picture of Print the Replacement Tile Tops

First step - print the two attached images.  You can use self-adhesive backed paper if you want, but you don't have to.  Either way, the paper should be glossy.  I used some HP Brochure Paper 180g I had handy (8.5in x 11in paper).  Once printed, cut round the yellow area which will give you a rectangle exactly 6in wide, and 11in long.

These images must be printed at 600dpi to be the correct size for the tiles.

Because of the size of the image you will probably get a warning that 'some clipping will occur' - that's OK, it's only a couple of millimeters outside the area that will be cut out to make tiles.

The tile image looks a little pinkish on my screen but as you can see from the photograph of the board, they printed correctly in yellow at just the right shade to match the plastic tiles.  If you don't get such a good color match, you might have to tweak the color of the images in your drawing program before you print them.

Step 2: Trim the Sides of the Printout

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Trim the sides of your printout with a guillotine to the exact edge of the coloured area so that it is 6in wide. Don't trim the top or bottom margins.

Step 3: Load the Cutting File

Picture of Load the Cutting File

If you're lucky enough to own a Cricut cutter (the cheapest model of which can be found for as low as $70 at times, at places such as Big Lots clearance sales or Walmart on Black Friday), and you've bought the almost essential 3rd-party "Make The Cut" software which allows you to cut arbitrary vector files, then download the attached MTC file and use it to cut the two print outs from the previous step.  They were deliberately printed on two sheets so that they'll fit in the smallest of the Cricut cutters, which has a maximum mat size of 6in by 12in.

Step 4: Align on the Cutting Mat

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Align the paper to the top of the 6x12 mat - there's a small unprinted margin at the top, but that's taken into account in the cutting template. It should cut perfectly if you are consistent at loading your mat; if not, it may take a couple of tries to align the paper exactly on the Cricut mat so that the images are correctly positioned, so be prepared to reprint the images if the cut is misaligned. I deliberately did not draw a bounding box around the tiles (which would have helped with manual trimming) so that if they're just a little offset, they won't look too bad. You do have a couple of millimeters of leeway to play with.

Step 5: Cut Out the Tiles

Picture of Cut Out the Tiles

Run the Cricut!  The tiles should pop out cleanly; if they didn't, you need to set the cutting pressure wheel a little higher.

If you don't own a Cricut, cut them carefully with a guillotine, and perhaps round the corners off with a craft corner cutter, however the Cricut will cut them to the exact size of the Scrabble tiles, including the rounded corners.

(The Cricut is a great tool for engineers, even though for some reason it is primarily marketed at ladies for making birthday cards etc)

Step 6: Stick to the Scrabble Tiles and Play!

Picture of Stick to the Scrabble Tiles and Play!

Separate the squares from the background and attach the labels to the original Scrabble tiles.  If you didn't use self-adhesive paper, try a glue such as Loc-tite Superglue Gel Adhesive.  Once they're well stuck down, you're ready to play!

If you want some other alphabet rather than ASL - such as Klingon for example - modify the graphics in step 1 - and post the files for the rest of us to share! - thanks. 


gtoal (author)2013-11-15

Here's another instructable that hasn't yet shown up in the 'related' links, which looks pretty good for creating wooden tiles: - it uses a printer and transfer paper, *not* a laser engraver, so should be accessible to most people. (As long as you're good at sawing wood in straight lines)

CreativeGifts (author)2012-02-11

We have been designing and producing many items at our store in BC Canada and ASL scrabble tiles is one of of the items we make using 1/8" Alder wood.
Everything is on one side to make it easy to see and learn ASL.
Available on ebay:

hintss (author)2010-12-22

someone on thingiverse (home of 3D printable and lasercuttable files) made a lasercuttable set of unicode scrabble tiles...

gtoal (author)hintss2010-12-22

Yes, and if it were the extended font set it would be rather nice, but it was a joke set made from 0-9A-F, ie the unicode codes rather than characters!

vertygo (author)gtoal2011-05-12

I actually make laser engraved ASL Scrabble tiles. I find that they are more durable. Because they are engraved on the backs of actual Scrabble tiles, even kids can use them as reference while playing. Either way, ASL is becoming a mainstream second language, and it's really great. If anyone wants more info on my tiles, check out

allisaurus (author)2011-05-06

Nice project! I see some people are talking about fabricating the tiles on a laser cutter. I just wanted to share the Haitian Creole Scrabble game I created last year in this fashion - there are now a few sets being played in schools in Haiti today. The Instructable is here:

friendorphobia (author)2011-04-03

Does anyone have a preference for non-cricut cutters and 3rd party software that will work with Mac?

Izale (author)2011-03-03

nice! the circut machine thing seems really useful- i just finished making a custom set of scrabble tiles, but all I had was some balsa wood, an x-acto knife and a file. your tiles probably turned out better...

gtoal (author)Izale2011-03-03

May I ask what was your tile design? Did you print the letters and stick them on, or engrave them by hand into the balsa wood? I've been considering using a wood burner (basically a soldering iron) with the letters cut out of some sort of masking material - thick card, or maybe aluminum foil as a heatsink.


Izale (author)gtoal2011-03-04

I used a sharpie marker actually. Although I did consider engraving them, I decided it would be too much work.

kelseymh (author)2010-12-21

Awesome! Very nice; I've seen "Cricut" stuff in >shudder< scrapbooking stores (Michaels), but it looked like you had to buy "cartridges" (shades of Atari 2600...) with preprogrammed shapes. Your description suggests that you can program arbitrary CNC cutting with the thing. That's extremely cool.

Rated and featured...

gtoal (author)kelseymh2010-12-21

Yes, exactly! There are two independant vendors who have reverse engineered the usb protocol, who sell packages ('Sure Cuts a Lot' and 'Make The Cut') that let you cut SVG files and others. The Cricut is a well-made piece of CNC equipment and has a place in any amateur engineer's workshop - it's a real shame that they market it primarily into the crafting area. The company obviously makes most of their money from selling add-on shape cartridges and does a lot to discourage the use of the USB interface. I think they'd be better served opening it up and doubling their market by selling to male hobbyists too. "Men don't do crafting, we do paper engineering" ;-)

I'ld like to see more Cricut 'ibles here too!

Javin007 (author)gtoal2011-02-09

You know, I actually held a Cricut in my hands a few weeks ago, and ALMOST bought it, convincing myself that I could hack apart the USB drivers and make it work myself. I didn't know that two other companies had done this. Instead, I put it back on the shelf and walked out without one.

What you say is absolutely true.  Correctly marketed, they could probably TRIPLE their sales instead of trying to nickel and dime the "scrap bookers" by making them pay for cartridges with just a handful of shapes on them.  Stupid, stupid business plan.

I'm a programmer by trade, and with enough work, could have probably made the Cricut do what I wanted, and I STILL chose not to buy it for this reason.  I can't imagine how many sales they'd get if people were able to cut ANYTHING they wanted out of cardboard/paper.  Imagine just the home-made packaging you could make?  Paper gears/clocks?  There's SO MUCH they're shortselling themselves on. 

kelseymh (author)gtoal2010-12-21

You might consider "advertising" both of those companies, by including links to them in your intro. I'm going to have to look at the thing in more detail; it sounds like a great option compared to a laser cutter, if you're dealing mostly with paper or cardboard shapes.

gtoal (author)kelseymh2010-12-21

I dunno, I'm rather hoping for the laser cutter some day ;-)

I had the 6in wide model for a day before I wished I had splashed out and bought the full sized one. I like to make paper models (eg models of arcade video games) and being able to cut them automatically would be really cool, but with the small 'personal' model, they're way too small. The larger model is something like $200 on a (very) good day.

TangMu (author)gtoal2010-12-22

I've always seen the cricut in hobbycraft and got excited about using it for papercrafting but the box never mentions the USB interface. For a while i was toying around with getting a craft robo but I might have to look at the cricut again for ease of replacement blades.

The fact that it'll take SVG's makes it a tasty bonus ^_^

aaron-k (author)2011-01-19

now i just want to see the chinese version :O

thepelton (author)2010-12-27

I was thinking that tiles could be made using a laser engraver. I was thinking that that could be used for sign language as you did, or for a language with a different alphabet, such as Greek. You'd have to figure out which letters were common, and which were not, and rate them accordingly.

gtoal (author)thepelton2010-12-28

There is a Greek set already, if you mean modern Greek. I have a web page listing most of the current official sets at - I think only Welsh has been added subsequent to when I created those pages. And I think most of the info from that page has now been copied to wikipedia and probably updated with better use of extended fonts. (My pages were somewhat browser dependent at the time) I'd advise against copying existing sets this way - just use the technique for alphabets and languages that are not officially supported. Remember most of the overseas sets are produced by Mattel under the J W Spears imprint. I'm also reasonably happy that sticking new tile tops to a real tile set that you had to buy from the manufacturer is not going to cause a legal issue, but showing how to make copies of a real tile set from scratch with a laser engraver may be sufficiently over the line that it would be an issue for the Instructables site to host. We've noted over the years in the Scrabble community that Hasbro's lawyers pay a lot of attention to the net.

thepelton (author)gtoal2010-12-28

I kind of figured that a modern Greek set existed. My brother told me about playing Scrabble in Russian when he was taking a course in conversational Russian. I wouldn't want to cause any legal hassles. I'm not wealthy enough to retain legal counsel.

hardlec (author)2010-12-25

I was not aware that a cricut allowed any user modification. I thought you had to buy their cutesy-wootsy-artsy-fartsy images and that was that. I love to make paper models, and I'd love a machine that will cut out the designs I put in....
I'd like to hear more about this if anyone knows more....

Also: Try to print reversed images on felt, make your scrabble game into a felt board. This might be a good option for training people who are trying to learn Ameslan letters who may have other barriers.

gtoal (author)hardlec2010-12-25

J L Larson just now posted a great intro to installing the "Make The Cut" software with a Cricut: Outside of Instructables, you'll find a lot of good info about MTC at the Yahoo groups makethecut at and MTC_Tuts (i.e. tutorials) at The folks in these groups often host webinars where experts (including the MTC author) will often answer arbitrary questions after the main subject of the webinar is over.

bryandhispup (author)2010-12-23

Not to be to obvious, but if you cannot afford one of these fancy schmancy machines, you cab cut out the tile by hand with an Exacto...

gtoal (author)bryandhispup2010-12-23

Yes, that's worth repeating. You definitely can do this Instructable with basically just a printer. I do suggest (in Step 5) using a rotary guillotine to cut out the tiles but I did also mention in the intro that a straight edge (a 12in metal ruler is ideal) and an x-acto knife are usable as a fall-back if you don't have a rotary cutter either. Long-armed guillotines are not so good however, they seldom cut exactly parallel for the full length of the cut. So it can definitely be done 'on cheap', though it takes a lot of skill and fine adjustments (with your blade) afterwards to get the tiles to be a perfect fit with no overhang, whereas with the Cricut they match so well you might not even notice that they're stuck-on faces at first!

foobear (author)2010-12-22

I had no idea the cricut could cut arbitrary custom shapes! wow! How thick can it cut? Just paper? I'm going to look for one of those machines. wow cool!

gtoal (author)foobear2010-12-22

Not very thick. I tried to transfer some vector art to "Scratchboard" last week (it's a hard board surfaced in chalk and painted black - you scrape off the black layer to expose the chalk, creating a bright white image) ... and it jammed underneath the rollers. It was only 3/16ths deep. So the thickest you can use is somewhere between 1/8th and 1/16th.

There's also a 'deep cut' blade you need for anything like card stock. However the height of the feed roller is the critical issue. I haven't yet dismantled my machine to see if the roller can be raised by a hardware hack. With a precision piece of engineering like this I'm somewhat nervous about messing it up.

gtoal (author)gtoal2010-12-22

PS You can see the bar that causes the problem in the image for Step 5.  There are 3 rubber rings around the bar which can be pushed to one side to get a small amount of extra height, but I wouldn't be comfortable trying anything over 1/16th inch.

foobear (author)gtoal2010-12-22

Okay, that's good to know. 1/8" is fairly respectable. Do you recommend a particular model of cricut? which one do you have? Thanks!

gtoal (author)foobear2010-12-22

I have the personal one which uses the smallest mat (12in by 6in wide). It's too small for almost anything useful. If you think you're going to make serious use of one of these, I recommend getting a model that supports 12x12 and 12x24 mats.

The top of the line model has a printer built in, but that's overkill, and I don't think it's any more accurate at aligning the print and the cut than just printing separately and feeding in to the cutter carefully.

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