Introduction: Desktop Printing Press

About: Boston undergrad studying Mechanical Engineering & Experience Design. I love to play guitar, go on hikes and bike trips, and make things out of wood!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!


Epilog Challenge V

Runner Up in the
Epilog Challenge V

Instructables Green Design Contest

Third Prize in the
Instructables Green Design Contest