Introduction: Make a Folding Plotter That Prints Circuits on Textiles

About: A curious human.

Have you ever wanted to plot on the go? Plot on the beach? Plot at your neighbor's house?

Personally, I wanted to discover how to make a flexible "factory" for printing circuits on textiles. Whatever your motives may be, this textile plotter is a fun way to learn about CNC machines and make a plotter that can be used on any flat surface. It can also be used to make circuits on textiles if you buy the right materials!

Some notes about the plotter:

Accuracy - Accurate within 2-3 millimeters as long as the belts don't skip. The traces are a bit blobby, so I wouldn't create traces that are closet than 3 -4 millimeters apart.

Common fail points / Future Design Tweaks- I would use a coupling shaft to drive the syringe over using a custom plunger on a threaded rod. It makes changing materials substantially easier while reducing material waste. I would also use a motor driver hooked up to something like Grbl for true control.


This plotter was made by hacking a makeblock plotter kit. It seems entirely possible to source your own parts and make it cheaper and better. Please let me know if you do!

Estimated Cost:


Estimated time :

8-16 hours for assembly

Step 1: Gathering Your Supplies

This project was inspired by the Bot of Cloth from MIT - . In an excited stupor (the kind that occurs from realizing your project dreams may come true) I printed all of the Thingiverse files for the Bot of Cloth. Unfortunately, they weren't quite strong enough to achieve what I was going for, so I ventured into the exciting unknown land of customizing a Makeblock kit to make a textile plotter.

In addition to the Makeblock Plotter v0.2 kit, you'll need a few additional components/ materials:

1.) Linear actuator motor like this one - Karlsson Robotics

2.) Easy Stepper Driver Motor

3.) 3D printed syringe plunger

4.) Laser cutter and 1 sheet of 1/8" acrylic

5.) Elastic

6.) 1/2 yard of Heavy Duty woven fabric

7.) Cyanoacrylate or a better strong glue that doesn't cause fogging on Acrylic

8.) Less EMF YShield paint for extruding

9.) 5ML Syringes with long 20 guage syringe needles for extruding

10.) Electrical tape for "sealing" edges. Iron on binding would be better than this.

11.) .STL for printing a syringe extruder.

12.) 4 - 3 pin side release clips

13.) 1 Piece of 1/4" wood and tape for printing

14.) Nitrile gloves for printing


Step 2: Cutting Your Fabric Base

An unlimited canvas requires some serious responsibility! With this in mind, you can make your plotter just about any size (limited only by the geared band). My base is 34" x 24". Cut out a rectangle for whatever dimensions suit your fancy.

You'll want to attach elastic bands to each corner with three prong side release clips. These should be CA'd onto the textile with an acrylic piece. Yes, CA'd is a word. No, do not look it up.

Anyways, I used electrical tape to clean the sides of the plotter. I would probably use fusible binding tape in the future as rubber tape and fabric does not naturally bond very well.

You'll need to bond some of the rotating components directly to the textile. There are many ways from sewing to glueing, but I instead used screws and nuts to bond milled components to the base fabric.

Step 3: Assembling Makeblock Components

I used many of the milled pieces, mechanical pieces and the microcontroller from the makeblock kit and added my own acrylic pieces and electronics to the mix.

For a textile plotter,you'll need to assemble the following from Makeblock:

  • The X gantry without the pen holder
  • The two Y axis sitting in CNC'd metal brackets, connected with the geared belt. You don't need to use any of the long metal pieces that are the plotter base
  • 2 stop triggers, installed at (0,0) and on the X axis (so the machine can home)
  • "houses" for the two motors to live in a moveable car and at (0,0)

Instructions for normal assembly here.

Step 4: Creating Custom Laser Cut Components

You'll need to create a few custom components to make the plotter/ mod it for life on a textile. I found that these mods were necessary:

1.) Building an extruder to support the motor and syringe. The syringe needs to be removable.

2.) Building a "frame". You'll need to create pieces that can support the elastic that holds the fabric tight onto a table. These also frame the plotter bed, making it look tidy.

3.) "cars" for the two sides of your X axis to slide easily up and down the fabric. One needs to support a motor and the other needs to support the other side of the notched belt. Surprisingly, you don't need wheels, bearings or anything to remove friction to have the plotter work properly.

Step 5: Syringe Plunger

The syringe extruder is driven by a 3D printed syringe plunger attached to the linear actuator motor rod. I printed these little studs on an Objet resin machine, but actually found that they print really well on a makerbot as well. For the makerbot versions, I ended up using the original syringe plunger rubber cap to make the printed plunger as air tight as the standard one.

Step 6: Hooking Up Electronics

Many of the instructions for making a Makeblock plotter / using their electronics are documented well by Makeblock. This Instructable can help you with assembly in terms of plugging in the two X, Y steppers. You'll need to add an additional stepper for extrusion, so you may want to wire up an easy stepper motor driver to the linear actuator motor. I used one of the extra RJ cables and cut off the connector. I then soldered it to the motor driver to plug into the Makeblock board.

I only used two of the stop triggers as none of the my designs are out at (12000, 12000) or whatever that would be.

Step 7: Creating a Custom Interface

The Makeblock software can be found here. Personally, I found it a bit cumbersome to use and the Processing code never quite connected with the Arduino serial. I think Makeblock changed their main MCU from a Leonardo based device to an Uno based device and never updated instructions / the code base. No problem, though as it's uber easy to create custom interfaces by taking advantage of Arduino + Processing Serial communications!

I wrote a quick Arduino script that is ported to Processing so that I could get a test going easily.
Getting your Arduino all synced up with Processing is pretty easy. This Sparkfun tutorial will show you the ropes.

If you're taking this route, I would recommend the following buttons/ steps in a P5 interface for processing:

  1. Stop
  2. Move up, down, right, left
  3. Extrude
  4. Pattern 1
  5. Pattern 2 (etc)
  6. Home

Step 8: Programming in Traces

I hard coded in my traces with a parametric zig zag. Ideally, of course, this would be Gcode, but I wanted to see if this would even work before setting up additional software. I found that a pattern works decently for this where you step about 100-200 steps and then extrude for about 5 steps and this continues as you create a pattern. Let me know how this works for you.

Step 9: Testing

Getting extrusion to be reliable is a bit cumbersome. I ended up attaching fabric to a piece of 1/4" wood and using long nose 20 gauge syringe needles to get a somewhat decent print. It helps to hold the wood near the syringe needle tip. With a bit of finessing, it's possible to get good conductive traces! Again, I wrote an interface for processing and serial ported that to Arduino. If you use a proper 3 stepper motor driver board, you should be able to use something like Grbl and both run the extruder and the X/ Y steppers in synchrony. I can't promise anything, but I would imagine that this greatly improves your print and traces!

Step 10: Printing a Textile Circuit

To get your circuit printing, you'll want to do the following:

1.) load the plotter with acrylic and graphite conductive paint. This one works like a very messy charm. The 5ml syringe should be filled as much as possible with the syringe plunger (attached to the linear actuator motor) flush, or below the top of the syringe casing.

2.) Mount your fabric onto a piece of 1/4" wood so you can hold the material and the plotter tight for the printer to have a good, clean topology. Place this at the 0,0 point on your plotter.

3.) Load the syringe onto the motor and then load the motor on top of the extruder support.

4.) Turn the linear actuator rod until the syringe extrudes a small little blob.

5.) Press go in processing and hold the wood just under the syringe while it prints. You should be slightly levitating the board over the textile base while it prints.

Once your print is done, press in components and huzzah! Textile circuit! This acrylic paint takes about 1.5 hours to dry and get really conductive. Do not tilt the drying board as the paint will run.

This Instructable is a grand overview of this process. I left out my code and a few files, but let me know if you would like to see something more comprehensive and I would be happy to update this instructable.

Happy plotting!