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!


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77 Discussions


1 year ago on Step 11

Love this! My son found for a school project. The only problem that I am having is knowing where to drill the holes on the 2 1/2 by 6 side pieces (step 4). The instructions say to cut according to photograph, but I need measurements as to exactly where to drill holes so it will all fit together. Help! Working on school deadline. So appreaciate any insights.

3 replies

Reply 1 year ago

Hi righteousgirl,

Glad to hear your son is building this for a school project!

Thanks for pointing that out- I definitely could have been more clear about where to drill the holes for step 4.

I'd recommend drilling all holes 1/2" from the edges. The vertical distances should be as follows:
-5/16" from the top
-2 1/4" from the top
-5/16" from the bottom
Just test everything before drilling to make sure it will fit together and make sense.

Hope this helps! Best of luck with the project- I'd love to see an 'I made it' picture posted after it's done :D


Reply 1 year ago

You are SO kind to respond. I am kind of a dummy - what would the placement and size of the cut outs? We will have a great time doing this together no matter what If vourse, I will send a photo!

I am still trying to figure out how to drill a hole through the bolt. It looks like a 1/4 inch dowel, no?


Reply 1 year ago

Sorry I couldn't respond earlier- the location and size of the cutouts isn't too important, it just needs to accommodate the small 1/8" dowel. Drilling through the steel bolt is very tricky- I had to use some WD-40 as lubricant and it took a while.

Looks like the press came out great! I like the idea of using wing nuts to grab onto the central bolt. Thanks for sharing, hope your son gets many cool prints out of it!!


Tip 1 year ago on Step 11

Oh, and they have ink in a roll on bottle, which you can dab on with great results.


Tip 1 year ago

Our school project, which is described below.

Gutenberg Press.jpeg

Tip 1 year ago on Introduction

We did this over the weekend for a school project (8th grade). We made some modifications that made it look different from the beautiful original. Most notably, we could not figure out a way to drill through the bolt for the dowel and so we had to use opposing wingbolts. We used velcro dots since we had them, which meant we did not have to cut out around the originals (btw i was worried that the phone letters would stick since they were sticky side out, but with a few runs with ink, it was perfect). We used a 3/4 washer for the section holding the bolt in the platen. That was mainly because we were scared and needed a little more wiggle room for gluing. I was ready to add the third cross piece, but we ran out of room (even with a six inch bolt). It worked out ok since we were having trouble figuring out the measurements to cut the notches in the side pieces. Ours does not have the aesthetic of the original, nor the historical parallel with Gutenberg, but the instructions were easy to follow for someone without expereince. Bravo and many thanks!


2 years ago

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

1 reply

1 year ago

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

1 reply

Reply 1 year ago

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.


2 years ago

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


3 years ago

This is cool. I am going to make this

1 reply

Reply 2 years ago

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


2 years ago

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

1 reply

Reply 2 years ago

Thanks Edbed! Let me know how it comes out!


2 years ago

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

1 reply

Reply 2 years ago

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!




5 years ago on Introduction

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.

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

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!