DIY letterpress plates with shrinky dinks

DIY letterpress plates with shrinky dinks
Like the rest of the crafting world, I’m obsessed with letterpress. I’ve spent hours ogling letterpress cards on Etsy and at local craft fairs and shops, and countless more hours researching polymer plate techniques. There are many letterpress studios in my city that offer classes for around $200, but I’m still debating whether I want to take up a new craft (my shelves are overflowing with supplies as it is!).

If you want to try custom letterpress printing at home, but aren’t quite ready to spend too much money, I found the perfect method: SHRINKY DINKS!

Since I already had the shrinky plastic, cotton paper, and craft foam, I was able to complete this project for under $35 while putting some neglected craft supplies to use.

Here’s a simple tutorial to get you started.
You’ll need:

  • a die cutter machine (*see below for recommendations)
  • rubber ink brayer (1.5″ for the Cuttlebug Kids is fine)
  • water-soluble block printing ink (I like SpeedBall metallic and regular inks; you can also buy individual colors in a huge range of colors at your local craft supply store)
  • craft foam (increase the thickness according to your die cutter; my foam block is 3/8″ thick)
  • thick plexiglass (comes with your diecutter; I use the thinner top piece)
  • a thin piece of clear, slightly flexible plastic (mine were cut from old binder dividers)
  • plastic shrinky sheets
  • thick, high-quality cotton art paper that’s suited for letterpress or screen printing (find it in your local fine art supply store, such as Dick Blick)

Step 1: Draw and cut your design out of the shrinky plastic. Follow the baking directions on your plastic, and allow to cool. Make sure that your design allows for shrinkage, and is not too complex (small details might stick together, and thin pieces may not lay flat). You may need to lightly sand your design using a fine grit sandpaper to make sure it’s completely flat. 

Step 2: Create your “printing plate”: attach your finished shrinky sheet design to your thin, flexible, clear plastic. I like to use the (highly scientific!) double-sided scotch tape method to keep your design attached to your plate until you’re ready to remove it.

Step 3: Roll your Speedball brayer in a small blob of ink (I have a 1.5-inch brayer and I use about a pea size) until evenly coated. Roll the ink onto your design in a quick, even motion. Wipe off any ink on the plastic “plate” backing to avoid accidental ink transfer.

Step 4: Carefully line up your printing plate on top of your paper and foam sheet. Add your thick plexiglass to the top of your “printing sandwich” (hee, sandwich!). 

I find that if I press the top of the sheet down first, I can align the design before dropping the inked design onto the paper. 

Note: If you are printing a card, keep the card open so that you don’t leave an imprint on the inside. 

Step 5: Roll the sandwich through your diecutter.

Step 6: Touch up any spots with a small paintbrush.

And voilà! Your original artwork has been printed with that lovely tactile embossed look!
*There are several great diecutting and embossing machines out on the market, ranging from the monster size Big Shot Pro (around $300) to the Big Kick by Sizzix (around $100), with countless dies to fit them. Fiskars has created the all in one Fuse die-cut and letterpress tool for around $100. I chose to try out my method with the Cuttlebug Kids for about $30. The opening on the Cuttlebug Kids machine is only about 3.25″ wide, but it’s perfect if you want to give this method a try.

6 thoughts on “DIY letterpress plates with shrinky dinks

  1. Thanks so much! My thought process included a few less brilliant ideas. [Tortilla press? If it doesn't work I could make tortillas!]

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