Monday, July 23, 2012

{Free Printable} DIY Train Play Mat Tutorial

For my son's train-themed second birthday, I wanted a place for all the kids to play trains.  But I'm too cheap to buy a real play mat or play rug, so I decided I'd try to make my own.  I was pretty happy with how it turned out.  I free-handed the drawing, so it's a little rough, but in the end, I kind of liked that effect.  It was more fun...or something.

And, since I made it all by myself, that means I can give you the files so you can make your very own if you're so inclined.  It was a really inexpensive way to keep the kids entertained for a while.  In fact, I saved it and still pull it out for Little Spaghetti to play with sometimes.  The total cost of the project was probably under $4 (using some materials I had on-hand), so it was well worth it!  (This play mat ends up about three feet by three feet.  And I mean about.)

Here's the step by step:

You'll need:
  • A printer that can print 11x17. Alternatively, I've provided the jpeg, so you can print it on whatever size paper, provided you can figure out how to scale it appropriately.  Or, I think you can probably get 11x17s printed at Kinkos or somewhere for a few bucks if you don't want to deal with all that.
  • Tape
  • Scissors or a rotary cutter (and cutting mat)
  • Contact paper (clear)
  • Non-adhesive shelf liner (or a non-skid rug pad)
  • Spray adhesive
  • Something long and straight  if you're using a rotary cutter
First, you'll have to print the files.  The word document version is already scaled for you to print on 11 x 17 paper. Or you can use the jpeg version and try to figure out how to print it a different size.

Once you print the pieces out, you'll have to trim off the white borders that print along the outside.  I used this long straight edge and a rotary cutter to be sure I was cutting straight (ok, mostly straight) lines.

Once you cut the borders off, you'll have to tape the pieces together.  It's sort of like a fun jigsaw puzzle.  Or not so fun, depending on how late at night you're working on this project.

The pieces will probably have to overlap a bit here and there, so just play with it until you've got them lined up.

This is kind of hard to see, but once you tape them together, the edges probably won't have lined up exactly.  That's alright.

Just trim the edges straight and nobody will ever know that they didn't line up exactly.

Now you've got the basic play mat, but it's time to make it a little sturdier.  I used a roll of clear peel and stick laminating contact paper.

Because the play mat is fairly large, I had a hard time figuring out how to get the contact paper onto the mat without getting all kinds of crinkles and bubbles.  If you have a second person to hold one end of the contact paper, I'd go that route.  I didn't, so I decided to cut a length of contact paper about the size I needed, then tape one end to the table.  That way, I could mess with the other end without the paper moving.

You're going to be tugging on the contact paper pretty good, so make sure you use enough tape to really hold the other end.

Once you've taped one end to the table, start peeling off the other end.

Hold tight to the loose (untaped) end, and peel the paper away from yourself. 

Keep holding tight on the loose end and keep peeling.  Once you've uncovered a good section of contact paper, start sticking it down to the front of the mat.  If you keep tension on the contact paper, you should be able to keep it relatively wrinkle and bubble-free as you stick it down.

Once you've got one strip of contact paper down, simply repeat the process until you get all the way across the mat.  I think I ended up using three strips.

Then I repeated the process on the backside of the mat.  Or maybe you want to be less of a daredevil and start with the back so you get in some practice before moving onto the side that people see.  Your call.

Once I had the whole thing laminated, I realized that it was kind of slippery.  It slid around on my hard floors.  Luckily, I had some extra shelf liner laying around from when we'd lined our cabinets.  It was the rubbery kind that's not adhesive (it kind of looks like one of those non-skid rug pads you can get to put under area rugs).

I applied some spray adhesive to the shelf liner, and then stuck it to the back of the play mat and let it dry.  Problem solved.  (Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of that part).

I added some cool wooden trains and blocks to match the gray, black, and yellow color-scheme, and we were in business!

I called it the "Conductor's Corner." I thought it turned out pretty darned cute.  (Better yet, these signs are available as a free printable on the birthday recap post.)

There you have it!  A fun and easy party game. Or anytime game.  I hope you enjoy!

Here are the playmat printables:

Click on the image above to get the full size version of the .jpeg or get the .doc version here.

If you have any questions, let me know! Comment here or email me at spaghettiwesterner at gmail dot com.


  1. Awesome work Lisa, there has to be a lot of talent going into making this, your son is so lucky he has a mummy to make great things for him like this!

  2. That is a wonderful play mat! Good job. It is good for kids to have things to influence their imagination.

  3. That is too gosh darn cute! Love that you made it yourself!!