Tissue engineering of clinically applicable dermo-epidermal skin substitutes is crucially dependent on the three-dimensional extracellular matrix, supporting the biological function of epidermal and dermal cells. This matrix essentially determines the mechanical stability of these substitutes to allow for safe and convenient surgical handling. Collagen type I hydrogels yield excellent biological functionality but their mechanical weakness and their tendency to contract and degrade does not allow producing clinically applicable transplants of larger sizes. We show here that plastically compressed collagen type I hydrogels can be produced in clinically relevant sizes (7 x 7 cm), and can be safely and conveniently handled by the surgeon. Most importantly, these dermo-epidermal skin substitutes mature into a near normal skin that can successfully reconstitute full thickness skin defects in an animal model.