Single-wall carbon nanotube (SWCNT) films show significant promise for transparent electronics applications that demand mechanical flexibility, but durability remains an outstanding issue. In this work, thin membranes of length purified single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) are uniaxially and isotropically compressed by depositing them on prestrained polymer substrates. Upon release of the strain, the topography, microstructure, and conductivity of the films are characterized using a combination of optical/fluorescence microscopy, light scattering, force microscopy, electron microscopy, and impedance spectroscopy. Above a critical surface mass density, films assembled from nanotubes of well-defined length exhibit a strongly nonlinear mechanical response. The measured strain dependence reveals a dramatic softening that occurs through an alignment of the SWCNTs normal to the direction of prestrain, which at small strains is also apparent as an anisotropic increase in sheet resistance along the same direction. At higher strains, the membrane conductivities increase due to a compression-induced restoration of conductive pathways. Our measurements reveal the fundamental mode of elasto-plastic deformation in these films and suggest how it might be suppressed. © 2011 American Chemical Society.