The present invention is generally directed to catalyzed hot stamp methods for polishing and/or patterning carbon nanotube-containing substrates. In some embodiments, the substrate, as a carbon nanotube fiber end, is brought into contact with a hot stamp (typically at 200-800.degree. C.), and is kept in contact with the hot stamp until the morphology/patterns on the hot stamp have been transferred to the substrate. In some embodiments, the hot stamp is made of material comprising one or more transition metals (Fe, Ni, Co, Pt, Ag, Au, etc.), which can catalyze the etching reaction of carbon with H.sub.2, CO.sub.2, H.sub.2O, and/or O.sub.2. Such methods can (1) polish the carbon nanotube-containing substrate with a microscopically smooth finish, and/or (2) transfer pre-defined patterns from the hot stamp to the substrate. Such polished or patterned carbon nanotube substrates can find application as carbon nanotube electrodes, field emitters, and field emitter arrays for displays and electron sources.