The Great Big Guide to Paper Circuits

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Contributors: Gella
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Conductive Ink Traces

Conductive inks are now available in pre-filled pens, making it easier than ever to create traces by simply drawing them. Most conductive ink pens also dry faster than conductive paints. This method may be the easiest to apply, but attaching components can be more frustrating.

Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate (depending on components you are attaching to the ink).
Cost: Higher - most pens start ~$20
Mess Level: Minimal

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Drawing with a Circuit Scribe pen. Image via Circuit Scribe's Kickstarter.

Pros:

  • Dries faster than conductive paints.
  • Precise lines.
  • Intuitive use.

Cons:

  • Can be difficult to attach components to (see Making Connections section for techniques).
  • Paper selection matters - inks will not adhere to some types of paper. Photo paper works best.
  • May be easily mistaken for regular pens or markers and accidentally wasted on non-electronic projects.

Circuit Scribe

Circuit Scribe Conductive Ink Pen

Circuit Scribe Conductive Ink Pen

COM-13254
$6.50

Circuit Scribe Maker Kit

COM-13255
Retired
Circuit Scribe is a non-toxic, silver conductive ink pen that writes similarly to a gel pen. It is great for creating precise lines and drawings to showcase (and light up) your circuit.

AgIC Circuit Marker

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AgIC is another silver-based ink that comes in marker form. It only works on EPSON Glossy Photo Paper, so you will need to plan your projects accordingly.

Instructions:

  • Plan your circuit using a pencil (and stencil if it comes with your conductive ink kit). The ink does not adhere well to printer toner, if you are designing your circuit on a computer, make sure to leave outlines to fill in rather than lines to draw directly over.
  • Carefully trace your lines with the conductive ink pen, making sure to keep a continuous path between components. Leave larger circles/pads where components will connect to the traces.
  • Use tape, conductive glue, or circuit stickers on top of ink lines to attach components.

Examples:

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Paperduino 2.0 - an entire Arduino made with Circuit Scribe ink and components. Image via Instructables.

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Interactive art using Circuit Scribe modules and ink, crafted by SparkFun's Education Team.

Additional Resources: