The Great Big Guide to Paper Circuits

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Contributors: Gella
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Conductive Tape Traces

Conductive tape is one of the easiest ways to get started crafting a paper circuit. Just peel off the paper backing and press down where you want your circuit to go! Copper tape is also solderable, allowing strong connections between components and traces that you won't get with paint and inking methods.

Applying Copper Tape to a Paper Circuit

Prototyping with copper tape and a SparkFun template

Difficulty: Beginner
Cost: Varies - copper tape ~$.06/ft, fabric tape ~$.79/ft
Mess Level: Minimal

Pros:

  • No dry time.
  • Solderable (copper tape only).
  • Easier to find locally - copper tape is also used as a snail/slug repellent and sold in hardware stores. It is also used in stained glass making and may be available in local craft or hobby stores. Not all tapes are made alike though - these ones may be more difficult to work with and the adhesive is probably not conductive.

Cons:

  • Copper tape can give you a nasty paper cut, please be careful!
  • Harder to create smooth lines or shapes. You can cut the tape to a thinner width to help with this.
  • Conductive fabric tape can be very expensive.

Copper Tape

Copper Tape - 5mm (50ft)

Copper Tape - 5mm (50ft)

PRT-10561
$3.95
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Copper Tape - 2" (50ft)

Copper Tape - 2" (50ft)

PRT-11081
$18.50
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The most common conductive tape for paper circuits is made of a thin sheet of copper with an adhesive on the bottom that comes on a roll. Manufacturers create the tape in a few different sizes, we like 5mm width tape because it is easy to work with on a smaller crafting scale.

Ni/Cu/Co 1" Wide Fabric Tape

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Image from LessEMF.com

Less common than copper tape is a conductive fabric tape made of nickel, copper and cobalt. This tape will stand up to bending and flexing and is a great option for projects that have folds (such as cards that require traces to cross the center crease).

Instructions:

  • Peel and stick where the traces should go, making sure to leave gaps in the tape where components will sit. For the most reliable circuit, try to use one continuous piece of tape between components. Use folding techniques around corners or solder pieces together as needed.
  • For copper tape - use clear tape over bent leads to hold them down to the trace. Soldering is a more secure option. For fabric tape we recommend a conductive glue or sewing the connection with conductive thread.

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Note how the copper tape is cut to leave room for the LED.

Examples:

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This blushing robot card from Chibitronics uses thin copper tape to spell the message inside and create the circuit for the LED on the front of the card.

Jie Qi's Circuit Sketchbook uses conductive fabric tape in the book's binding and copper tape on the inside cover.

Additional Resources: