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Paper circuits are a great way of adding light to your drawings, origami, or papercraft creations. Instead of using wires to connect a battery to LEDs, paper circuits use conductive metal tape.

Copper tape can be found online at places like Amazon, Sparkfun, and as part of the Circuit Stickers kit at Maker Shed. It can also be found at hardware stores as “slug tape“. Or try cutting long, narrow strips of aluminum foil tape, used for repairing HVAC ducts (but not duct tape!)

Popularized by technology-oriented artists like Jie Qi and Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, refined in places like the Tinkering Studio and nexmap, and now a wonderful product by chibitronics called Circuit Stickers, this lovely synthesis of art and technology is a great way to introduce artists to electronics, and engineers to art. Click any maker link in this paragraph to discover their paper circuit resources.

This Make: Project is just the beginning of what’s possible. Add multiple LEDs in parallel referencing the Make: Project for Paper Circuits: Parallel with Pressure Switch, use the copper tape to make a design, try surface mount LEDs, add an ATTiny85 microcontroller for programmable circuits, or even control bending wings.

You decide if you want your copper tape circuit to be part of your drawing or hidden from view, with just the LED poking through a top layer of paper. Either way, it’s pretty amazing.

When your LED stops lighting up, replace the battery. The battery will stop working long before the LED does.

Download a one page paper circuit PDF here.

PaperCircuit16

Steps

Step #1: Make a battery holder

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Simple Paper Circuit

Fold one corner of your paper. Trace a coin battery. This will be your on/off switch.

Step #2: Tape your circuit

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  • Electricity will flow through the conductive copper tape, connecting the positive + (anode) side of the coin battery with the + lead of the LED (usually the longer one), and the negative - (cathode) side with the - lead.
  • Start your tape at the corner, which will end up above the battery. Peel off the backing as you go. The adhesive (sticky part) of your tape probably does not conduct electricity, so bend (don’t cut) to make curves or corners.
  • Leave a gap where the LED will go. Finish your circuit on the circle battery trace just before the corner.

Step #3: Add the LED

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  • Mark the longer + lead with a stripe of permanent marker to help remember which one is which.
  • Bend out LED leads and tape each lead on top of one side of the copper tape circuit.
  • Add battery and hold in place with a binder clip. No light? Flip over the battery.

Jessica Henricks

Jessica designs art, making, and STEAM experiences for learners of all ages. She's developed and produced hands-on workshops, public programs, video media, project guides, and PD resources for organizations like Maker Media, the Exploratorium, and Franconia Sculpture Park. She holds a BFA in Sculpture from RISD and an EdM from Harvard.

She's shared hands-on activities with attendees at Maker Faires since 2007.


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