Paper Circuits

Paper Circuits
Light-up bridge
A more intricate project: a light-up model of the Bay Bridge

Make simple or complex electrical circuits on a flat piece of paper!

Using copper tape and surface-mount LEDs allows you to make a fully functional circuit on a flat surface, like a piece of paper. You can make light-up greeting cards, make origami animals come to life, or create three-dimensional pop-up paper sculpture that have working lights in them.

A simple paper circuit
The door is a switch
Light-up sprinkles!

The basic circuit is very simple, and yet allows for a wide range of explorations and aesthetic expression.

With a little more effort, you can add switches, which can be as simple as a piece of aluminum foil, to add a dynamic element to your creation. The window on the little house above lights up when you close the door.

Or you can keep the circuit really simple and let your creativity shine in other ways, like making this beautiful cupcake with light-up sprinkles…

Paper tree circuitry

Make Paper-Circuits @ home

Here is a list of useful parts if you want to experiment with paper circuits at home.

Essential materials

  • Copper tape
    You can get 5mm copper tape, ready for use, from sparkfun.com (part # PRT-10561).
    It is also often sold in hardware stores under the name of Slug Tape – it is used to tape to lip of planters to prevent slugs and snails from climbing in! In that case, you might want to cut it into thinner strips before using it in your paper circuit.
  • Surface-mount LEDs
    We get these tiny LEDs from digikey.com. They come in many different colors and shapes, but a good starter set is red, yellow, green, blue, and white.
  • Coin cell batteries
    Any hardware store or electronics store will carry these. They are good to use because they are flat and fit nicely on a sheet of paper. If you want an online source, you can easily order them from sparkfun.

Other useful materials

  • Soldering iron
  • Safety glasses
  • Multimeter
  • Tweezers
  • Binder clips
  • Scotch tape
  • Scissors
  • X-acto knife
  • Pencils and pens

More inspirations and ideas

We have written a blog post just for you! Click here for tips on how to get started, how to facilitate, and how to expand this activity, whether you're doing it at home, in an afterschool program, or in class.

We have been greatly inspired by the work of Jie Qi at Leah Buechley's High-Low Tech group at the MIT Media Lab. Check out their work for more ideas and tutorials.