Women’s Audio Mission recently partnered with Instructables to host a Chibitronics Build Night! I’ve described Chibitronics as “basically flat circuits” - they are circuit stickers that allow users to combine the functionality of basic electronics with the hands-on creativity of arts and crafts.
We wanted to create a Chibitronics project that tied in with WAM’s interest in recording and audio technologies, so we used Chibitronics’ visual functions to create an LED-lit “RECORDING” sign. This is a fun way to get that big-studio feel while still recording from the comfort of your bedroom. (Plus, maybe it’ll keep your housemates from running the vacuum while you’re trying to record your breakout single!)
Step 1: Tools and Materials
To make this sign, you will need:
- Conductive copper tape
- LED stickers
- One 3V battery
- Poster board
- Construction paper
- Glue or adhesive tape
If you want to further customize your sign, the following materials will come in handy, but are not necessary to make a basic sign:
- Jumper wires
- Soldering tools
- Chibitronics effects stickers
Step 2: Plan Your Sign
Before you start creating your sign, it is helpful to plan out how you would like it to look by sketching your circuit out onto the construction paper or poster board. This will give you a ready-made template, so you don’t have to worry as much about making a mistake and running out of tape.
We will be adding LEDs in parallel to the sign, so make sure that any parts of your planned circuit that will feature LEDs have a connection to the negative and positive sides of your battery. Also, make sure that the positive and negative connections are close enough together that your LED stickers can overlap both.
In the sample template above, we’ve lightly marked which connection is positive and which is negative, and we’ve run the template lines all the way to the edge of the paper. This will allow us to connect our battery later.
You can also add decorative details to your sign, either with more copper tape or with your marker.
Step 3: Add Conductive Tape
Following the plan you created in the previous step, lay down your conductive copper tape on your poster board. Remember - some copper tape is only conductive on the non-sticky side, so if your design requires you to turn sharp corners, use the following procedure to ensure a good connection:
- Fold your copper tape away from the direction you want it to go, sticky side up.
- Fold your tape back over itself in the desired direction.
- Flatten the corner.
If you need to connect two pieces of copper tape, use the following procedure:
- Fold the end of one of the pieces of tape over so the non-sticky copper is visible on both sides.
- Tape the folded-over end onto the other piece of conductive tape using regular adhesive tape.
Remember those template lines that run all the way to the edge of the page? Stick your copper tape down along those lines, leaving about a 2-inch-long piece sticking out over each end, as shown above.
Remember which tab is positive and which is negative - this will be important when we attach the battery.
Step 4: Add LEDs
Stick your LED stickers onto your sign, making sure that they are firmly attached to ensure a strong connection. Since we’re only using a 3V battery for this sign, try not to add too many LEDs. The sample sign above uses 8.
Step 5: Add Battery Pack and Battery
We’re going to attach the battery to the back of the sign so the front looks tidier. To do so, we will make a paper battery pack.
To make a battery pack, you will want to cut out a piece of cardstock in the shape of the template shown above. In terms of size, the square central portion should be slightly larger than the size of your battery, the two thin “arms” should be about half again as long as the square is wide, and the top flap should be slightly taller than the central square.
To start with, fold both arms and the top flap towards you. Put glue or a small piece of tape on the back of the center square, and secure it to the back of your sign near the two dangling tape ends from the front of the poster.
Take the positive tape end, fold it over to the back side of the sign, and stick and fold it down so it forms an upside-down L-shape on the central square of the battery pack.
Take the negative tape end and stick it down onto the underside of arm 2, along the edge closest to the positive tape end. There is a small piece of tape on mine because I had to attach two pieces of copper tape, but if you are careful you should be able to do this with a single piece!
Make two small folds towards the central square in Arm 2, as if you are rolling it up.
Fold Arm 1 over the central square so the folded Arm 2 lies flat, and glue or tape it down. Make sure it is tightly secured, as this will make the battery fit more snugly in the battery pack and ensure a better connection.
Slip the battery into your battery pack, making sure that the positive side faces the L-shape and the negative side faces the folded arm, and tuck the top flap in between Arm 1 and Arm 2. This will tighten the battery pack even further. Your LEDs should now light up; if they don’t, try securing Arm 1 more tightly.
If you want to turn off your LEDs, tuck the top flap in between the battery and Arm 2. This will isolate the battery from the negative lead, breaking your circuit.
This battery pack was originally conceived by Selam Gano, whose instructions and video tutorial can be found here at the Chibitronics website.
Step 6: Personalize!
Congrats! You've finished making your recording sign!
Here are some tips you can use to customize your sign further:
- If you’d like to be able to turn your new sign on and off from inside your control room, you can extend the ends of your copper tape with jumper cables or wire long enough to extend from your sign to inside your control room. Be sure you have a good connection between the copper tape and the wire by securing them with a small bead of solder; you can also cover up the soldered joint with some shrink wrap to reinforce it.
- You can add effects stickers to your circuit so your LEDs blink on and off, blink and fade, or perform other patterns. To do this, you will have to connect your LEDs to the signal pad of the effects sticker, as well as to the positive or negative side of the battery.
- If you want to be able to add more lights to your sign, you can attach a battery pack to the back of your sign that will hold a more powerful battery. In order to incorporate the battery into your circuit, you may have to solder the wires attached to the pack to the two copper tape tabs of your sign. (Again, you can reinforce this connection with shrink wrap).