Conductive Paint

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Introduction: Conductive Paint

The goal of this experiment was to try to find an alternative to commercially available conductive paint. It is incredible stuff but expensive. I've read other Instructables like Makerboat's $1 Conductive Ink and IceCats' Paper Electronics. They helped me arrive at my own recipe, which uses only two ingredients but I think my testing is more reliable.

To make the winning recipe you need:

  • Graphite powder*
  • Acrylic paint
  • A jar with an airtight seal

To complete every test you need:

  • Elmer's Glue-All
  • Titebond III Wood Glue
  • Acrylic paint
  • Wire Glue (tm)
  • Graphite powder
  • 4 wooden toothpicks
  • 4 jars with airtight seals
  • Paper
  • Ohmmeter
  • 2 zip ties

*Be careful with graphite powder because inhalation can lead to respiratory problems.

Step 1: Glue-All and Graphite Sample

For the first recipe graphite powder was mixed with Elmer's Glue-All until the consistency was spreadable. Be careful when adding the glue because squeezing the bottle will shoot a blast of air into the jar and graphite powder will blow everywhere. The third picture illustrates this.

The ratio was:

  • 2 parts Elmer's Glue-All
  • 1 part graphite powder

The result was fluid but very thick. It could still be used as an adhesive.

Two lines were drawn with the toothpick. One thin line and one thick line. The toothpick was wiped off on the side of the jar and allowed to dry next to the lines.

Step 2: Titebond III and Graphite Sample

The second recipe was Titebond III and graphite powder.

The ratio was :

  • 1 part Titebond III
  • 1 part graphite powder

The result was fluid but not runny.

Two lines were drawn with the toothpick. One thin line and one thick line. The toothpick was wiped off on the side of the jar and allowed to dry next to the lines.

Step 3: Acrylic Paint and Graphite Sample

The third recipe was acrylic paint and graphite powder.

The ratio was:

  • 1 part acrylic paint
  • 1 part graphite powder

The result was slightly thicker than paint.

Two lines were drawn with the toothpick. One thin line and one thick line. The toothpick was wiped off on the side of the jar and allowed to dry next to the lines.

Step 4: Control Sample With Wire Glue (tm)

The fourth sample was commercially available Wire Glue (tm) from Think Geek. The Wire Glue(tm) needed to be stirred so another toothpick was used.

The Wire Glue(tm) was much runnier than the other samples so the lines were not as bulky. Less material being put down means a higher resistance since there is less carbon/graphite for conduction.

Two lines were drawn with the toothpick. One thin line and one thick line. The toothpick was wiped off on the side of the jar and allowed to dry next to the lines.

Step 5: Preparation for Testing

All the samples dried for five hours and were labeled.

Close-up pictures were taken to show the thickness of each sample. In order they are:

  1. Elmer's Glue-All
  2. Titebond III
  3. Acrylic paint
  4. Wire Glue(tm)

To ensure the samples were tested uniformly two zip ties were tightened around ohmmeter test probes. This ensured the probe tips were the same distance for each test.

Step 6: Testing Elmer's Glue-All and Graphite

Each sample of Elmer's Glue-All and graphite was tested with the fixed-width probes and recorded.


Step 7: Testing Titebond III and Graphite

Each sample of Titebond III and graphite was tested with the fixed-width probes and recorded.

Step 8: Testing Acrylic Paint and Graphite

Each sample of acrylic paint and graphite was tested with the fixed-width probes and recorded.

Step 9: Testing Wire Glue(tm)

Each sample of Wire Glue(tm) was tested with the fixed-width probes and recorded.

Step 10: Results

The acrylic paint is the most conductive material in this sample set when painted with a toothpick. The materials are commonly available and inexpensively. The acrylic paint cost $0.78 and the graphite powder cost $0.75. All prices are in US Dollars.

The advantage of the Wire Glue(tm), which has the next highest conductivity, is that it has a lower viscosity so it could potentially be used with custom pen nibs. Store-bought pen nibs were used with the Wire Glue(tm) in a different experiment but it was inconvenient to apply.

This build took me two days and one more to write these instructions.

I run a blog where I talk incessantly about the things I build, including an unabridged version of this project with videos that show the viscosity of the samples. There are other neat things there like a device that lets you hear temperatures and a keyboard you can use from inside your pockets.

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1 Questions

So from what I've seen with conductive paint the powder substance being used is almost always graphite or carbon which makes a boring black colour. Is it possible to use something else like magnesium safely to make conductive paint?

0

A number of things can be used to make the paint conductive. Magnesium will conduct electricity but I don't consider powdered metal safe.

Exercise a lot of caution when working with any powdered metal for the health risks and flammability risk.

198 Comments

I used the acrylic/graphite powder mix today to shield a few guitar cavities. After the first (and so far only) coat I measured in various pockets anything between 500 and 1k Ohm. No idea if that's "Faraday" enough :-D.

I used 9g of graphite on about 12 ml of acrylic paint. The paint was just under 3€ for a 15ml jar, and I managed to order the graphite on ebay for 1€ for about 30g.

1 reply

You should use copper shielding.The paint is good for hard to reach areas or as a base coat before you put down the copper.From all the videos I've seen the paint doesn't do much either way.

Would this possibily be safe for rear window in cars? General consensus is over larger gaps in the grid conductive paint fails due to high resistance, and that it flakes off. I'd like to give it a go but worried it'd be too much? I've put Primer on the lines which is hard to get off (good thing) then go over with conductive paint, perhaps that'd act as an insulator between glass and heat, possibly have high heat spots even?

3 replies

I can't guarantee this would be safe but I would be confident enough to try it in my own car. I suspect that the resistance of this paint would be higher than the OEM traces so you may end up with a cool spot but that's better than the whole strip remaining nonfunctional. Good luck and let us know if it works.

Been testing the existing grid, gives me 3 at furthest distance on a complete line, to 0.4 within roughly an inch. Would need to experiment, but it should do the job over small breaks. I'll have a go soon, be a lot cheaper than wasting conductive paint

Good luck. Take a picture if it works and let us see!

Hi , i think I might be a bit late to the party but, im searching for a "DIY" version of winter gloves. I've seen conductive thread is the best option but its difficult finding it in my country. The goal is to make the index finger and thumb of a glove conductive enough to use with a cellphone on cold weather. Do you think "painting" the fingers of a pair of wool gloves with this mix will do the trick? I bet you have to make the paint go through the fabric so the finger and the exterior of the glove can conduct correctly.

1 reply

Sorry for the late replay.
I think it would be conductive enough but I think the paint would flake away during normal use. Maybe even worse, since graphite is involved, you would leave marks on everything you touch. It would be like having a pencil for a finger. Maybe you can be carbon fiber more easily? Not the kind which has already been combined with epoxy to make a hard surface but the woven cloth.

Hey, I was wondering if you could answer my question since i've been making the acrylic based conductive paint with graphite but when it dries it doesn't seem to be conductive anymore. Is this what is supposed to happen? How can i possibly leave it conductive when dry?

thnx!

1 reply

The paint was always dry when I tested it. Perhaps you aren't using enough graphite powder which will make nearly anything conductive if you use enough. When I mixed it, I used equal amounts by volume, not weight. Perhaps this is the problem. The process for experimenting, shown above, can be followed but instead of different glues/paints, try different proportions of paint and graphite powder. Good luck.

i'm looking to shield the inside cavity of a bass guitar pick up area. i was looking at shielding tape but it's so expensive. So i was looking at shielding paint. same deal just tooo expensive.

So will this paint recipe work for what i'm trying to do?

1 reply

I haven't tried it myself but it should work well. If you can wrap a pick-up in some painted paper first that could be a good test.

If this works, please let us know here so other people can follow your example!

Now this is very very experimental, but would it be usable for metal plating using electrolysis for exemple?

2 replies

Are you talking about electroforming?
Some people have tried electroforming with this recipe but it doesn't hold up well in since acrylic paint isn't meant to be submerged in water. White glue would also be a bad choice. I have heard of people using silicone with a much higher graphite ratio but you will lose detail because it is so thick even if it does work.

I wish I had a better answer for you.

Let me know if I misunderstood your question.

No you were spot on thanks alot for the feedback! Since what im gonna use is a bootleg DIY method i wont need to submerge it fully so i'll give it a go on a scrap piece when i can

Do you think using metal powders such as copper and aluminum powder would work?

Why is Graphene the ideal conductive material in making conductive paint?

Thank you so much!

1 reply

Graphite powder is inexpensive and easy to buy. Some metal powders are flammable and harmful if they get on your skin. However, if you are careful they may provide better conductivity.

Im going to test this out. Ill use the acrylic paint and graphite and add the CO2, CUO2, and CH3 gans and see if it is more conductive then a normal nanocoated copper coil. It take some time, but I will report back. If anybody familiar with the magrav unit does this before me please post your results. Thanks.

#NeighborhoodAlchemist

Im going to test this out. Ill use the acrylic paint and graphite and add the CO2, CUO2, and CH3 gans and see if it is more conductive then a normal nanocoated copper coil.

Thanks for the instructable. I was wondering if this would improve the conductivity in a Magrav Generator if CO2 GANS, CH3 GANS, CUO2 GANS, acrylic paint and graphite was used to coat the coils. The generator already conducts without any outside source of electricity. So Im wondering if this would make the unit self powered.