Instructables

Paper Electronics: Conductive Paints, Inks, and More

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Paint Bottle.JPG
Brush Paint.JPG
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     This Instructable is all about the amazing technology of paper electronics and conductive materials. Instead of using stubborn wires and your rusty soldering skills to painstakingly connect components, why not use paint and glue? This tutorial will share various recipes to create your very own conductive paint, tape, glue, and ink. Using a maximum of 3 easy to find ingredients, these simple materials are easy to make. All of the conductive materials explained in this Instructable are based around the conductive paint (step 1). Using increments of different chemicals, the consistency of the paint can be changed from thick to thin (glue to ink). At the end of the Instructable a simple project will be shown using conductive materials (step 5). There is also a step that is dedicated interfacing conductive materials with kits and teaching classes and workshops.
     Even though commercially available conductive materials work great, they are a wee pricey and often need to be ordered online. Another disadvantage of commercial products is that they are usually only available in conductive paint form.
     To start off, I would like to share some of the science behind the main ingredient used in the conductive materials; graphite. Graphite is a mineral and a form of pure carbon. Graphite is very conductive and is sometimes used in arc-lamp electrodes. Because of its conductivity, graphite is the primary candidate for making conductive materials. Its other bonuses include being easy to obtain, mixing well with paint, and coming in a very fine powdered form. 

     Here are the supplies needed to make the conductive materials in this Instructable:

powdered graphite lubricant- from from Ace Hardware or other hardware store
- black poster paint- from local craft store or from Amazon
paint thinner- from local hardware store or from Amazon   
- popsicle/mixing sticks- from local craft store or Walmart 
- mixing cups- I used styrofoam cups from grocery store
measuring spoon- baking spoons will work 

     To complete the ink and stamping steps and the project, you will need these additional supplies:
light emitting diode (led) available at local Radioshack
- 3-volt coin cell battery- available at grocery store
- sponge- some type of sponge, I got mine out of an old printer ink cartridge
airtight vial- any type of airtight container will work
- airtight plastic container- possibly tupperware or old food container  
- paper

     Now that the materials have been gathered, it is time to begin making conductive materials!

Warnings: Some of the projects and instructions in this Instructable use paint thinner. This chemical produces nasty fumes that probably aren't very healthy for you. Perform all projects using paint thinner in a well-ventilated room. I am not responsible for any accidents that may occur while using this Instructable. 

Please don't forget to vote for this Instructable in the contests.

This Instructable is submitted for Powell Cubs for the Instructables Sponsorship Program.

 
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rajesh320356 months ago

thank u so much.i tried it but i am getting a very high resistive paint(about 30kohms).

how can i reduce its resistance?

newage20146 months ago

Hello!

I want to make a flexible heater 20W/12V with this paint. Is it possible?

Verticees1 year ago
Of all the Instructables I have seen, this may be the coolest!! Great job on this!! However, I have had another idea for conductive tape which mimics the conductive tape made by professionals. Maybe you could add some sort of clear (but conductive) adhesive to the back of a strip of aluminum foil, which is already conductive. This way, you can have conductive tape with less resistance! It may not be too strong, but it still may work. Anyways, great job on the Instructable!
ac-dc Verticees8 months ago
1) It's not even usable for 99% of circuits. The resistance is too high and the durability very questionable because it's going to heat up with that high a resistance.

2) You can't just slap this on aluminum foil because aluminum foil immediate forms an aluminum oxide layer on it (even if you polish it away or use lye) that is non-conductive. There are ways to get it to work but there is no sense in doing any of them when silver or copper would work much better.

... but actually, what works even better when it's possible is to use real wire or a PCB. There's really no point in trying to avoid learning to solder if learning electronics prototyping. It's not even a time saver since waiting for glue to dry takes longer than soldering a few joints.
icecats (author)  Verticees1 year ago
Great idea. Thank you.
DCengineer1 year ago
What is the resistance?
icecats (author)  DCengineer1 year ago
"When dry, the conductive paint has a very low amount of resistance. After several tests, I calculated the resistance to be around
115 ohms per centimeter. Even though 1 centimeter of standard 22 gauge hookup wire has a resistance of about 2 ohms, the 113 ohms difference will barely make a difference in the circuit. If the circuit schematic calls for a small resistor (<115 ohms), it would be alright to omit it. I found that when you connect a new 9-volt battery to a painted line (of conductive paint) and attach a digital multimeter on the other side, the voltage detected is 9.27-9.28 volts out of 9.29-9.30 volts. In sum, there is a very minimal amount of voltage lost when using conductive paint." Thank you
ac-dc icecats8 months ago
115 ohms /cm is a HUGE amount of resistance, which is why conductive paint is not normally made in this way but instead with silver particles.

22 gauge hookup wire does not have 2 ohms /cm, that is a measurement error from your multimeter contacts, leads, and the physical touching of the probes or clips to the wire. Actual resistance of 1 cm, 22 ga. wire is about 0.001 ohms.

You cannot measure voltage like that, it has to be voltage powering a load. 115 ohms is completely unacceptable for any circuit except those that just happened to need the particular amount of resistance that causes and ironically enough the only thing I can think of at the moment that would call for that would happen to be powering a ~20mA LED by a 9V battery.
Cephus icecats1 year ago
#22 wire has a resistance of about .053 ohms per meter.
icecats (author)  Cephus1 year ago
Thanks, it has been fixed.
longwinters11 months ago
I love this idea my mind is already thinking of ways to put it to use
In the past I have used stained glass copper foil tape but this has so many more possibilities
mastergabe1 year ago
sorry i meant to say indium tin oxide
icecats (author)  mastergabe1 year ago
That is very cool... I will look into it. Thanks
mastergabe1 year ago
hi icecats there is a conductive material that is transparent its called indium oxide you should do some research into it.
JTomM1291 year ago
Good ideas but one observation: when you measure the voltages with a modern multimeter it will have a very high input impedance and not "load" the paint surface so there will be no noticeable voltage drop due to the paint resistence. Use an ohm meter for better results. Otherwise this wiuld be great for taiming RFI (radio frequency interference) for ham radio and high end audio DIY projects (just oaint the insude if the encloshers). You might also consider getting the copper tape stain-glass craft people use to bind and solder glass prices together and put that down across bends and large surface areas before you paint/glue/write you conductive films. The tape has a sticky backing and can be soldered to make good interconnected ground planes and shields because it offers a lot of interfacing area between the paint and the conductive copper foil. BTW the same stain glass construction foil can be used for quick and easy DIY PCB's. If my idea works I will post a 'able about shielding a HAM/SWL setup with a embedded PC using your paint and stain glass copper foil to prevent digital noise from the PC from getting into to radio receivers. It should be cheap and handy and very flexible. Thanks for your post!
icecats (author)  JTomM1291 year ago
Thanks for the comment. I hope that you do succeed at your project, and post an Instructable about it. Good Luck!
ctass771 year ago
this is a brilliant idea. I'm seeing really cheap homemade flex circuits and all kinds of potential uses. excellent post!!!
icecats (author)  ctass771 year ago
Thanks.
mechagen1 year ago
sonicrz the "vote" button is on the top of the web page near the "favorite" button

btw icecats i do believe this is an awesome way to teach children about tech and im going to tell my Info Tech Teacher about this however its too late in the year to try this now but theres always next year im doing this in my info tech class since i finished my final exam already
icecats (author)  mechagen1 year ago
Thanks for the awesome comments. Please try this project out. Good luck.
oh yeah and go for gold icecats go for gold
tigers581 year ago
Great instructable! I was trying to find some SAFE way to use conductive ink for printing the Fractal Magic HDTV pattern instead of having to thread the wire back and forth through the poster board. I'm going to give this a try. I'm either misreading your statement about the resistance of a centimeter of 22 AWG hookup wire, or you miscalculated it. I just used an online wire resistance calculator and it gave a result of .54 (point 54) milliohms per 100 centimeters of 22 gauge hookup wire. This seems much more reasonable to me than 2 ohms per centimeter. Did you measure the resistance of the conductive paint/ink/glue or calculate it?
hohum tigers581 year ago
you could use brass eyelets to make contact between the front and back of the board
icecats (author)  hohum1 year ago
Good idea. Give it a try.
icecats (author)  tigers581 year ago
I am very sorry. My Internet source must have been wrong, or I miswrote the resistance. Thanks for the catch. I hope that you do try interfacing conductive materials with your project. Tell me how it goes please. Good luck.
hohum1 year ago
very cool icecats, i betcha you/one could make a syringe of the conductive stuff, rigged a 3d printer, with some sort of plunger, then using the speed of the conductive jet, print paper-- your on to something here..

btw, where can one get plans of the pusher prop of you logo
icecats (author)  hohum1 year ago
Thanks for the comment hohum. Conductive materials would be very cool if they were used with a 3d printer. Just think of all of the possibilities... The logo (first image) of this Instructable is simply stamped conductive ink (step 3 and 4). After stamping the letters using commercially available stamps, I connected the letters together with small lines of conductive ink to form "wires." Finally, I hooked the battery and LED up. This circuit is the exact same as the one described in step 5, just with letters instead of lines. Good luck on the project and thank you for viewing this Instructable.
malfestor1 year ago
You know you've been playing too much Minecraft when you expect this to be glowing red. I have been looking for low cost conductive paint to use with the Glass Speaker Instructable. I should have known that some inventive person would come up with a solution.  Thank you very much for sharing this with us.
blinky4651 year ago
Remember that the flattened side of the led is NOT the positive lead: the flattened side of an LED (where the casing is flattened and the leg is shorter) is the negative/ground side, not positive!
icecats (author)  blinky4651 year ago
Thanks for the correction. It is now fixed.
this clearly one of the best ideas.voted and favourited.i am also a competetive of you in two competitons.i have given how to make joule thief.but i just had to vote you.awesome instructable.
icecats (author)  argha halder1 year ago
Thanks for voting. Good luck in the contests. I will check out your Instructable.
sonicrz1 year ago
Thanks
This is great. Imagine the possibilities for the newspaper industry. Thanks for all of the instructions. Keep up all of the great work.
icecats (author)  Matthew.fry1 year ago
Newspapers definitely need a new innovation. Thanks
sonicrz1 year ago
I would like to vote but where is the voting icon (I am using an iPod
icecats (author)  sonicrz1 year ago
Thanks so much. Before voting can occur, I must be accepted into the contests. This should occur sometime today (the 5th). Please check my Instructable again later today... Thanks