How to Go Postal

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About: I made weapons for the British government for over thirty-five years. Now that I am retired, I have gotten involved in outfitting graffiti writers and street artists with state-of-the-art technology. I hope ...

How to make your own PCB on free postal labels using conductive ink, epoxy and a few parts. By PCB I mean, Post-Circuit Board: as in enter the age of circuits painted on walls. And also because its on postage. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor law nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their self-appointed rounds. Lets all Go Postal.

Another old project out of the dust bin of 2006 from the Graffiti Research Lab and The Eyebeam OpenLab.

Confront your fear of the hi-res video by clicking here.



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Step 1: The Ways and Means


The essential ways and means to build a PCB:

1. a USPS Priority Mail postal label
2. a multimeter
3. 5-minute epoxy
4. conductive epoxy
5. conductive paint or ink
6. fine tip paint brush
7. copper tape
8. Whatever specific electronic components you need for your circuit.

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Step 2: Circuit and Sticker Design


This instructable will detail one way to put a blinking LED circuit on postage, fabric, wood and other surfaces. But there's a lot of potential for what could be made using these materials and techniques and a world of simple circuits in textbooks and on the internet to try out. The conductive paint and ink will add resistance so you may need to experiment and tweak component values to get the effect you want. We've included some images and video of other examples including a traffic lite sticker and an homeage to Above created by Fred Zyda in the guerilla studios @ SIGGRAPH that uses timer and decadal counter ICs.



These are the parts we use to create a 555 timer-based flashing LED circuit:

1. 47k resistor (R1)
2. 100k resistor (R2)
3. 400 Ohm resistor (R3)
4. 10uf capacitor (C1)
6. 2 3 Volt DC CR2032 or better lithium batteries
7. 10mm 3 volt, 30mA LED (of any color)
8. 555NE timer IC Chip

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Step 3: Circuit Still Life


Once you've tested your circuit, you can lay it out on the surface of your choice. You can trace the sticker design attached in this step to create the 555 timer circuit that will blink an LED or two. More complicated circuits will require multiple layers. Leave ~ 0.25 inches for each trace. I make small circular contact pads at locations where electronic components will contact the ink traces.

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Step 4: Leave a Trace


Use a paint brush and conductive paint or ink to create the traces. It may require multiple coats. Allow the paint or ink to dry and use a multimeter to test for continuity on each of the traces.

This tutorial is multimeter 101 for those who need it. For PCBs all you need to know is how to use continuity mode.

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Step 5: Hook a Sticka Up


Now you can add your components. This happens in three steps:

1. Placement
Position the component so that it lays flat, or upright or on "it's back". Determine the position that is most stable for that given package or form factor. Bend the leads so that they touch your conductive contact pads or traces. Don't worry about cutting the excess lead yet.

2. Epoxy
Epoxy the component body to the postal label. Make sure to not get epoxy on the component leads or the traces as it will act as an insulator.

3. Bend and Clip
Once the epoxy has dried (in about 15 minutes) you can bend the leads so that they follow the traces and make contact exactly where you want them. Just clip off any excess.

4. Hook it Up
Now you can do two things. You can put a thick layer (glob) of conductive paint or ink on the area where the component leads make contact with the traces. This is the quick and dirty way. It is less stable but who are we kidding -- we're making a circuit on postage. You can also use conductive epoxy. The connection will be very strong, but it will require at least 6 hours drying time.

Check the photos for more details on attaching the hardware.

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Step 6: The Juice


Depending on your circuit, you may be able to use a single battery. For the LED flasher circuit, I am using a 555 time that operates within a range of 3 - 15 volts DC. One 3 volt battery won't give you much operating life. So I make a six volt battery by using conductive epoxy or conductive tape to create a battery sandwhich that operates in parallel to give me a six volt bus. You can also use conductive velcro. When paper batteries become more common this will be less clunky.

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Step 7: Crank It Up


Now you can attach the battery to the circuit. There are a number of ways to do this as well:

You can epoxy (conductive) the negative terminal to the negative trace on the postal label and run copper tape from the positive terminal of the battery to the positive traces. You can substitute the conductive epoxy with a loop of copper tape for a shorter term solution. You can add a dab of 5-minute epoxy to the battery to secure it in place. Conductive velcro is another method. It requires more fabrication time but allows you to change batteries in situ without destroying the traces by ripping up the conductive epoxy.

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Step 8: Ahhhh Stick It

Stick it real good...wall not included.

If you want to see some smart sticker placement check out Thundercut.
Mail this label to a city council member and win a free trip to Gitmo.

-vvv-

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    40 Discussions

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    shilts

    4 years ago on Introduction

    Another thing to try would be to use stranded wire as your traces. Tape them down at the turns and then run hot melt over the top of them. This is a really good idea for making cheap circuits for testing...Thanks for posting this.

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    me_sumit

    4 years ago on Introduction

    It is good idea to have circuit like this. Instead of using real circuit board.

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    westfw

    11 years ago

    Someone should experiement with the various powdered conductive substances to come up with a formula for "conductive enough" paint that costs less than $150/quart...

    3 replies
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    rednbokkerwestfw

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    it has a little more resistance, but regular pencil graphite works well. from what i've found, the harder the graphite the least resistance.

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    Q-Branchwestfw

    Reply 11 years ago

    true dat to a DIY recipe. While trying to ship or buy this stuff in Norway I found a company in the U.K. that would try to match the formula and sell it as a multi-part powder to mix. I'll try to dig up that link.

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    BongmasterQ-Branch

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    trying to find any shop that sells electrical components here in Norway is next to impossible :( (this part of Norway anyway). My components box is made entirely of harvested parts mainly.

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    Fyatjianqiang

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Agreed , I have no clue what so ever either been waiting just as long for an answer

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    agis68

    10 years ago on Introduction

    Ok but so.me comments -for how long gonna be working this with so little V/A -Too expensive for sparing money on the streets - Too exposed in malicious manipulations and weather - What's the necessity of this? I realy couldn't get it....

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    raikut

    10 years ago on Introduction

    but how long the circuit will operate with 2 * CR2032 batteries, I doubt????

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    Gjdj3

    10 years ago on Introduction

    So... how did this work out? Anyone get arrested? Nice job. 5 Stars.

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    RevZ

    11 years ago

    Q, I have a question for you. I'm going to buy some parts to make a PCB like this, but I stumbled upon two (maybe important) matters: (For your information, I will get the parts online from Conrad, so maybe you can look for the right parts for me) 1. The only elco's I can find are either 10µF 63V or 10UF 16V for a SMD elco. 2. how many watts do the resistors need to be? i can choose either carbon-layer resistors or metal-layer resistors, and i can choose from 1/10 Watt to 1Watt. Thanks in advance for your help, this is great stuff!!

    5 replies
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    servant74RevZ

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Given these circuits, the smallest resistor wattages you can find will be OK. (1/10W is fine, I like to keep 1/8W around for misc stuff, and get larger when I need them).

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    kadris3RevZ

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    about any electrolitic will work as long as the voltage is 3x the supply voltage. observe polarity. long lead is plus+ just like the led. get the cheapest. i use 1/2 watt resistors almost exclusively, but a 1/4 watt is more than adequate. draw on the led is 20 mils at 3v. almost no pwr

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    kadris3RevZ

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    while building is cool, leds already exist w the flashing chip built in. all u need is the led itself. these come in white, blue, red, and the multi-color r/g/b/ flashing leds. i can't knock building though. i have been doing it fr years. love it. i use little squares of circuit board, routed out w a brand x dremmel tool. stuff left are the traces. drill the holes and stuff and solder. funfun.