Make Modular, Pocket-Sized Solar Panels




Have you ever been outside and had your phone die? Have you ever wanted to make your own solar panels for charging a cell phone or electronics project? Now you can!

Each panel costs $1.25 in materials and provides 0 - 0.5V at 400-1000mA depending on load and lighting. The panels are linkable by magnets, and can be reconfigured on the fly to provide different voltages and currents

This is a cheap, portable device that can be used to charge your cell phone when you're camping or on a grassy knoll somewhere.

It is easy for anyone to make, with tools that you might have around the house.

For an alternate guide, check out the project's github page.


Step 1: Tools and Materials


  • Office Laminator
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Non-stick parchment paper (bakery/baking/butter paper)


  • Polycarbonate sheet .01" thick - This will be the rigid, protective layer that surrounds our solar panel. I bought mine from
  • EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate) film encapsulant - This should come with a smooth and a bumpy side. It's made as a film for solar panels, and will cushion the cells to keep them from cracking. I found mine with this Ebay search.
  • Copper tape with conductive adhesive - It's important to make sure that the adhesive is conductive (most aren't). I found my tape on
  • Solar Cells - I recommend 52x76mm multicrystalline or polycrystalline solar cells. These will give us 0.55V open-circuit voltage, and 1A short-circuit current. I found mine with this Ebay search.
  • Small neodymium magnets (1/4" x 1/8" x 1/32") - You will need 2 for each panel you want to make. I got mine from KJ Magnetics.

For a price breakdown, see this project's github page on materials.

Disclaimer: Solar cells are extremely thin and crackable. Always handle with care.

Step 2: Cut Sheets to Size

For 52x76mm solar cells, cut your sheets to 65 x 90 mm (6.5 x 9 cm). For each solar panel you plan to make, cut two 65x90mm rectangles of polycarbonate, and two rectangles of EVA.

Step 3: Apply Tape to Front

Cut a strip of copper tape 7cm long. Apply it, sticky side down, on the white line.

Be sure that there is a gap between the end of the tape and the end of the cell (seen here at the bottom of the image)

Step 4: Apply Tape to the Back

Flip the solar cell over. Repeat for the back of the solar cell.

Be sure that there is a gap between the end of the tape and the end of the cell (seen here at the bottom of the solar cell)

Step 5: Place Plastic Backing

Take one piece of polycarbonate and remove both pieces of protective film from the plastic. Remove the protective paper from one EVA sheet. Put a sheet of EVA exactly on top of the polycarbonate with the bumps facing up. Then place the solar cell assembly on top of that.

Carefully position the solar cell to be in the center on top of the polycarbonate/EVA sheets.

Step 6: Place Plastic Fronting

Remove the backings from the remaining polycarbonate and EVA sheets.
Now place an EVA sheet with the bumps facing down on the assembly. Place the remaining polycarbonate sheet on top of the EVA.

Step 7: Laminate Your Solar Panel

Check that your solar panel is in this order from bottom to top: polycarbonate, EVA (bumps up), solar cell, EVA (bumps down), polycarbonate. Also make sure that your copper tape is sticking straight out of both sides of the panel.

Place the assembly between pieces of parchment paper to keep the laminator's rollers clean from melted EVA, and copper tape adhesive.

Without disturbing the position of the solar cell in the assembly, carefully put the assembly into the laminator in the direction shown.

Step 8: Preparing the Magnets

When working with these magnets it's important for them to be the right direction. Mark one side of a magnet. Now do it on the rest, so that when you stick two magnets together, the marked side always attracts the blank side.

Step 9: Add Magnet to the Front

Put a magnet with the marked side facing up on the panel as shown here.

Now fold the copper tape over. Make sure it tightly contours to the 90 degree angles of the magnet.

Step 10: Add a Magnet to the Back

Now turn the panel over and add another magnet where shown. This magnet should have the marked side facing down.

Now fold the copper tape over. Make sure it tightly contours to the 90 degree angles of the magnet.

Step 11: Check Your New Solar Panel

If you have a multimeter, check the voltage and current output of your new solar panel. Make sure there is a bright light shining on your solar panel. It should have a voltage of 0.55V, and a current between 0.4A and 1.0A depending on how bright your light is.

Step 12: Stack Your New Solar Panels

Because of the design, these solar panels can be stacked for easy transportation. Your panels are approximately the size of a deck of trading cards. I bought this card carrying case at tap plastics.

Step 13: Powering Electronics

If you want to charge your cell phone at 5V with USB, you have a number of options:

With 6-12 panels (3-6V) you can use a board like the Minty Boost or another 3V to 5V boost converter to charge your phone.

With 12 panels (6V), you can use Adafruit's solar lithium polymer charger to very efficiently charge a battery and your phone (may need a 5V LDO Linear Regulator).

With 12-46 panels(6V-23V), you can use a buck converter and my other guide to efficiently charge your devices.

You can run an Arduino by wiring the positive and negative leads of 12 solar panels in series into the barrel-jack of the Arduino.



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33 Discussions


Question 3 months ago on Step 7

Hi, instead of using a eliminator, do u think it's possible to use a heat gun?


1 year ago

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the great instructable! I sourced the parts and built a set of 12 panels using your great directions. A few notes based on my experience to possibly help others along:

1) I spent a few hours on one day cutting the polycarbonate and EVA sheets to size, which really helped me put everything together quickly the second day. Having a big guillotine office style paper cutter really helped.

2) I would just set the newest panel on top of the last complete panel and then drop a magnet into place. It would automatically be attracted into the proper orientation, saving me from the entire step of marking the magnets.

3) The EVA sheet I found on eBay arrived fairly crumpled. If it is inexpensive, try and the the EVA sheet on a roll. The crumpled sheets were a real pain to cut to size and keep flat while getting ready to laminate.

4) It would probably have been slightly cheaper if I had bought some of the parts off AliExpress.

5) In case anyone is wondering, I bought the Amazon brand laminator which worked perfectly well for this project.


3 years ago

This is great! I want to make a large array mounted on a wooden board following this method but I would like to change a couple things. I'm going to cover the exposed copper with liquid electrical tape to prevent corrosion. Where two cells contact each other I'll use snaps that are soldered on, or magnets that stick to a washer that's been soldered on.

A couple questions :
What's the max amperage you think this copper tape can handle?
Have you noticed any flex/cracking in the cells from changes in temperature? I'm guessing your cells are too small for that to be of any effect?
How have they stood up to the elements?

Thanks so much!


3 years ago on Introduction

I was wondering what laminators you can use .. I did not find the cosmo 95 anyware.. I know they are limited in the thickness of items that can be laminated also what heat setting / temp can the cells handle? would any old, cheap laminator work


4 years ago on Introduction

So would it work if i connected them all together, lined them up nice and straight, but instead of laminating them, would they be damaged if i used a food saver vacuum and just spaced them all out so that way i could still fold it up and store it?

great ible by the way


5 years ago

You got my vote! I have been interested / fascinated with making my own phone solar charger for years. I have read so many ibles, & always been afraid to try them because: I either don't understand everything it says to do, I don't have everything needed, I am intimidated by technical terms, where exactly do I get the items needed...
As you can tell, I don't even know enough to be considered a novice! Your ible is so well done with pics, explanations, links, & you use items even I can use!!!!! You have opened the solar world to a lot of people like me. (I don't think I'm the only idiot, I hope I'm not, you don't suppose I'm the


Reply 5 years ago on Step 7

I've seen them at office supply stores or stores that sell home office equipment. I think Amazon also sells them. :)


5 years ago on Introduction

It seems to me that running the PVC assembly thorough the laminator has the risk of cracking the fragil cells.....Have you experienced that? If not, why? precautions?

Very nice concept!

1 reply

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

I was also worried that the cells would crack. I've listened very closely when laminating cells and haven't heard any cracks so far. Also the power output from the panels is only slightly less than the power output from the cells alone, which I attribute to light loss through the plastic, and not to cracking.


5 years ago on Introduction

great project

please share the weight of each cell with and without encapsulation



5 years ago on Introduction

Totally awesome idea. The modular system eliminates the need of a complicated folding mechanism.

However I've some suggestios to improve the design even further:

1. Copper stipes in combination with strong magnets offer a good electrical connection with a low resitance, but it quickly oxidizes resulting in a bad connection over time. Gold plating (can actually be done at home, but I never tried) could be a sollution

2. I like the fact, that the panels can be easiely stacked for transportation/ storage, but it would be realy neat if you could carry your "emergency power kit" right in your wallet. That would require some work though:

2.1 Magnets and credit cards are a bad combination, so solid connectors might be the only option.

2.2 You would have to find cells of the right size to match the size of a standard credit card. Thickness would be also an important aspect

2.3 The most critical problem would definetly be the fragility of the glass. I don't know if it is commercial available, but the glass could be replaced by acrylic or any other kind of plastic

3. As you pointed out in your last step it is almost always required to regulate the voltage produced. That said, the set of solar cells should definitly include some kind of step-up/-down converter to archive the highes efficiency possible. Preferably it should be the same size to stack nicely.

For anybody in interest, I did some research on low-voltage step-up converter IC's about two years ago. I figured out the max1703 (datasheet) is great at boosting low voltages at high output currents at a high efficiency (in 1,2V; out 5V; output current 200mA; efficiency 88%). Sadly the chip isn't cheap at all, it costs 12,33$, all aditional parts excluted. But, if you couse the right parts, the build height can be reduced to 2mm, including a 0.4mm circuitboard. I left this project unfinished, but I save all links (a few dozen) and i'll send them anybody who wants them.

Oh, and thanks for sharing your project with us :D

3 replies

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

2.1 - Mythbusters disproved the magnets vs credit cards myth. You have to have a ridiculously powerful magnet to have any effect on a magnetic card strip and the tiny magnets used here don't fit that bill. :)


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for all of the suggestions!

1. That a really good point. I'll have to investigate how quickly that is happening. Perhaps a cleaning product could also be used to remove the oxidation.

2. Thanks! At a friend's suggestion, I constrained them to fitting in a purse. They'll fit in a pocket as well. With fewer, smaller cells, I could see it fitting in a fatter wallet.

2.3 I've actually looked into thin glass (gorilla glass, et al.) and found them to break the bank compared to the polycarbonate plastic I use, even though the glass provides better scratch protection, and is probably more rigid.

3. That is a great find! It'd definitely be super useful to be able to do low-current 5v things with 3 panels, instead of the 6 minimum needed for the converters I mention.

And finally, it was my pleasure to share! My one hope is that people will go out and make them!


5 years ago on Introduction

Damn good idea! It is seriously time that PV cells started turning up on products in the same way that it was fashionable to fit an LCD clock to everything from pens to rulers. For years now we've had calculaters with PV that work quite well under normal artificial light, so why don't other appliances collect their energy in the same way?


5 years ago on Introduction

I ve used a silver solder connection (ruined a few panels before getting it consistant) then built weatherproof glass faced flat cabinets that could be mounted on a tracking system. I have a 48 volt system that uses a transformer and deep cell marine batteries to supply round the clock power to our hot tub entertainment area outdoors in the villa. Glass cleans up and the system has 6 years of proven supply with no evident power loss or deficit of battery life. The system can be slapped together in a couple of weekends.

1 reply

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Nice! Your setup sounds really awesome! I was shooting for something one could carry in their pocket so picking materials was a tricky balancing act between price, weight, and size. I ended up going with different materials than solar assemblies usually use in an effort to have the panels fit these constraints.