Pulp Based Computing: Paper With Embedded LEDs




Introduction: Pulp Based Computing: Paper With Embedded LEDs

The MIT media lab has been experimenting with pulp based computing (making paper with embedded electronics):

Integrating electronics into materials such as paper bring up interesting questions about what computing in the future will look like.  

This tutorial shows you how to make your own paper with embedded LEDs.  It's easy and fun!

Required Materials:
 • paper to tear up to form substrate
 • window screen cut to approximately 4 x 6 inches (or desired size of paper) 
 • tub to put pulp/water in
 • blender to create pulp
 • conductive materials to create conductive paths within paper (22 gauge
non-insulated wire, conductive thread: http://www.sparkfun.com/products/8549,
twisted tinfoil, etc [conductive thread works best])
• LEDs: http://www.ledshoppe.com/led5mm.htm
• 3v battery

Reference Videos:

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Step 1: Prepare the Paper

First, tear or cut paper into small (1 inch approximate) squares. Then reduce paper to a pulp. This can be done either by combining with water and then boiling or allowing to sit in water for a few days.

Step 2: Prepare Your LEDs

Next, while your paper is turning to pulp, prepare your LEDs. LEDs are polar, meaning that one side is positive and one side is negative. The longer side is the positive side.

Take your LEDs and curl the ends with small pliers to make hooks. Make sure to keep the positive side slightly longer, so that you will be able to tell which side is positive/negative. Then tie conductive thread onto each side (or wrap wire, aluminum foil, etc.), wrapping it tightly multiple times around the hooks multiple times to ensure a good connection.

Step 3: Make Paper Pulp

Once paper has started to deteriorate, combine with more water, and pulse in a blender until it is a pulp like consistency (like guacamole).

Step 4: Pour the Pulp Into a Tub

Pour the pulp into a 2 – 3 inch deep pan or tub. Combine with more water until it’s the consistency of soup.

Step 5: Dip Your Screen Into the Paper

Dip your screen into the paper pulp mixture.

Step 6: Flip the Screen & Squeeze Out Water

Flip the screen onto a counter (or cookie dough sheet for mobility) paper-side-down.

Pat dry with a towel. Remove as much water as possible.

Step 7: Peel Off Screen

Peel back the screen. (You now have a piece of paper!)

If your paper doesn't seem thick enough, repeat steps 3 - 7 until its the desired thickness (keep in mind you'll be adding another layer after you place the electronics).

Step 8: Lay Out Your Electronics

Lay out your electronics. In the picture to the left I have three LEDs. Make sure the wires of all the positives are together, and the wires of all the negatives are together. Below are two diagrams, one for just one LED, and one for three.

Diagram for one light.

Diagram for 3 lights.

These diagrams are just guides, feel free to rearrange the placements of lights and wires, just be sure all of the positives stay together, and all the negatives stay together, and the positives and negatives are never touching.

Step 9: Add Another Layer of Paper

Dip the screen and lay another layer of paper on top of the electronics. Repeat until the electronics are fully enclosed. Then allow the paper to dry. While still damp, use a knife or other flat object to remove the paper from the counter or cookie sheet. Then continue to dry. You can also use a hair dryer to speed up the process. To make it light up, connect a battery. Do this by touching the positive end of your string to the positive part of the battery and vice versa with the negative side.

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    4 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I cant imagine what to do with 3 LEDs embedded in a piece of paper, but embedding tiny electronics in paper seems to be an interesting concept, beside of noizy greeting cards. I imagine a Harry Potter newspaper with embedded videos or moving pictures.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I can imagine a small set of electromagnet coils hidden inside and a magnetic ball rolling around between them on top of the paper....


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice i'ble. (Only in step 8, the diagrams don't show up for me where they should - there's just some white space)

    Of course, 3 LEDs are kind of pointless (no offence meant), but definitely an interesting idea for some design objects. I can imagine a free hanging (maybe somehow curved) RGB-LED-matrix showing some data or just a mood light, the when switched-off has a non-technical appeal.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I totally agree with you about the pointlessness of 3 LEDs. This instructable/project was just to introduce the simple process of embedding LEDs within paper. I hope soon to do a project that integrates them in a more aesthetically pleasing / functional way. Thanks for the thought!