Circuit Stickers and Circuit Scribe: DIY Maker Circuitry

By Wesley Fenlon

Bunnie Huang's new hardware project is Circuit Stickers, flexible, programmable circuitry.

It's a very good time to be interested in circuitry and crafting, especially if you have only an amateur understanding of how circuitry works. Remember the pen we covered a couple years ago that could draw silver circuitry with a specialized ink? That invention, now dubbed Circuit Scribe, hit Kickstarter on November 20th and has already raised over $100,000. And it's not the only new circuitry crafting project this week. Hardware expert Bunnie Huang and MIT Media Lab grad student Jie Qi just launched Circuit Stickers, which offer a similar approachability to simple circuit design. But, obviously, with stickers instead of ink.

Photo credit: Chibitronics

Huang delved into the technology behind Circuit Stickers a bit on his blog. "Circuit stickers are peel-and-stick electronics for crafting circuits," he begins. "In a nutshell, they are circuits on a flexible polyimide substrate with anisotropic tape (or “Z-tape” — so named because electricity only flows vertically through the tape, and not laterally) laminated on the back. The use of Z-tape allows one to assemble circuits without the need for high-temperature processing (e.g. soldering or reflow), thereby enabling compatibility with heat-sensitive and/or pliable material substrates, such as paper, fabric, plastic, and so forth."

Huang's approach to the project is interesting, because he wasn't just out to create fun crafting electronics. He had a theory to prove--that developing new manufacturing processes isn't as expensive as people often assume or claim. To give some context, consumer electronics are cheap and efficient to produce when they're using established materials and processes, like ABS injection molding or rigid printed circuit boards. Using new materials means new production processes, which we usually assume is an expensive prospect. Huang's theory was that it was only expensive to pay an expert to figure out those new processes; if he was willing to go onto the factory floor himself to do the work, it would be cheap.

It's an important theory because a product like Circuit Stickers thrives on being cheap. Huang developed a new manufacturing process for the flexible circuitry, and voila--Circuit Stickers are now cheap enough for DIYers.

Both Circuit Scribe and Circuit Stickers come with some extras for experimenting with circuitry. LED lights are the most basic addition. Circuit Scribe provides some equipment to help makers connect their silver circuitry to an Arduino; Huang and Jie Qi created a microcontroller sticker with a touch sensor that can be programmed by more advanced users. The Circuit Stickers can also be attached to anything conductive, not just the simple copper tape that comes with the kits.

Want to pick up either project for a little DIY fun? Check out the Circuit Scribe kickstarter and the Circuit Sticker crowdfunding page. Both can be pre-ordered in a variety of kits.