Electronics

New technique to print ink-based electrical circuitry using a desktop printer

Georgia Tech's printed circuit technique could make it cheaper and faster for professionals and DIYers to create prototype electronics
Georgia Tech's printed circuit technique could make it cheaper and faster for professionals and DIYers to create prototype electronics
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Silver nanoparticle ink is injected into ink cartridges for an off-the-shelf printer to create cheap, foldable circuitry
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Silver nanoparticle ink is injected into ink cartridges for an off-the-shelf printer to create cheap, foldable circuitry
The circuits are bendable, making them ideal for tight spaces
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The circuits are bendable, making them ideal for tight spaces
Georgia Tech's printed circuit technique could make it cheaper and faster for professionals and DIYers to create prototype electronics
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Georgia Tech's printed circuit technique could make it cheaper and faster for professionals and DIYers to create prototype electronics

Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a new technique to print advanced, ink-based electrical circuitry on a desktop printer. Using about US$300 worth of off-the-shelf equipment, the researchers were able to print arbitrary-shaped circuits on resin-coated paper, PET film, and glossy photo paper with silver nanoparticle ink.

Printing circuits isn’t entirely new, but the team’s technique makes the process faster and cheaper. Similar to graphene-based printing done at the Max Planck Institute, Georgia Tech's method uses empty ink jet cartridges, except it does not require heating for ink placement.

Initiated by the University of Tokyo and with Microsoft Research contributing to the concept, Georgia Tech took the reins of the project building on its materials and circuit design expertise previously seen in the creation of paper-based sensors for explosives. The team was able to print ink-based circuits in as little as 60 seconds.

“We believe there is an opportunity to introduce a new approach to the rapid prototyping of fully custom-printed circuits,” says Gregory Abowd, Regents’ Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing. “The tools needed to create electronic circuitry are now at the point where anyone can afford to experiment. This is probably more true with professionals at the moment than it is for everyday consumers.”

Abowd told us he believes the research will directly impact professionals and university researchers who want to experiment with novel forms of interactive electronics. “As one of my students, Aman Parnami, explained, this is part of the beginning of an era of personal fabrication," he said. Yoshihiro Kawahara from the University of Tokyo added, “Even for professional electrical engineers, the emergence of the new chemical sintering (virtually sintering free) ink is big news.”

Silver nanoparticle ink is injected into ink cartridges for an off-the-shelf printer to create cheap, foldable circuitry
Silver nanoparticle ink is injected into ink cartridges for an off-the-shelf printer to create cheap, foldable circuitry

The technique is meant to be accessible to makers and DIYers, as well. “Ink cost is $200 per a bottle (100 ml), the printer is about $80, and empty cartridges are $10 or so,” Kawahara explains. A bottle of the ink, available from Mitsubishi Imaging, covers more than 10 m2, which the researchers say is as good as particle-free silver ink, which requires more complex machinery to get the ink on paper. The technique is not compatible with canvas cloths and magnet sheets.

The printed circuits can be attached to electrical designs and components using conductive double-sided tape or silver epoxy adhesive. The researchers demonstrated the quality of their printed circuit by attaching a capacitive ribbon containing their inkjet-printed circuits to a glass. After connecting the contoured circuitry to a microcontroller, they were able to measure the liquid contents of the glass.

The fabrication techniques are explained in a paper published by the researchers, and all of the supplies are off-the-shelf.

Source: Georgia Tech

6 comments
Simon Sammut
I would have killed for this in my diy days..alas time is too limited now...
Abdul Khaliq
How would you solder an IC to a piece of paper or plastic? Wont it just melt/burn the paper?
William Carr
@Abdul You’d glue surface mount components on with conductive glue. That’s already available.
Mr E
Just use a little silver epoxy to fasten the components, apply power and watch the bright idea you had 2 hours ago either crash and burn or actually work. This is almost as easy as spice simulation. The main difference is that spice simulations don't let the smoke out and these will melt down the substrate. I'm sure there will be some advances and improvements as this moves forward. It would be nice to be able to use a different ink-jet cartridge to put down the silver epoxy instead of trying to make a stencil as we do with solder paste. Then place the components. Instead of hot air you could use a silver epoxy with UV curing. I look forward to trying this Our technicians routinely hand place 64 pin micros and use hot air to reflow the solder paste so this looks like an even easier method
Gregg Eshelman
Print on paper and if your design goes up in smoke, the entire PCP (Printed Circuit Paper) goes up in smoke, and probably flames, with it. What would be useful for small boards, about the size of a CD-ROM, is to make a board carrier for inkjet printers that can print onto discs. The print doesn't have to be constrained to the size and shape of a disc, that's constrained by the disc printing software. General purpose graphics software can print anywhere within the area of the disc carrier that passes beneath the printer nozzles. Come up with heat resistant cardboard and ink that can withstand being soldered, especially if a cheap but low temp solder (but still high enough it won't melt inside a closed black car parked in in the sun), combine with printable OLED technology and the result... Televisions on cereal boxes, like Moonies in The Jetsons, but the box TV only receives the Nimbus the Great show.
CarolRasmussen
I know this is an old article, but incase anyone is still watching, do you know how fine of trace space this technique can handle? i.e. 2/2 4/4 mils? Also, do you know the thickness capability of the ink, i.e. how many microns plating?
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