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‘Instant inkjet circuits’ output from your inkjet in under a minute

by Mark Tyson on 12 November 2013, 16:00

Tags: Kickstarter, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)

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A new technique developed by researchers from Georgia Tech, the University of Tokyo and Microsoft Research enables quick and cheap printing of electrical circuits. All an interested person needs is a common-or-garden inkjet printer and a few off-the-shelf materials which shouldn’t add up to costing more than $300, Printed Electronics World reports.

The team based at Georgia Tech used the commonly available printing equipment and materials to print custom designed circuitry onto various materials, both rigid and flexible. Using conductive silver nanoparticle ink circuits could be printed upon materials such as PET film, glossy photo paper and resin coated paper. It is thought that this printing innovation could speed up electronics design prototyping and be a boon for enthusiasts and hackers alike.

“We believe there is an opportunity to introduce a new approach to the rapid prototyping of fully custom-printed circuits,” said Gregory Abowd, Regents' Professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech and an investigator in the study. “Unlike existing methods for printing conductive patterns, conductivity in our technique emerges within a few seconds and without the need for special equipment.”

Previously the silver nanoparticles used to require thermal bonding, which made printing on the aforementioned examples of papers and film plastics impractical. Using a new chemical bonding technique such pitfalls are avoided. However there are some surfaces which aren’t suitable; for instance canvas and magnet sheets should be avoided, we are told.

Once you have your circuit board printed you won’t want to solder in your other components as that could set fire to your paper or plastic. The researchers suggest attaching components using conductive double-sided tape or silver epoxy adhesive. Printed Electronics World says that electronic tinkerers can quickly prototype electronic devices such as calculators, thermostats and others in mere hours.

Steve Hodges, from Microsoft Research, said “Using this technology in the classroom, it would be possible to introduce students to basic electronics principles very cheaply, and they could use a range of electronic components to augment the experience”.

Cartesian EX1 3D circuit board printer

In related news a Kickstarter project for a 3D circuit board printer called the EX¹, by Cartesian Co., has achieved double its funding target of $30,000 in just two days. Here’s what the developers say about their machine “The EX¹ printer is not designed to create any 3D object like normal 3D printers. It’s been crafted and designed for one key purpose, to allow you to 3D print circuit boards, layering silver nanoparticles onto paper or any suitable surface to rapidly create a circuit board.”

The EX¹ can print upon plastic (many types), glass, wood, ceramic, silicone, fabric and paper. It is great for making wearable tech targeted circuitry. Like the silver nanoparticle printing technique outlined above, by the researchers from Georgia Tech, the EX¹ uses chemical bonding of the silver to the printing surface. Two cartridges hold two different substances which react together to leave a silver image firmly upon the material surface. The Cartesian Co. hopes that the printer “will allow people to design and make radically new things”.

At the time of writing the cheapest backing option to receive a printer kit from the EX1 Kickstarter project is $1,499 - and you’ll have to wait until September 2014.

HEXUS Forums :: 9 Comments

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I'm actually more interested in this kind of thing than I've ever been with 3D printing. If only this kind of thing existed back when I was at school learning simple electronics.

Although that being said, I did like pratting about with the soldering irons.
The use of silver seems like it would be awful expensive though. Are there any other conductive inks that could be used in this manner?
The use of silver seems like it would be awful expensive though. Are there any other conductive inks that could be used in this manner?
I don't see why inks containing copper or tin nano-particles instead of silver couldn't work just as well. In fact Sn has been done and it has certain advantages mainly lower melting point.

Many moons ago I used to work in the satellite industry and one of the jobs we occasionally did in the materials lab was to produce prototype PCBs using a photo resist and acid etching method on a copper plated substrate. This shows how it's done although we used different kit and a fluorescent booth

The beauty about this new invention is it can be used on just about any substrate using cheap kit in very little time.
I've been doing this for years. All you need are a blank copper PCB, an iron-on tshirt transfer paper, and a laserjet printer. You design your PCB circuit on your PC, then you print it out on the tshirt transfer using laserjet toner, then you iron on said tshirt transfer onto the PCB, then you submerge the PCB in brick-cleaning acid (hydrochloric acid), and boom, you've printed your own circuit board for less than $10.
Probably much more convenient safer if they skip the acid etching stage,
and it does say printed “in under a minute”.

Conductive ink pens have been around for years - but they're sold as PCB trace repair pens,
recently they seem to be being re-marketed as paper prototyping pens: