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Printing Inkjet-Based Circuits

A team of researchers from Georgia Tech, the University of Tokyo, and Microsoft Research have developed a novel method to rapidly and inexpensively make electrical circuits by printing them with commodity inkjet printers and off-the-shelf materials. For about $300 in equipment costs, anyone can produce working electrical circuits in the 60 seconds it takes to print them.

The technique, called instant inkjet circuits, allows the printing of arbitrary-shaped conductors onto rigid or flexible materials and could advance the prototyping skills of non-technical enthusiasts and novice hackers.

Recent advances in chemically bonding metal particles allowed the researchers to use silver nanoparticle ink to print the circuits and avoid thermal bonding, or sintering, a time-consuming and potentially damaging technique due to the heat. Printing the circuits on resin-coated paper, PET film and glossy photo paper worked best. Researchers also made a list of materials to avoid, such as canvas cloths and magnet sheets.

The method can be used to print circuit boards, sensors, and antennas. To make the technique possible, they optimized commercially available tools and materials including printers, adhesive tape, and silver ink. Designing the circuit itself was accomplished with desktop drawing software, and even a photocopy of a drawing can produce a working circuit.

Once printed, the circuits can be attached to electronic components using conductive double-sided tape or silver epoxy adhesive, allowing full-scale prototyping in mere hours. The homemade circuits might allow tinkerers to quickly prototype crude calculators, thermostat controls, battery chargers or any number of electronic devices.

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