Getting Started: Basic Tape-Based Circuit

final
You can use paper and copper tape to create some simple decorative circuits and electronics.

Components:

Tools and other materials:

  • small binder clips
  • pen or pencil
  • clear tape
  • card stock paper
  • scissors
  • xacto knife and cutting mat (optional)
  • tweezers (optional)
  • soldering iron and solder (optional)

basic paper circuit materials

Circuit for turning on one LED
basic circuit diagram

Getting started

tracing battery

To get started, trace out a circle at the corner of the page using your coin-cell battery. Then, trace a second circle to the bottom left of the first circle. This will be where the battery will go in the circuit.

folding corner labelling battery
Fold the corner of the paper over so that the first circle is on top of the second circle. Label the first circle + and the second circle -. This will correspond to the + and – terminals of the battery. In case you were wondering, the + is on the top because the sides of the battery are also +. So when the paper gets folded over on the battery, if the side of the paper touches the battery, it will still be connecting to the right side.

Connecting the components with copper tapedrawing LED

After you’re done labeling the battery, draw a dot where you would like your LED to be. Then label the sides of the dot + and -, this will tell you where to build your circuit and give it a direction for the current to flow.

cutting tape remove paper backing
We will be using copper tape as the “wire” to connect the components in the circuit. Depending on the width of the tape you have, cut the tape in half once or twice until you have the right width (approx. 1/8 inches). Cutting the tape by halves allows you to get more uniform widths for all the pieces of copper tape, as opposed to cutting each piece into width of 1/8 inches individually. After you have finished cutting the pieces, remove the paper backing behind the tape.

folding tape back copper tape sharp turn
Start taping from the middle of the battery circle to ensure that the copper tape will come in contact with the battery. To make sharp turns, tape until you reach the corner where you want to turn. Fold the tape back and then fold the tape down in a 45 degree angle.  (Video here)

curved tape
To make the copper tape curve, pull the back end of the tape to one side as you push the tape down from the front end.  After you are done, use the side of a pen to smooth out the bumps caused by the curving of the tape. (Video here)

Connecting copper tape (by folding)
Another way to make sharp turns is by connecting two separate pieces of tape.

fold tip of copper tape connecting copper tape by folding
Fold the tip of the copper tape back on itself, so that the adhesive is inside.  Then overlap the metal tip with the second piece of copper tape and secure the two pieces together with clear tape.  We cannot simply tape two pieces of copper tape together because the adhesive is not very conductive.  Doing so will result in faulty connections.  Taped connections between copper tapes are especially fragile, so try to have as few of these as possible.

An alternative and much mode robust way to connect two pieces of tape is by soldering.

Adding the LED (with tape)
taping LED T on back of LED
LED’s are very small and sometimes hard to remove from its container. To take out the LED, remove the clear backing on the back of the roll of LED’s. Take a small piece of clear tape and place it over the LED while in its little pocket. Stick the LED on the clear tape and remove the tape with the LED attached.

[diagram of LED direction]

There is a green “T” symbol or triangle on the back of the LED. The bottom side of the “T” or the point of the triangle is the – end of the LED.  The top side of the “T” and the wide side of the triangle is the + end. Connect the – end of the LED to the – terminal of the battery and the + end of the LED to the + terminal of the battery.

This is what a taped LED looks like:
taped LED

LED’s can also be added by soldering.

Putting it all together
basic paper circuit finished
To put everything together, put the battery where – circle is, with the – terminal of the battery facing down and touching the – circle. Then, fold the corner of the page over so the + circle is touching the + terminal of the battery. To secure it, use a clip to hold the battery in place, as shown in the picture above. Now you should see the LED light up and your circuit is now complete!

How to insert the battery:

Troubleshooting

If your LED does not light up, here are a few things you could try:

    • Check the orientation of the battery and the orientation of the LED and make sure that the +/- ends are connected correctly.
    • Check the connections of the circuit. Make sure that the ends of the LED are connected to the copper tape and that different pieces of copper tape are connected either by folding or by soldering.
    • Try using a new battery.

Example Projects:
shooting star