back to article Draw and fold working circuitry with the silver-ink pen

Top boffins in Illinois have invented a truly joyous piece of kit: a pen full of silver ink which can be used to draw functioning electronic circuitry on paper, wood (including – of course – breadboards) and other suitable surfaces. "Pen-based printing allows one to construct electronic devices 'on-the-fly'," says Jennifer …


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  1. T.a.f.T.

    Plotters return?

    Do you think this will mean data plotters will make a come back, these often could take standard pens in them. Two or three pens of different thickness's in a plotter machine and I could print my circuits directly onto paper or read board :-)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unless I am missing something

    They are re-inventing the wheel. I have used one of these for years to repair circuit breaks, but it could just as easily be used to draw whole circuits

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge


      Used one of these at least 20 years ago. Not new at all (well not in the UK anyway!).

    2. Annihilator


      I'm assuming the only difference is the "flexible" nature of the dried product. Otherwise I wondereded exactly the same as you - except it's in ballpoint form unlike the ones I've used in the past.

  3. Thecowking

    I want one!

    When I can stamp a microprocessor at appropriate parts of the paper too I'll be even happier.

    This is the second step towards buying a touch sensitive sheet of e-ink paper and making it into a paper thin computer!

    Step one was those printable batteries

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      You might need a finer tip then

      Given the pin spacing of your average SMD packaged processor you won't get far with a 2 mm thick tip..

  4. Jaap stoel

    As James Bond said...

    The writing's on the wall.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      but then James Bond also used to say

      I've been bashing my head against a brick book.

  5. Graham Bartlett

    Paging Bob Howard

    Or of course it can be used for impromptu summoning of demons, portals to another universe, or just a *really* good lock on a hotel door.

    (Hmm, does the Laundry fall under "divine being", "spawn of satan", "nuclear fireball", "troll", "black helicopter", "boffin", "alien" or "big brother"?)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The Laundry?

      All of the above, obviously...

  6. Mage

    not new

    Fibre tip silver loaded pens available for years.

    Main use is repair of tracks.

    Issues with use:

    * Pen dries out.

    * Silver is very expensive

    * current is very limited

    * Adding the actual resistors, capacitors, ICs. etc., Gluing them on sort of works, but any flex at all the connect between track and pin cracks.

    * need to solder copper wires or printed copper track for power supply pins, connectors, LED or speaker drive etc...

    * Wood, paper, cotton etc are useless. They become too conductive if there is any moisture about.

    * I first tried this in late 1970s

    * Still successfully repairing damaged tracks on real PCBs.

    So this sounds more like a pair of Art students rather than real Boffins or Engineers.

    Yes, this would be great. Especially if the printer cartridge could be filled with silver ink (there ARE inkjets that can do this) and a suitable substrate to print on,

  7. Pypes

    Conductive ink / paint

    Has been around for donkeys years, how is this stuff any different?

  8. Alan Firminger

    "disposable electronics"

    Based on silver !

  9. Jon Press

    If you don't need the flexibility...

    ... just go to Maplin:

    I take it the author doesn't have a subscription to the journal either or perhaps we might have got to know how the new magic material is different...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Sounds remarkably similar to the silver ink pens that have been available for years to repair heating elements in car windows, but are equally at home repairing electronic circuits, as I've proven myself a few times.

  11. Linker3000

    Been done before

    I guess they don't read the "Evil Mad Scientist" web site:

    Dated 2009

  12. Scott Thomson

    Is there another link?

    I'd like to find out more but don't want to have to sign up/pay to read about it.

  13. James Hughes 1

    I'm waiting

    For stick on components to go with the circuit pens. Imagine buying a Panini style pack of stickers and making you own electronics....

  14. vagabondo

    is this new?

    What is difference between this and the silver conductive pens that I have been using for about 20 years? Very handy for PCB repairs and minor re-working. Is the advance in flexibility/foldability/durability?

  15. Anonymous Coward

    So if I draw a circuit symbols...

    ...diodes, transistors, etc, will it make them too? Now pop back when you've invented that, and I'll take a dozen.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Now that's a great idea

      Voodo Pen - draw your symbols and they become real.

      (which way does that gate go?)

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Voodo Pen been done, hasn't it?


    2. Chris Holford

      ' my young days....hrrumph etc etc'

      Somewhere I've got a book from the 1920s on 'wireless' (the big wooden box sort) with do-it-yourself instructions. -Make a resistor by drawing a line with a graphite pencil on a piece of dry smooth oak. - Soft pencil ;6B for low resistance, hard pencil 6H for high resistance. Make a microphone by stretching a paper diaphragm over the top of an empty cocoa tin and draw a line across it with a pencil. 'condensers' were made from layers of foil from chocolate bar wrapping separated by layers of waxed paper.

  16. G C M Roberts


    Would there be a copper version in the pipeline?

    From what I remember about the elements, silver is a bucket load more pricey and copper has a good enough conductivity for most applications.

    Mine's the very dusty A level lab coat

  17. Prof

    Old hat surely

    Conductive pens are nothing new. These scientists must be living in a bubble. What's the point of inventing something you can already buy at Maplin?

    In fact, they've been on the shelf in Halfords for decades - to fix scratched heated-rear-windscreen wires.

  18. Adam Foxton

    Hasn't this been around for years?

    As in this stuff:

    I've been using similar things to that to fix (and prototype) PCBs with conductive silver inks/paints for a good few years, and conductive ink's also been useful for model making (why weaken thin plastic parts with grooves for wires when you can run a conductive path under the paint? :D). Even the multilayer thing doesn't seem new- a quick application of non-conductive paint or lacquer meant you could draw over the top of existing traces.

    Or maybe it's just news because it's flexible? I've never tried to flex parts with conductive ink on.

  19. Filippo Silver badge

    sufficiently advanced technology

    I want this to come in a quill and ink format, and working on scrolls.

  20. Trollslayer
    Thumb Down

    Check first

    As others have said, there is nothing here that soudns any better than existing pens so why?

  21. Anonymous Coward

    I too...

    Would like to point out that this has been available for years.

    I have no prior knowledge of this, I just wanted to appear smug

  22. M Gale

    I was going to mention how conductive ink has been around for decades...

    ...but it seems a lot of other people have had the same idea. Instead I'll just say:

    Ooh, I see this paywall doesn't send the whole article and depend on the browser behaving properly to stop you seeing it. Fancy that! Murdoch, take note please.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    I notice they're merkins ...

    contrary to popular belief, merkia isn't always up to speed with technology. They may have invented autoflushing toilets, but didn't get teletext till the 1990s.

    So I could easily believe they are unaware of the pens we've had for years to repair ciruit boards.

    Their triumph is in selling it to the world as a US invention.

    1. Aaron Em

      Your US-punching reflex has led you astray

      We've had conductive ink pens in the US for decades, too; the supposedly big deal here is that this one is flexible.

      And who'd want teletext? Teletext is crap, barely even suitable for flushing down those automatic toilets y'all had to learn from us how to make. We got the *Web* in the 1990s.

    2. It wasnt me
      Thumb Down

      A mistake in your post.

      "Their triumph is in selling it to the world as a US invention."

      No, their triumph will be patenting it, then suing the rest of the manufacturers for infringment. Even though there is demonstrably 30 years of prior art.

  24. Zog The Undeniable

    How do we know

    It won't turn into Terminator T-1000 in the bottle?

    Oh, and good luck drawing a transistor, although you could probably make a resistor if you had a really fine nib.

  25. Zog The Undeniable

    More prior art

    Who else overclocked their Socket A AMD Athlon using a 2B pencil to bridge the relevant contacts and allow the multiplier to be changed?

  26. Jim Carter

    We've all seen it before

    But capacitors and resistors should be easy enough to mimic just by altering the width of the drawn line, right?

    1. Pypes


      At microwave frequencies (well, capacitors and inductors rather)

      The idea of whipping out a pen and drawing a filter does seem pretty cool.

  27. stratofish


    Not the same as the ones available for decades -

    "Better still, the inky circuit path is flexible, allowing the surface it is drawn on to be deformed or folded without affecting performance."

    As is hinted at in the title and more than once in the text.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Fail yourself

      Since the article doesn't make any mention of the existing pens/inks, it's incorrect to assume that any reference to the useful characteristics of this new pen/ink must therefore be an improvement over the existing ones - the way that paragraph was worded only suggested to me that having flexible ink is a nice to have feature for conductive ink above and beyond it merely being conductive, rather than a characteristic exclusive to this particular version of conductive ink.

      And after one very quick Google reveals there are at least two European manufacturers of silver conductive ink pens useable on flexible substrates, it suggests these Merkin "boffins" really have done nothing more than reinvent a round load bearing device of use in the transportation industry...

  28. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    On the other hand...

    Have we finally arrived at the time whereby one can draw a circuit on one's fondleslab-of-choice, attach an input and an output, and have the circuit emulated in real time on live input?

    Seems more useful - at least at audio frequencies - than windscreen heater repair gunk.

    1. It wasnt me
      Thumb Down

      No we havent.

      At least not on the fondleslab of choice, should that be the ipad. Apple wont let you near the I/O.

      Would be a nice toy on the USB ports of Android slabs though.

  29. Nick Galloway

    Terror tool

    So you are telling me that the Taliban and Al Qaeda can now make really high tech explosive devices using this fabulous little pen and empty toilet roll inners during the flight from here to who knows where. Yet another thing we won't be allowed to travel with in hand luggage!?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      >"So you are telling me"

      No, that's the voices in your head.

  30. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    draw yourself circuits. Talked about since at *least* the late 70's.

    The conduction path is only *part* of the problem.

    Note that in *theory* the inks (or rather a basis for development) exist in the thick film hybrid industry. Both resistive and insulating ones exist so screen printed resistors (and to a lesser extent) capacitors have been available for decades.

    *But* the substrates have usually been rigid ceramic and the firing temperatures have been in the 700-800c range (not really home oven use. Not even SMT hot level).

    No one ever seems to have *quite* got round to making a semiconductor ink, which would be the *key* bit to making active devices like transistors.

    Zinc Oxide? Titanium Oxide? (fairly cheap and classed as non toxic but I'm sure it is a semi-conductor) Cadmium Sulfide or Selenide? The last too are pretty toxic but definitely are.

    Mine would be the one with a rather elderly back copy of Practical Electronics in the pocket.

  31. Graham Bartlett

    Further fail

    Rollerball. Oops.

    Any pen with a ball nib (Bic biros upwards) requires significant friction on the writing surface to roll the ball. Smooth surface - no writing. Not very clever.

    Oh, and GCM Roberts: whatever conductive stuff you're using needs to stay conductive while it's in the pen. The problem with copper is that it's highly reactive and forms a surface layer of (insulating) oxide within minutes. So your bits of copper are not going to be talking to each other. Silver is very unreactive (it takes months to get a decent layer of oxide), which gives you a reasonable shelf life for the stuff. Gold or platinum would be even better, of course, but that would be a bit more expensive.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old tech.

    Been doing this for almost 20 years with products already available.

  33. Gnoitall

    This press release was a triumph

    I'm making a note here -- HUGE SUCCESS

    Of course, it's a triumph of public relations technology: the ability to re-announce 40-year-old technology and make the technical press believe it.

  34. John F***ing Stepp


    You can draw a Hall effect transistor (well some of it) in graphite.

    Still need the magnetic source though (coil of wire around a thumb tack).

    This is, of course, a very low frequency device.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Niche market ?

    Load the ink into a tattoo artist's needle and perhaps you can create conductive designs on skin too.

    This might be one way to solve the iPhone "grip of death" issue. Strapline borrowed from the Xbox Kinect: "You Are The Antenna"...

    Possible drawbacks include increased risk of lightning strikes, and allergic reactions for werewolves.

  36. Stevie


    Conductive paint has been around since I were a lad, and y' couldn't paint valves any more than y' can draw transistors wi' this bloody thing.

    "Circuitry" indeed.

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