Paper Circuits

Create a drawing that is enhanced with an LED! This is a fun exercise in design and planning as you can base your design around the LED placement. For this example I’ve drawn a unicorn squid. I knew that I wanted to make a creature with a light-up eye, so I decided to combine a squid and a unicorn. After drawing the creature, I determined where the eye should go and then based the circuit path around that placement.

paper circuits supplies laid out on desk

Supplies Needed

How to Make a Paper Circuit

5mm LED and coin cell on paper

lit red LED touching coin cell battery

Step 1: Test the LED and Battery

Locate your 5mm LED and coin cell battery. Wedge the battery between the LED legs with the positive side of the battery (smooth side) touching the positive (longer) leg of the LED. The positive leg of the LED will touch the positive side of the battery, and the negative leg will touch the negative side of the battery (textured side).

drawing a sea monster on paper

Step 2: Draw Your Design

Once you confirm that the battery and LED work, start drawing your design on the paper. Think about how you want to place the LED — part of the fun is thinking about how it fits into your drawing!

Step 3: Mark a Hole for the LED

After drawing your design mark where you want the LED to be placed. In this example, there is a small circle to show where the LED will come through.

red LED poked through eye of drawing

Step 4: Poke the LED Through the Paper

After you decide where the LED goes, poke the legs through the paper. Be careful that you don’t make the hole too big. The LED bulb should remain on the top of the paper and not fall through!

positive and negative LED legs separated on back of drawing

Step 5: Mark the Positive and Negative LED Legs

Carefully flip over your drawing and separate the positive and negative LED legs. In the example, the legs are folded in opposite directions. Once the legs are folded out, mark the positive and negative LED legs. Remember, the positive leg is the longer one. If you’re unsure, use the coin cell battery to test again.

excess paper cut away

Step 6: (Optional) Trim the Excess Paper

Depending on the size and position of your drawing you may want to trim some extra paper. The battery is going to be ideally positioned on a corner of the paper, so if your drawing is far away from the edge you may want to cut some of the paper.

drawing the circuit path with pencil

Step 7: Begin Drawing the Circuit Path

Using a pencil draw out lines from the legs of the LED. This will be the path that the copper tape follows. It connects the LED legs to the battery. Make sure that you keep a gap between the LED legs so that they don’t touch!

pencil and circuit path

Step 8: Continue Drawing the Circuit Path

Continue to draw the circuit path, making sure that you’re extending outward from the LED legs. The paths should head toward a corner of the paper, where the battery will be placed.

adding a coin cell battery to the circuit path

Step 9: Outline the Battery

Once you’ve drawn the circuit path from the LEDs, place the battery on the paper near the corner of the paper. You want to place the negative side down. Leave enough room so that the corner can fold on top of the battery. In the example the paper is folded so that the fold is right on the outside edge of the battery.

folding down the corner of the paper on top of the coin cell battery

Step 10: Fold the Corner Onto the Battery

Once the battery is drawn, fold the corner down. You may need to adjust the battery position at this point.

drawing an outline for the positive side of the coin cell battery

Step 11: Trace the Positive Side of the Battery

Once you’ve confirmed the battery position, trace a spot for the positive side of the battery. It’s a good idea to mark this side with a + symbol so that you remember the battery’s orientation. Notice that the circuit lines extend into the battery outline. This is to ensure that the battery connects to the copper tape.

adding the copper tape to the negative circuit path

Step 12: Measure and Cut the Copper Tape

Note: Do this for one path at a time. In this step, the copper tape is measured and cut for the path extending from the negative leg of the LED.

Try to measure the length required for one side of your circuit path and cut that amount of tape. It’s better to have a longer length than you need as it’s tricky to extend the tape if it’s too short.

flattening the copper tape so it sticks to the paper

folding the copper tape over itself at a corner

extending the copper tape back along the path after the corner fold

Step 13: Add the Copper Tape

Start adding the copper tape to the path. Notice that the tape begins in the middle of the battery outline with the shiny side up. Press the tape down as you go so that it sticks to the paper. The shiny side of the copper tape is conductive, so you need to fold it over itself at the corner so that the shiny sides touch.

When you get to a corner, fold the tape away from the direction you want to turn, forming a sharp angle. Press down the tape onto itself, and then fold it back in the direction of your circuit path.

adding a piece of copper tape to secure the negative LED leg

Step 14: Secure the LED Leg

Make sure that the LED leg lays on top of the shiny side of the copper tape. Once you have it in place, use a small strip of the copper tape to hold it in place. Try to secure it enough so that it won’t move away from the shiny side of the tape on the circuit path.

adding the copper tape to the positive circuit path

adding the copper tape toward the positive battery outline

Step 15: Apply Copper Tape to the Remaining Circuit Path

Repeat the process for the circuit path extending from the other LED leg. In this example, it’s the positive side. Measure how much tape you need and cut a strip, estimating a bit longer than you may need.

Lay down the copper tape in the same way as the previous steps, and extend it along the path until it touches the positive side of the battery.

After finishing this step you’ll have placed copper tape completely along the circuit path, connecting the LED legs to the battery.

closeup of copper tape extending into positive battery outline

Step 16: Check Your Path

Double check that your tape extends into the circle you’ve drawn for the battery. In this example, the tape goes about halfway into where the battery will be placed.

Step 17: Place the Battery and Fold the Corner

Place the battery into the outlined spot, with the positive side facing up. Fold the corner down so that the copper tape touches the top of the battery. At this point your LED should turn on! If not, you may need to adjust the position of the copper tape or the battery.

binder clip holding the battery in place

Step 18: (Optional) Apply Binder Clip

This step is one of the two optional methods for securing the battery. Once the corner is folded, use the binder clip to hold the connection in place. If you do this, the LED will remain lit for as long as the clip holds it in place (and as long as the battery lasts).

taping the corner on the front side of drawing

taping the corner on the back side of the drawing

Step 19: (Optional) Tape the Corner

If you aren’t using a binder clip, you can tape the corner instead. Fold the corner and wrap a strip of masking tape around the corner while applying pressure. Flip the paper over and reinforce the tape by adding more strips. Try to secure it without touching the copper tape.

If you choose this method you can experiment with how tightly you tape the corner. If you keep it looser you can then treat the corner as a pushbutton where the LED lights up when someone applies pressure!

sea monster with lit red LED with battery held in place by tape

Step 20: Admire Your Design!

You may need to make some adjustments to the battery and circuit, but at this point your paper circuit drawing is complete!