I’ve spent a considerable portion of my time in the past couple of years helping to develop products for Chibitronics, a startup that blends two unlikely bedfellows together, papercraft and electronics, to create paper circuits. The primary emphasis of Chibitronics is creating a more friendly way to learn, design and create electronics. Because of this, much of the material relating to paper circuitry on the Internet looks more like art than electronics.

This belies the capabilities of paper as an engineering material. Google’s Cardboard and Nintendo’s Labo are mainstream examples of paper’s extraordinary capability as an engineering material. Prof. Nadya Peek at the University of Washington has written several academic papers on building multi-axis CNC machines using paper products.

A couple points to clarify up top: for the sake of brevity, I will use the term “paper” instead of “paper and/or cardboard”, analogous to how one would refer to a PCB made of Kapton or FR-4 both as printed circuits. Furthermore, while Chibitronics focuses on providing solderless solutions for younger learners, the techniques shared in this post targets engineers who have the skill to routinely assemble modern SMT designs. I assume you’ve got a good soldering iron and a microscope, and you know how to use both (or perhaps are up to the challenge of learning how to use them better).

The Argument for Paper
For prototyping and learning the principles of electronics, paper has several distinct advantages over breadboards.

The primary advantage of a breadboard is that it’s solderless, and as a result you can re-use the components. This made a lot more sense back when a 6502 used to cost $25 in 1975 ($115 in 2018 money), but today the wire jumper kit for a solderless breadboard can cost more than the microcontroller. Considering also the relatively high cost of a solderless breadboard and the relatively low value of the parts, you’re probably better off buying extra parts and soldering them to disposable paper substrates than purchasing a re-usable solderless breadboard for all but the simplest of circuits.”

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