Paper Circuits Intro Template + Tunnel Books

I designed a new paper circuit template for a workshop at Austin Book Arts Center last weekend, and was really happy with how it worked out as an intro skill-building activity. I think it’s the most successful I’ve been so far at bringing a group of electronics beginners to a point where they felt comfortable designing their own circuits a few hours later. More info below about how I used it (and then some lovely tunnel books, which I will write more about later!)

It’s designed around the following principles that have started to emerge from my teaching techniques:

  • rather than one massive example, start with an idea small enough for students to get their head around and then teach techniques for adding on.
  • Scaffold early success and lower stress by anticipating and explicitly teaching the whole group how to fix and troubleshoot.
  • Support agency and individual decision-making by teaching multiple options for how to do something and discussing tradeoffs.

Before starting on the template, we practice folding corners using blue tape (an excellent strategy I learned from David Cole of NEXMAP). That way, students can practice the technique using a more forgiving material.

Then, students create a single LED circuit with a Chibitronics LED. Exciting moment as lights turn on! The path here is intentionally laid out to make it easier to explain how electricity flows around the circuit. I sometimes find that students have trouble visualizing it as a circular route if it is laid out in parallel lines.

Second, we add another part to the circuit. Students use a conductive fabric tape patch to connect a new branch. That way, they learn right away how to branch and fix circuits, don’t get confused by overlapping-but-not-connected tape, and don’t feel like they’ve done it wrong if they need to patch a circuit.

Next, students learn an alternative way to patch a circuit: by folding over the end of the copper tape and covering with clear tape. I also show them that if they don’t tape it down, it becomes a switch to control a specific part of their circuit.

Then, we add surface mount LEDs in two different ways: using scotch tape, and then by soldering. Starting with the tape is helpful: students pick up the LEDs with the tape so they are easier to maneuver and look at. They can leave the battery connected in order to get feedback about whether their LED is positioned correctly before they commit to sticking it down. Once they understand the shape and position of the surface mount LEDs, they have a better idea how to position it for the trickier soldering version.

Then, we add a switch! Rather than building this into the template from the get go, I show them how to cut a gap into their circuit, and then add copper tape to a small flap to close this new gap. I think the concept of a switch is a lot easier to understand if you show it as breaking an existing circuit.

To put the template in context, it was designed as a swatch to help students learn techniques in a form they could take home and refer back to. After the template practice, each student designed a unique circuit to light up a tunnel book!

Here are some of the amazing tunnel books the students made:

Props: Jie Qi taught me lots of these individual techniques, including how to use scotch tape in a bunch of useful ways. I used one of her editable Circuit Sketchbook templates as a starting point. The three-ways-to-connect-an-LED comes from a template Becca Rose Glowacki and I developed for the original tunnel books workshop.

Also: the conductive fabric tape patches are a new release from Chibitronics and they are AWESOME. They not only make super easy patches for fixing and branching circuits, they also make excellent hinges for any part of a paper circuit that needs to fold without cracking. Great for books and pop-ups.

Feel free to use the template! You can download it here.

Flip-Open Book Tutorial

I don’t know where this book structure comes from or who invented it; let me know if you do! I learned it many years ago by reverse-engineering a greeting card. It flips open in a very satisfying way. Here’s how to make it.


six 2 inch squares in one color, 5 in another, another 5 in a 3rd color. Pleated sheet, two square bookboard covers with paper on top.

You can make these as long as you want, and you can play with the spacing between panels by making the spine strip wider or narrower relative to the pages. The pieces in this example are:

  • Five 2″ x 2″ squares in one color
  • Five 2″ by 2″ squares in another color
  • Six 2″ by 2″ squares in a third color
  • One 7.5″ x 1.5″ strip for the spine, with vertical mountain folds every 3/4″ and diagonal valley folds at 1.5″ intervals
  • Two book board squares slightly larger than the pages and covered with decorative paper on one side, wrapped around to the back.

Step 1: Fold the spine strip. Narrow dotted lines are valley folds, wide ones are mountain folds.

Step 2: Add glue and place pages. You can do this in any order that works for you, but I’ve drawn it out in two steps here so you can see where they are attached more easily. Personally I like to add these one layer at a time, folding the spine strip and pressing in between layers to make sure the pages align and give the glue time to dry.

The center pages, with glue placement marked:

The side pages:

The full structure assembled:

Step 3: Fold it all up! I haven’t figured out a great way to explain how to do it (it sure takes longer to fold up than to open!) but here are a few pictures that may help. Basically, for each spread, fold left and right pages down first, tucking them into the spine folds. Then the center page will naturally follow, and you can work on the next spread.


Step 4: If desired, add covers. I used book board cut slightly larger than the pages covered with decorative paper. You could also add a ribbon to keep it closed.

You can change the spacing of the panels by varying the width of the spine strip. The middle illustration below uses the same proportions as the tutorial. The top illustration has the same pages and folds, but a wider spine strip. The bottom illustration also has the same pages and folds, but this time a narrower spine strip.

Coptic bound mini photo album, craft cutter embossing

I made a tiny coptic bound book to use as a photo album only to discover that it puffed up in a not very nice way once I glued all the photos in it. After examining some photo albums and investigating techniques online, I realized that they include an extra layer in the binding to accommodate the thickness of the photos. Here are some photos and notes on the technique that ended up working for me.

final open close up

Fold cardstock in half with the grain:

fold in half

Score a line about 1/8″ from the folded edge, fold that edge over and glue it flat:

score fold over

Cut into folios the size of your book then collect into signatures. Each signature contains two folios. The outer one has the extra paper at the fold. The inner one is simply folded over.

contents of signatures

all the signatures

To make an embossed cover, I used a craft cutter to cut out adhesive backed magnet sheet and adhered the letters to the bookboard cover. Pencils lines help get it straight! Then I covered it all with decorative paper and used a bone folder to smooth the paper gently around and inside the letters.

cutting magnet sheets on silhouette zoomed out name on magnet sheet

name on cardboard

glue cover paper

cover paper inside cover

I forgot to take a picture of the cover before I put it all together so this photo skips ahead a bit but it shows the embossing. Your design or lettering could stand out a bit more on with a solid color for the paper, but I was going for subtle and textural (or at least I say that now :).

final from top blurry 2

Poke holes in each signature with an awl, using a folded template to keep them all the same.

punching holes stack of signatures with holes

Use a paired-needle coptic stitch to attach signatures and covers. I’m going to recommend this tutorial because it is super gorgeous.

adding the first signature

final spine

Here’s the finished book again, just awaiting being filled with photos:

final open close up