Paper Electronics: E-luminated Tunnel Book Class

A few weeks ago, I took a paper electronics class at the San Francisco Center for the Book to make an e-luminated tunnel book.  I had never heard of paper electronics until I took this class.  It is a way of making interactive artwork that moves, lights up, makes sound, plays music, etc.

Jie Qi, the artist who created the artwork shown in the preceding video happens to be a friend of Natalie Freed, one of the instructors of this class.  Along with Becca Rose, the two of them walked us through the process of creating our own e-luminated tunnel book.

The first thing we did was to create the accordion sides for our tunnel book:

Accordion folded sides of tunnel book

Accordion folded sides of tunnel book

Unlike the tunnel book I had made at Castle in the Air with Alice Armstrong – read about it here – in which each of the sides was constructed out of several pieces of folded paper attached to each other, each side of our e-luminated tunnel book was constructed out of a single sheet of cardstock.  However, like that earlier tunnel book, we made the accordion folds along the grain of the paper.

Next, we created a template for the notches that would be cut out from the sides for the panels of our book:

Template for notches in sides of tunnel book

Template for notches in sides of tunnel book

We used the template to draw and cut out notches in the valley folds of the accordion sides:

Drawing notches on side of tunnel book

Drawing notches in the valley folds of accordion side

Notches cut out

Notches cut out

(If you recall, when I created my first tunnel book with Alice, each of the panels had sizable borders that were used to attach to the accordion folded sides, so there was no need to cut out any notches, but because of the way this tunnel book was constructed, notches were needed to attach our panels, as you will see.)

Next, we glued a piece of cardstock to the back of the pre-printed circuitry pattern and created the parallel circuitry for our tunnel book out of copper tape and a coin cell battery.  (We ended up folding back part of the pattern to create a smaller panel.)  The negative and positive were taped down so they ran parallel to each other.

This is the pattern we used:

Pattern for parallel circuitry for tunnel book

Pattern for parallel circuitry for tunnel book

The circuitry pattern helps determine the pattern for the electronics – in this case, LED lights – i.e., how the electronics are spaced out.

Parallel copper tapes not close enough

Laying down the copper tape for the circuitry pattern

(Some of the students cut the copper tape in half, creating narrower pieces of tape for a more streamlined look.)

Folding the tape to create the corners was a little tricky, and my first attempts were sloppy:

Sloppy corners of copper tape circuitry

Sloppy folded corners

I got better as I went on:

Folded corners of copper tape

What I didn’t realize when I was creating my circuitry was that the copper tape running parallel to each other (the negative and positive) had to be close enough so that the LEDs could bridge the gap in order for them to light up.  Since I hadn’t done a great job taping down my copper strips, I had to close some of the gaps by adding more copper tape and soldering it to the the copper that had already been taped down.

Adding additional copper tape to close up gap between positive and negative

Adding additional copper tape to close up gap between positive and negative

The circuitry pattern was a bit larger than our actual tunnel book, so we ended up folding the battery portion back.  I ended up extending the circuitry in the back.

Extending circuitry beyond pattern

Extending circuitry beyond pattern

Since I didn’t cut out long enough pieces of copper initially, I ended up having to patch additional pieces to extend the circuitry.  I had to solder the patched pieces together to create a continuous path for the electrons to flow.

Soldering instrument

Soldering instrument

Patching together pieces of copper tape

Patching together pieces of copper tape

Patched pieces of copper tape soldered together

Patched pieces of copper tape soldered together

To see if our soldering was successful, we used an instrument with two probes and placed each probe on either side of the soldered section.  If the instrument buzzed, our soldering was successful.

Testing soldered copper tape circuitry

Testing soldered copper tape circuitry

Next, it was time to attach the battery.  Natalie and Becca provided each of us with a template for the battery holder that we cut out, folded, and glued together.

Template for battery holder

Template for battery holder

Battery holder

We attached the holder to the circuitry and wrapped the holder around a 3V coin cell battery.

Housing coin cell battery

Here is the battery in the “on” position that allows electrons to flow through (and light the LEDs):

On position

“On” position

Here it is in the “off” position, with the negative copper tape not touching the battery:

"Off" position

“Off” position

The final step in creating the circuitry was the addition of the LED lights.  We had two choices, circuit sticker LEDs or surface mount LEDs.  We also had two choices in how we could adhere the surface mounts – with clear tape or solder.  We could also choose the colors of the lights we wanted for our tunnel book – blue, white, red, or yellow.

The circuit sticker LEDs were larger and could bridge a larger gap between the negative and positive tape on our circuitry.  Since they already had a sticky backing, we just stuck them on, making sure to orient them in the right direction with regards to positive and negative.  For the surface mount LEDs, we taped some of them and soldered some on.  The tricky thing with soldering was that the surface mounts were really tiny, so we had to be careful that we didn’t end up damaging them.

Copper circuitry with LEDs attached and lights off

Copper circuitry with LEDs attached and lights off

Copper circuitry with LEDs attached and lights on

Copper circuitry with LEDs attached and lights on. Notice how one of the LEDs is not working.

Next, it was time to create the individual panels of our tunnel book.  Since I am not much of a drawer, I cheated and used some panels that Becca had already created, as templates for my book.  Becca had created three panels for a theater scene – the audience, the curtain, and the performers on stage.

Becca's panels for tunnel book

Becca’s panels for tunnel book

Panels stacked together to create a single scene

Panels stacked together to create a single scene

Her panels were slightly smaller than the tunnel book I was making, so I resized the cutouts for my panels accordingly.

Panels for my tunnel book

Panels for my tunnel book. Notice how I added a tree to the last panel to fill it out.

It was time to put everything together.  I first glued on the panel with the circuitry to serve as the back of my tunnel book.

Circuitry attached to accordion sides of tunnel book

Circuitry panel attached to accordion sides of tunnel book

To allow the light through, yet hide the view of the circuitry, I covered the back of one of my cutout panels with red glassine paper attached to some white vellum.  Truth be told, I really didn’t need the vellum; the glassine paper would have sufficed.

Attaching glassine vellum layer to sides of tunnel book

Attaching glassine/vellum layer to sides of tunnel book

Glassine vellum layer attached to panel of tunnel book

Front of glassine/vellum panel

I like how the red color makes the white cutouts pop.

I attached this panel in front of the LED panel.

Adhering layers to tunnel book 1

I attached the theater curtain panel next.

Adhering layers to tunnel book 2

I didn’t like how plain this panel was, so I decided to pretty it up with some origami paper.

Adding theater curtains

Adding theater curtains

After I added the front panel with the audience members, this is how my tunnel book looked:

Theater tunnel book with floral curtain

It didn’t look right.  I wanted to better define the theater curtains, so I redid that panel by adding some pumpkin orange crepe paper and some gold Dresden trim.  I had plenty lying around, from all those crepe paper flowers I make.

Tunnel book with crepe paper theater curtains

Tunnel book with crepe paper theater curtains

Here’s how my tunnel book looks, “e-luminated:”

Lit theater tunnel book

Lit theater tunnel book

Here are some amazing tunnel books that a few of my fellow students made:

Meteor shower tunnel book

Meteor shower tunnel book by Liza

Liza did a more complicated circuitry for her book that enabled the lights to give the illusion of movement.  I didn’t think to record it in action, but here is the link to Becca’s blog where she shows it in its animated glory.  (Scroll to the end of the post).

Doesn’t it look like an actual meteor shower?  Here’s the circuitry she created for her tunnel book:

Circuitry for meteor shower

Circuitry for meteor shower

Folded over circuitry for meteor shower

Folded over circuitry for meteor shower

When you folded the right side of the circuitry over onto the top of the left side and ran your finger down along the panel, the lights seemingly moved about randomly, creating the illusion of a meteor shower. Very cool!

My favorite was Felicia’s:

Felicias paper cut floral tunnel book (unlit)

Felicia’s paper cut floral tunnel book (unlit)

With lights on

With lights on

Can you believe she cut everything out, freehand??

That last cutout panel closest to the light source had two different patterns, one on each side.  Here’s the panel seen from the front:

Front of panel of Felicias tunnel book

And the panel seen from the back:

Back cut out of panel of Felicias tunnel book

I love how the light plays off the two different cutouts to create a shadow effect.

To see more photos of these tunnel books, visit Becca Rose’s blog here.

To make your own e-luminated tunnel book, here are the instructions, courtesy of Natalie Freed and Becca Rose:

I had a lot of fun in this class and learned so much.  It’s gotten me thinking about other possible tunnel book ideas I can make using the basic techniques I learned.  I might re-take the class when they offer it again next year to refresh my memory and ask more questions that I’m sure I’ll have.  Thanks again, to Natalie and Becca for an awesome class!

Are you familiar with paper electronics?  Have you tried your hand at creating your own?  Please share in the comments.


About Serena Y Lee

Serena worked in the biotech industry for 18 years before leaving to pursue her life purpose – to live in freedom with creativity and simplicity. Her love for baking, creativity, and story-telling compelled her to start blogging to share her ideas with a wider audience.

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  1. Postcard Collage Tunnel Book Class | Crafty Creative Gal - March 14, 2015

    […] book.  As readers of my blog know, I have taken classes in the past for tunnel books, here and here, but Bettina had a very unusual take on this book art form.  She had us use postcards and images […]

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