New printing techniques could democratize printing electronics

April 08, 2023

(Nanowerk Highlights) Researchers from the Madrid Institute of Materials Science (part of the Spanish National Research Council), in collaboration with researchers from the universities UNLV, UAM, and KSU, have developed an inexpensive and simple method for printing electronics using an ordinary pen and a plotter workbench. The technique allows the use of virtually any solution-processable nanomaterial ink without the need for expensive equipment or ink optimization, making printed electronics more accessible to researchers.

The research has been published in Advanced Engineering Materials (“Pen Plotter as a Low-Cost Platform for Rapid Device Prototyping with Solution-Processable Nanomaterials”). Drawing of a bench-top plotter system that plots a circuit with graphite-charged ink on paper. Another writing implement with a different nanomaterial based ink is placed at the bottom right of the image. Copyright is held by the authors of scientific articles. (Image courtesy of the researchers)

“The technique is focused on increasing the impact of research groups that have expertise in creating solution-processable nanomaterials but do not have the background or resources to print devices,” said Castellanos-Gomez. “With this simple route, this research group can easily test inks and their prototype devices and sensors.”

Their method builds on recent advances in solution-processable organic semiconductors, which have made it possible to use ink-printing lithographic techniques to make electronic devices more efficient and cost-effective. Various material families, such as nanotubes, nanowires, quantum dots, van der Waals materials, and hybrid perovskites, have been developed for compatibility with this technique.

The researchers say the technique is highly generalizable and that many other nanomaterial-based inks can be used. They demonstrated the potential of this technique by printing a variety of solution-processable nanomaterial inks, including van der Waals materials, quantum dots, hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites, and organic semiconductors. They illustrate the potential of this system with several applications such as printing invisible QR codes using MoO3materials that become opaque in UV light, or photodetectors on paper using PEDOT organic semiconductor channels contacted by graphite electrodes.

Although this technique works very well on wettable media such as paper or textiles, it requires a more viscous ink and a more rapidly evaporating solvent to print on plastic or glass. Nonetheless, the benchtop plotter used in this study cost less than 200 euros, a fraction of the cost of traditional materials printers which can cost up to 60,000 euros.

“By using pens and plotters, we have eliminated the need for expensive equipment and optimized ink, making printed electronics more accessible to researchers,” added Castellanos-Gomez. “We believe this technique has the potential to democratize print electronics, enabling wider adoption and innovation in this exciting field.” By
Michael is the author of three books by the Royal Society of Chemistry:
Nano-Society: Pushing the Boundaries of Technology,
Nanotechnology: A Small FutureAnd
Nanoengineering: Skills and Tools for Making Technology Invisible
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