Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Liquid lights and musical posters: Welcome to the world of electric paint

The Bare Conductive paint pen contains a non-toxic electrically conductive paint. The pens work the same way as glitter glue pens, and are designed to help people explore elecronics, and learn about circuit making. The Bare Conductive paint pen contains a non-toxic electrically conductive paint. The pens work the same way as glitter glue pens, and are designed to help people explore elecronics, and learn about circuit making.
HIDE CAPTION
The brave new world of wireless electricity
The brave new world of wireless electricity
The brave new world of wireless electricity
The brave new world of wireless electricity
The brave new world of wireless electricity
The brave new world of wireless electricity
The brave new world of wireless electricity
The brave new world of wireless electricity
The brave new world of wireless electricity
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A group of students in London has developed electrically conductive paint
  • The paint allows wiring to be applied to paper, metal and even textiles
  • It is now being used in projects around the world including interactive posters and home-made toys

London (CNN) -- Imagine if you could paint a working light switch directly onto your wall, without any need for sockets, cables or wiring.

A group of students from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London has made that possible by creating electrically conductive paint.

The paint acts as a form of liquid wiring. Unlike conventional wires, it can be applied to almost any surface, including paper, plastic, metal and even fabric.

The product has the appearance and consistency of runny marmite, but dries quickly when exposed to the air. Its inventors, RCA graduates Isabel Lizardi, Matt Johnson, Bibi Nelson and Becky Pilditch, call their creation "Bare Paint." While they don't claim to be the first group to have invented a conductive ink, they are pioneering new ways it can be used.

Read: Off-road chair that changes lives

"We started this project in earnest in 2009," says Matt Johnson. "We were originally interested in trying to apply electronics to the skin ... so we arrived at this idea of applying them as a coating and eventually we got this idea of a conductive paint."

The team began by investigating how electronics were being used in the body.

"In 2008 -- and probably still today -- there was a lot of work around electronic textiles," says Johnson. "And though we really liked the idea of having a jumper (a piece of clothing) that has some intelligence in it, we didn't like that it was so bulky and that once you took it off the functionality disappeared."

Around the same time there was a lot of "extreme work" being done by people who were injecting electronics beneath the skin. For their final project, the RCA students began work on making something less intrusive, looking for a substance that could be painted onto the body. Eventually, says Johnson, "that idea transformed into the material we have now, which is very safe though it's not specifically intended for the body anymore."

Read: Designs that will define our future

After graduating from college, the team collaborated on a video for DJ and producer Calvin Harris. The resulting project was the "Humanthesizer," a performance which literally brought the paint to life, with dancers whose movements triggered audio loops from Harris's song "Ready for the Weekend."

"We were originally interested in trying to apply electronics to the skin ...
Matt Johnson, co-inventor, Bare Conductive

"Making a new material was a bit daunting for four designers," says Johnson. The team's solution was not to return to school to study chemistry for four years. Instead, they simply went on Wikipedia. According to Johnson, the online encyclopedia provided them with almost everything they needed to know about crafting conductive materials.

Once the paint's formula was finalized, co-creator Isabel Lizardi says the team began to consider how it might be applied to real-world products. The first thing they launched was the paint in its raw form, which they made available to other garden-shed inventors.

Today, Bare Paint jars and pens are sold on the Internet and stocked by Radio Shack electronics stores across the United States. Projects being done by Bare Paint users include everything from interactive color wheels to homemade electric toys.

Johnson says that conductive paint opens up an enormous range of creative opportunities. As conductive paint becomes increasingly common, we can look forward to a future where billboards talk back, walls are interactive, and greeting cards come to life in our very hands.

"Devices no longer have to look high tech to be high tech," Johnson says. "Our goal is to put interactivity onto objects you don't expect."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0908 GMT (1708 HKT)
Is the rapid rise of religion in China a threat to the Communist Party's rule?
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
In an exclusive CNN interview, Lance Armstrong admits to having a "f**k you" attitude.
Drinkers guzzled an incredible 10.3 billion liters of this brand in 2013, making it the world's No.1 beer. And you may have never heard of it
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
Summer isn't over yet. These new hotels are keeping it alive and fresh.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0513 GMT (1313 HKT)
Unlike most twenty somethings starting out in New York City, Zhang Yuzhu is not scrimping to make rent.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1940 GMT (0340 HKT)
You've seen her turn on the catwalk, but her income might make your head spin.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 0036 GMT (0836 HKT)
The pain that Michael Brown's parents are going through is something Sybrina Fulton can relate to. She, too, lost a son in a controversial shooting.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0904 GMT (1704 HKT)
19-year-old Udi Segal explains why he won't join the country's military.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1234 GMT (2034 HKT)
The sights couldn't be sadder: Animals killed or suffering through war in Gaza.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
They are the faces of a community on the run. Photographer Warzer Jaff documents the plight of the Yazidis.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1150 GMT (1950 HKT)
A cameraman films a massive New York City subway rat charging at him and attacking him. WPIX reports.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT