Thursday, 1 September 2016

Electroninks Circuit Scribe Review


The Electroninks Circuit Scribes range allows you to draw circuits on paper with a conductive ink pen. You can then place their modular electronics components onto your circuit to get a working circuit.

The recommended age is 8+ and I tried this with my younger son who has just turned 8 so is at the very bottom of the recommended age range.

I studied electronics when I was 15-16 the old-fashioned way with components and soldering. Soldering is a useful skill to learn, but it's good to separate it from learning about electronics as not all kids who want to use electronics will be ready to solder or interested in it.

Disclosure: Electroninks sent us a Circuit Scribe kit to try out for this review. As always our opinions are our own.



Unboxing


The kit we reviewed is the Circuit Scribe Ultimate Kit. Our immediate reaction was that the components are lovely. They are mounted on boards with magnetic feet so that you can place an included metal board under your circuit to keep them in place. 

The electronic ink pen might not look full, but this is normal. 

You also get a workbook which explains electronics concepts and takes you from your very first circuit through to more complex topics. 

Electroninks make a range of kits that increase in cost and complexity but they all use the same pens and component design.

Getting Started

My 8 year old son tried the kit out with me. At first he held the pen like a regular pen and his results were disappointing as the pen jumped off the page occasionally, breaking the circuit. I had to draw over the circuit to get a good connection and this meant we used quite a bit of ink. 

I stopped and experimented and found that I naturally held the pen in a more upright position and created a solid line and that actually just one line of ink was fine to connect a circuit. 

With this information my son was able to continue through the workbook using less ink, and he knew to look for any breaks in the circuit if he had problems. 

Once we had the technique worked out we were able to progress through the workbook.





The Workbook

The Circuit Scribe workbook is actually available to download for free so you'll be able to use the kit with multiple children (you can by conductive ink pen refills if you need them.)

The workbook does a great job of teaching electronics. You fill in the circuits in the book and can go back and reuse them at any time. 

The workbook goes into detail about how resistors work and how to read them which is sometimes glossed over.



The Workbook covers some fairly advanced concepts so there's plenty to learn.

The Pen

The pen is very clean to work with compared to others we've tried. Some of the circuits involve touching the ink and you just have to wait a few seconds for it to dry. That was too long for my eight year old who did get the ink on his fingers, but it washed off easily. 

I did wonder whether you wouldn't have got the same benefit if the circuits were just ready printed in the book, but the pen definitely adds interest and slows the process down so that kids are much more involved in understanding the circuit rather than just racing through without understanding. It also allows circuits to be developed gradually. 


The Magnetic Feet

Each component has magnetic feet so that it stays in place when you use the included metal sheet. This works well and stops the components from sliding around but makes them really quick to position and move. There's no fiddly connection or components coming disconnected. 

This approach means that Circuit Scribe components aren't suitable for general purpose 3D making projects that include electronics. But it does lend itself to making project that can be mounted on a refrigerator or metal notice board. (We've got some ideas for fridge photo projects!)


The Components

The components are really nice to work with. They are completely reusable and can very easily be moved from project to project. 

We especially liked that you get a blank module that you can insert electronics components into. The kit comes with resistors of different values and a light dependent resistor - these are used in projects that explain resistance. You can also use your own components which adds a lot of extensibility to the kit.



Integrating with microprocessors

An interesting feature of Circuit Scribe is the ability to use the components as inputs or outputs with a microprocessor such as Arduino. We'll be trying this out for a future post.

Overall

We think Circuit Scribe is really good if you want a guided way to introduce electronics to children aged 8+ (with supervision) and young people and beginners. The step by step and hands-on approach is a great way to teach electronics concepts.

This isn't one of those kits that offers components and then expects you to come up with ideas for using them, which can be tricky when you're getting started.

The components are good quality and easy to work with, but we would have liked the LEDs to be a bit brighter, we like shiny things!

We would recommend this kit for semi-independent learning and have added it to our Tech Summer School at Home list. If you want to use Circuit Scribe for a club or group then you'll need to factor in the cost of replacement pens (and supervise their use to avoid wastage.) 

The components are not so good for general purpose 3D making (though the pen is good for card crafts), but can be used in creative ways if you incorporate a metal backing sheet. We're looking forward to printing circuits on my Silhouette Cameo cutter/plotter.

There's lots of scope for using Circuit Scribe to create interactive art work and displays. We have some ideas brewing so sign up if you want to see our further adventures with Electroninks Circuit Scribe.







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