One of my favorite parts of working in the Tinkering Studio is the challenge of hunting down all the quirky, weird, and sometimes hard-to-find materials we use for activities and prototyping. As Materials-Nerd-in-Chief I often try to find several different sources for materials since items from different vendors will have varying strengths and weaknesses. Two materials we frequently get questions about are copper tape and conductive thread. Here's a quick summary of a few types we've tried and their pros and cons.
Copper tape is a material we discovered during Jie Qi's residence with us a few years ago. She introduced us to it for making paper circuits, although it has all sorts of other uses, including keeping snails off your potted plants!
JVCC Copper Tape from Amazon.com (link)
This is my favorite copper tape to order for two main reasons. As some background, we cut all our 1/4" copper tape in half down to 1/8" wide for use on the floor. We get twice as much from each roll and the thinner strands are easier to bend and curve when desiging circuits. I love this tape because, first, when you cut it in half the protective backing stays stuck on, and second, because the cut edge is less sharp than other brands of tape. The biggest downside of this tape is the price, but it's worth it for visitor safety.
Copper Tape - 5mm from Sparkfun.com (link)
This copper tape is a great value and works really well. My only downsides for it are the slightly sharper edges and that the protective backing comes off more easily (both happen only when cut lengthwise). Using a bone folder or popsicle stick to press down the copper tape solves the sharp edge issue.
Corry's Slug & Snail Tape from Amazon.com (link)
This tape is great because you can find it at your local hardware store. It's inexpensive and because it's thicker (about 1.5" wide) you can cut it into interesting shapes (although for us, that means a LOT of prep work to get it ready to use on the floor).
We love using conductive thread for making sewn circuits. Most threads are made of either silver or stainless steel woven with other non-conductive fibers. Stainless steel is better for durability over time becasue it's more tarnish resistant and silver is generally better for higher conductivity and better thread texture.
Lamé Lifesaver (link)
This is my all-time favorite thread for making sewn circuits. It sews most like traditional threads, is durable, and is highly conductive. Even though it's silver, we haven't had any issues with tarnishing yet. Truly, the only downside of this thread is that the ordering interface is a little cumbersome.
Conductive Thread (Thin) - 50' from Sparkfun.com (link)
This thread is a great place to start if you're curious about sewn circuits and are already ordering other materials from Sparkfun. Generally it sews nicely, but can get tangled into itself at times. It also has a slippery feel which can make it hard to knot. It's very conductive and is a good value thread.
Conductive Thread - 60g (Stainless Steel) from Sparkfun.com (link)
I ordered this thread for the first time when we were looking for something that we could solder to. It's tricky and takes some practice but is totally possible with this thread (others just shriveled up and burned away). It's fairly thick thread and, as mentioned in Sparkfun's description, has a slightly 'hairy' texture.
Silver Plated Nylon Bulk from LessEMF.com (link)
This was the first conductive thread we purchased for the Tinkering Studio. It sews more like traditional thread and can be loaded into some sewing machines. We've had a lot of success with this thread over the past few years, but lately we've had some spools that were 'duds' and not conductive. This is probably because they were older rolls that got tarnished over time.
I love to share resources for finding materials and enabling people to start tinkering at home, in schools, or in informal learning environments. Have a question about a material? Let us know! We may not always have the answer, but we're happy to share what we do know.