How it all came together . . .

Designing The Penguin Sleigh Ornament
Concept drawing for sleigh, originally pictured with teddy bear & red LEDs

Invention

The idea for printed circuit board (PCB) art was born out of Mike's geeky fascination with the precision and complexity of modern, fine-pitch circuit boards (you are truly an engineer if you stare dreamily at a printed circuit board).  Although people have been calling circuit boards "art" for years, they've never really put art on a circuit board.  In mid-July, 2008, Mike proposed the concept to Fritz and they immediately cooked up the idea of a PCB Christmas ornament that lights up when you touch it.  No self-respecting nerd could live without one, and many others might find beauty in a place they never thought to look.  Within days, Mike soldered together the touch-sensitive test circuit shown at right.

Touch-sensitive LED flasher
Touch-sensitive LED flasher

Concept drawing of reindeer
Concept drawing of reindeer

Artwork

Mike and Fritz knew immediately who they wanted to do the artwork and brought Thomas onboard.  Shown here are just some of the concept drawings Thomas sketched for this project.  The others are stowed safely away, hoping to one day become ornaments themselves.


Design

Over the next month, Thomas transferred his art onto the computer and created the intricate traces that make up the final product.  The goal was to maintain a circuit board theme without sacrificing artwork quality, so he had to find creative ways to draw a picture without using stippling, hatching, or other techniques that wouldn't normally appear on a PCB.  His new medium consisted of wires and a four color "palette" -- bare PCB, bare trace, soldermask over PCB, and soldermask over trace.  On a green board this gave him light brown, silver, dark green, and light green.

If you look closely at the ornaments, you will see that areas of texture are actually patches of cleverly arranged traces, winding back and forth upon themselves.  For example, the reindeer's beard, the candle's melting wax, and the garlands on the tree are composed of only a handful of actual wires!

Concept drawing of candle
Concept drawing of candle

SMT test circuit
SMT test circuit

Evolution

Meanwhile, Mike worked with Thomas and behind the scenes to tweak the electronics and figure out how to incorporate the artwork into a PCB layout.  In order for the ornament to be touch-sensitive, the various traces in the drawing would need to be electrically connected to the circuit in an appropriate way.  The prototype shown at left was used to test sensitivity, flashing rates, and battery life before final integration.


Fruition

By late August, 2008, hardly more than a month after conceiving the idea, Circtistic had a working prototype of their first ornament, a Christmas tree.  The pictures at right and below show both sides of this prototype.  Unlike the production version of the ornament, this one had presents around the bottom of the tree.

First prototype -- Backside
First prototype -- Backside

Circtistic's first working prototype
Circtistic's first working prototype
 
     

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