Can You Build An E-ink Display From Scratch?

Modern displays are fascinating little things. In particular, the E-Ink displays employed in modern E-books achieve mesmerising paper like contrast with excellent standby power consumption.  Many of us at some point have had a go at experimenting with DIY displays, but been discouraged by the miniature scales involved. Driving them is hard enough, but building your own?

[MChel] has achieved some excellent success in building a simple E-Ink display. The account presented on this Russian electronics forum, graciously translated for us by Google Translate, outlines that the greatest barrier to pursing this in your home lab is creating the conductive layer that serve as electrodes for each pixel and depositing the thin layer of electrostatically charged ink pellets onto another transparent yet conductive film. [MChel] solution was to extract a small a portion of pre-deposited ink from a smashed and notoriously brittle E-ink display. Next, instead of attempting to build an ambitious and dense grid of electrodes, [MChel] etched a simple battery indicator on a PCB. The ink and the electrodes were then fused with some DIY graphite based conductive glue and sealed with some careful yet ingenuitive epoxy laying skills.

The DIY electrodes

The result is a working battery indicator that consumes no power, whilst reporting any remaining power.

There is something increasingly defiant and laudable about home-brewing technologies, otherwise thought to be confined to multi-million dollar factories. We have already covered how you should go about making some conductive glass and using it in your homemade LCD.

25 thoughts on “Can You Build An E-ink Display From Scratch?

    1. Just thinking, anyone remember those shatty “e ink” note pads/boards that were around a while ago, that didn’t do anything useful like save it, OCR it etc. About as functional as a magna doodle, etch a sketch, or those old wax/cellophane erasable things, yet still apparently electronic.

      Anyway, those have been cheap in liquidation outlets or turning up in thrift stores, wondering if they are suitable as screen donors for this.

          1. They are not really special in that they are pressure sensitive. A normal LCD monitor would do the same to the picture if it didn’t have a signal to keep refreshing it. When you align the crystals they will stay that way for a while and appear opaque in this case, then when you write, you are disturbing them and the appearance is no longer opaque. The reset is just two leads attached to a cathode and an anode, and the LCD is sandwiched in between. I don’t know if quality makes too much of a difference, but the $15 board I bought from China will start to lose its image if left for a while, so it definitely can’t keep a picture like eInk can.

        1. Not conventional LCD, but similar: cholesteric display. BoogieBoard was the saving throw of Kent Displays, who originally made all sorts of ‘real’ graphical displays that were bistable, like e-ink, using a different technology. These never really took off AFAIK with E-Ink already on the market. Like LCD, the displays would discolor if pressed on, but since they were bistable the discoloration stuck around indefinitely until refreshed. Someone clever decided they could use this as a feature and also dispense with the manufacturing headaches of actually making a pixel display, so they cut the whole display part and just made the screen a giant erase-only pixel, sold as the BoogieBoard.

  1. Very nice work, and very useful – but not particularly practical for larger quantities… Does anyone know of a manufacturer that produces something of about the same physical size with the same display configuration (ie: a battery capacity indicator), at a reasonable price? From looking around, I think that last one – price – will be the killer :(

    1. I was looking around for the same thing a while ago; all I could find was stuff from alibaba/china which I’m slightly weary of. No idea about quality, nor the datasheets to drive the things. I don’t have a link on hand unfortunately.

      1. For a long time I wanted to explore e-paper point of sale displays. They have all the needed parts already: communication, storage, display.

        Major drawback: they are quite expensive in small quantities and there is almost no way to get them legally in such numbers. At least I found no one to sell me 5 displays for a reasonable price.

    2. There was something similar in one of the AED units that [mikeselectricstuff] performed a teardown on. Granted, a seemingly custom part for a life-saving device probably still fouls your price criteria, but it’s potentially an avenue for you to search down!

  2. This is really cool, E-ink is probably my favorite type of display at the moment because of the amount of battery live save, Rolling your own though that is a hack and a half.

    > depositing the thin layer of electrostatically charged ink pellets onto another transparent yet conductive film.
    > [MChel] solution was to extract a small a portion of pre-deposited ink from a smashed and notoriously brittle E-ink display.

    So, no, apparently you can’t.

    Still a damn cool hack, though.

    1. IDK what process they use commercially, but I bet you could get the patent and find out. My guess, based on exactly nothing, is that they probably use vapor deposition in a vacuum chamber, and Ben Krasnow has you covered over on youtube if you’re interested in rolling your own.

  4. They are moisture sensitive. I found that the fix is to dry out the completed but not yet sealed display in a vacuum chamber or gentle heating at low pressure and combined with Z axis tape is the missing piece of the puzzle.
    Best sort of display to use is one from a Gen 1 PRS505 or PRS600, the newer ones are made differently and can’t be harvested with the “brown” conductor intact.
    Kudos to OP, this is indeed interesting.

    Also relevant, you can DIY these using simple silicone oil (cough personal lubricant /cough), TiO2 and carbon black.
    The difference is that the “real” E-ink uses microcapsules to make a reliable display that holds its state.

  5. Apparently another method (tested here with EL) is using UV cure nail varnish sold with a blue lamp at Boots.
    Similar related hack I tried uses old LCD panel with EL “peeled” display and UV cured car mirror bonder.

    If you have a fresh display that has not got contaminated with moisture, finger oils this approach works remarkably well.
    I’ve been tinkering here with conductive copper tape and this also works.

    The trick is to use something that does not corrode the front ITO layer, or the display won’t last.
    Also be sure to add series resistor to limit the current, this also helps avoid burnouts.

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