Simple and rapid fabrication of paper microfluidic devices utilizing Parafilm®

E. M. Dunfield et al. provide an easy way to fabricate paper microfluidic devices by using Parafilm® to avoid damage to the delicate paper chips during fabrication

E. M. Dunfield, Y. Y. Wu, T. P. Remcho, M. T. Koesdjojo and V. T. Remcho
Department of Chemistry, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA

Why is this useful?

Paper-based microfluidics offers several advantages over conventional microfluidics, and has great potential to generate inexpensive, easy-to-use, rapid and disposable diagnostic devices. Unlike traditional microfluidics, which often requires pumps to move fluid through the microfluidic channels, paper microfluidics can be performed without such instrumentation due to the flow of fluid being driven by capillary action through the paper. Hence, paper-microfluidics is well-suited for use in point-of-care diagnostics and in developing countries where expensive instrumentation is not available. There have been several advancements in the fabrication of paper microfluidic chips. Fabrication of paper-based chips can be done by photolithography [1], wax printing [2, 3], plasma etching [4], inkjet etching [5], and use of a cutting plotter [6]. However, such techniques may require the use of organic solvents during the fabrication process, they can be labor-intensive and expensive, and may impose limits on the types of materials that may be used in the chip. A novel technique is presented that utilizes a hydrophobic film material, Parafilm® “M”, which is heated to above its melting temperature of 60οC, and pressed into a piece of paper. The channel mask is cut from polycarbonate (PC) film, and sandwiched between the paper and the Parafilm®. The PC film mask prevents the melted Parafilm® from penetrating into the paper in the channel region, and therefore defines the hydrophobic boundaries of the paper channel. This technique has been tested on a wide variety of paper materials including Whatman Grade 1 filter paper, VWR light-duty tissue wipes and Kimtec Kimwipes, among other papers. While in some cases the paper can be cut directly into the desired channels, thin paper can easily tear and complex patterns proved to be challenging when cut by a cutting plotter. In contrast, the more rigid PC film can easily be cut into simple or complex patterns with a cutting plotter. Furthermore, the process is inexpensive, rapid, and does not require the use of organic solvents during fabrication.

What do I need?

  • Paper, such as Whatman filter paper, Kimtech Kimwipe or VWR light-duty tissue paper
  • Polycarbonate film, thickness approximately 100 µm
  • Parafilm® “M”
  • Aluminium foil
  • Scissors or x-y cutting plotter (for more complex channel patterns)
  • Hot press

What do I do?

  1. Cut out the desired channel patterns in polycarbonate film. For better cutting precision and accuracy, an x-y cutting plotter can be used.
  2. Create an assembly consisting of paper, polycarbonate (PC) cutout, and Parafilm® “M” as shown in figure 1. The paper can be Whatman filter paper, Kimtech Kimwipes, VWR light-duty tissue wipes or other paper of desired properties.

    Paper, polycarbonate and Parafilm® stack

    Figure 1. Paper, polycarbonate and Parafilm® stack set-up before heating and pressing.

  3. Cover both sides of the paper, PC, Parafilm® stack with aluminium foil to prevent sticking of the Parafilm® to the hot press plates, and place the whole assembly into the hot press.
  4. Heat the hot press to above 60οC, and apply ~200 psi of pressure for 1 minute. Note: 200 psi is necessary when using Whatman Grade 1 filter paper. Applied pressure varies depending on the thickness and porosity of the paper used.
  5. Allow the aluminium packet to cool, and then remove the foil from the paper microfluidic chip.

    Completed paper microfluidic chips made using Parafilm®

    Figure 2. Completed paper microfluidic chips made using Parafilm®. (a.) Spiral design has a channel width of 1 mm. (b.) Design has circles of 4mm diameter and 8 straight channels of 2mm width and 10mm length. (c.) Blue dye added to the paper microfluidics chip shown in b.

What else should I know?

For heavier weight paper such as Whatman Grade 1 filter paper, it is necessary to apply higher pressure (~200 psi) such as in a hot press to produce the microchips. However, for lighter weight paper such as Kimtech Kimwipes and VWR light-duty tissue wipes, microchips can simply be made by heating the plates of a heating element such as a hair straightener, and then applying gentle pressure to the paper, PC, Parafilm® stack to produce the paper-based chips.


[1]  A. W. Martinez, S. T. Phillips, B. J. Wiley, M. Gupta, and G. M. Whitesides, Lab Chip, 2008, 8, 2146-2150.
[2] Y. Lu, W. Shi, L. Jiang, J. Qin, B. Lin, Electrophoresis, 2009, 30, 1497-1500.
[3] E. Carrilho, A. W. Martinez, G. M. Whitesides, Anal. Chem., 2009, 81, 7091-7095.
[4] X. Li, J. Tian, T. Nguyen, W. Shen, Anal. Chem., 2008, 80, 9131-9134.
[5] K. Abe, K. Suzuki, D. Citterio, Anal. Chem., 2008, 80, 6928-6934.
[6] E. M. Fenton, M. R. Mascareñas, G. P. Lopez, S. S. Sibbett, ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2009, 1, 124-129.

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