Skip to main content

Printed Paper–Based Electrochemical Sensors for Low-Cost Point-of-Need Applications


Paper-based microfluidics is a rapidly developing field with applications for point-of-care disease and environmental diagnostics. In parallel, printed electronics has grown swiftly, particularly for wearable technologies. By combining these fields, fluidic sample processing and control, as well as automated sensing and readout can be integrated on a single device. Towards this goal, this work highlights the design, manufacture, and testing of paper-based electrochemical sensors, with focus on photo paper and chromatography paper substrates. These substrates are typically used for printed electronics and paper-based fluidics, respectively. The electrochemical sensors were screen printed using manual techniques. For chromatography paper sensors, wax-printed fluidic barriers were used to illustrate the potential integration of the sensors with typical paper-based microfluidic device formats. As an initial example, the detection of heavy metals (Cd(II) and Pb(II)) in buffer solution was demonstrated. Commercial DropSens sensors were used as reference with the limit of detection (LOD) of Cd(II) and Pb(II) on chromatography sensors showing comparable results to commercial DropSens sensors. It is worth noting that the chromatography paper sensors showed a higher repeatability than the commercial DropSens sensors. Tap water samples spiked with Cd(II) and Pb(II) were also tested and showed promising results. Future work will include sensor optimization and exploration of scale-up to provide low-cost solutions for effective point-of-need diagnostics—ranging from environmental monitoring to healthcare applications.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12


  1. J. Hu, S. Wang, L. Wang, F. Li, B. Pingguan-Murphy, T.J. Lu, F. Xu, Advances in paper-based point-of-care diagnostics. Biosens. Bioelectron. 54, 585–597 (2014)

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. A.W. Martinez, S.T. Phillips, G.M. Whitesides, E. Carrilho, Diagnostics for the developing world: Microfluidic paper-based analytical devices. Anal. Chem. 82(1), 3–10 (2010)

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. S. Byrnes, G. Thiessen, E. Fu, Progress in the development of paper-based diagnostics for low-resource point-of-care settings. Bioanalysis 5(22), 2821–2836 (2013)

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  4. A.K. Yetisen, M.S. Akram, C.R. Low, Paper-based microfluidic point-of-care diagnostic devices. Lab Chip 13(12), 2210–2251 (2013)

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. A.P.F. Turner, Biosensors: Sense and sensibility. Chem. Soc. Rev. 42(8), 3184–3196 (2013)

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. DropSens (2017). Accessed 11 April 2017

  7. T.-H. Joubert, P.H. Bezuidenhout, H. Chen, S. Smith, K.J. Land, Inkjet-printed silver tracks on different paper substrates. Mater. Today 2(7), 3891–3900 (2015)

    Google Scholar 

  8. S. Smith, K. Moodley, K. Land, “Plug-and-play paper-based toolkit for rapid prototyping of microfluidics and electronics towards point-of-care diagnostic solutions,” Proc. RAPDASA 2015 conference (2015)

  9. S. Smith, K. Moodley, U. Govender, H. Chen, L. Fourie, S. Ngwenya, S. Kumar, P. Mjwana, H. Cele, M.B. Mbanjwa, S. Potgieter, T. Joubert, K. Land, Paper-based smart microfluidics for education and low cost diagnostics. S. Afr. J. Sci. 111, 11/12 (2015)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Z. Nie, C.A. Nijhuis, J. Gong, X. Chen, A. Kumachev, A.W. Martinez, M. Narovlyansky, G.M. Whitesides, Electrochemical sensing in paper-based microfluidic devices. Lab Chip 10(4), 477–483 (2010)

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. M. Medina-Sánchez, M. Cadevall, J. Ros, A. Merkoçi, Eco-friendly electrochemical lab-on-paper for heavy metal detection. Anal. Bioanal. Chem. 407(28), 8445–8449 (2015)

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. P. Bezuidenhout, S. Smith, T.-H. Joubert, A low-cost inkjet-printed paper-based potentiostat. MDPI Applied Sciences 8(968), 1–12 (2018)

    Google Scholar 

  13. Metrohm. (2018) Metrohm DropSens: Frequently asked questions. [Online].

  14. V. Mazzaracchio, I. Cacciotti, D. Moscone, F. Arduini S. Cinti, "Carbon black-modified electrodes screen-printed onto paper towel, waxed paper, and Parafilm M®," MDPI- Sensors , 17(2267), 1–12 (2017)

Download references


The authors thank Adelaide Oberholzer for assistance with manufacturing of paper-based electrochemical sensors.


This work was funded by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria, South Africa.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Suzanne Smith or Haitao Zheng.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Smith, S., Madzivhandila, P., Ntuli, L. et al. Printed Paper–Based Electrochemical Sensors for Low-Cost Point-of-Need Applications. Electrocatalysis 10, 342–351 (2019).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Paper-based sensors
  • Printed sensors
  • Screen printing
  • Electrochemistry
  • Low-cost
  • Point-of-need