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Papercraft Spectrometer Intro Kit

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After a few years, we're returning to one of our oldest kits to update and improve it, building on lots of community-contributed ideas, improvements, and refinements. This page collects resources, questions and activities related to the design.

Quick start

To get started assembling your spectrometer, try:

Assemble your spectrometer or Get a kit

The first link also includes the design files for printing.


This introductory kit has been co-designed by hundreds of contributors as an entry point to Public Lab's collection of Do-It-Yourself spectrometry projects. Read about more on that page about what spectrometry is for, what we can do, and what its limitations are.

Design goals

Our goals were:

  • more rigid/robust
  • printable on non-black paper
  • easier to cut out with just scissors
  • put more of the instructions on the object itself, like on the Antikythera Mechanism

Keep in mind -- this is the "introductory" design intended to onboard newcomers to the project, so we're trying to make it as easy as possible to build. Once you've made this, you're ready to move on to more complex projects, like scanning, sample preparation, and more robust designs.

We haven't gotten all the way there on every goal -- we'd hoped to make a version that required no glue -- just locking tabs -- but we just couldn't keep it small enough to be printed on a folded-in-half letter sheet. See this note, this, and some of these photos for my process of integrating all these changes, and see this page for some of the many many people who've contributed.



Purpose Category Status Author Time Difficulty Replications
Calibrate your spectrometer in Spectral Workbench verify review-me @warren 15m easy 5 replications: Try it »
Build a papercraft spectrometer for your phone -- version 2.0 - - @warren - - 2 replications: Try it »
Preparing a DVD-R to act as a diffraction grating - - @MrBumper - - 0 replications: Try it »
Make a narrow slit for a DIY spectrometer out of paper - - @warren - - 0 replications: Try it »
Scan and compare different gases (in discharge tubes, like neon) using a DIY spectrometer - - @warren - - 14 replications: Try it »
See the Fraunhofer absorption lines in sunlight verify draft @warren 1h easy 4 replications: Try it »
Draft: Find the concentration of a liquid with a DIY spectrometer - - @warren - - 0 replications: Try it »

Add an activity  or request an activity

Activities should include a materials list, costs and a step-by-step guide to construction with photos. Learn what makes a good activity here.


This section is for questions about the Papercraft and Foldable Spectrometry Kits, specifically.

For questions about spectrometry in general, see this FAQ.

Title Author Updated Likes
Can I get a file of numbers instead of a graph from the foldable spectrometer software? @mountevans New Contributor 7 months ago
Do I need to use a DVD-R? Will a CD-R work too? @jordankc New Contributor 7 months ago
Paper for printing @G33K4P00RV4 New Contributor 8 months ago
Noise when Trying to Analyze Spectrum @matthart610 New Contributor 8 months ago
Can I use a Diffraction Grating Slide Holographic 1000 lines/mm instead of the CD? @oglezsa New Contributor 10 months ago
What's an easy way to compare two liquid samples with a spectrometer? @warren 10 months ago

Ask a question  or help answer future questions

Get involved in the next revision

Have you made improvements to the kit? Share them as an upgrade and we may get in touch to integrate your changes into the kit itself.


Once you've gotten a solid footing with some of the above activities, try tackling one of these unsolved challenges to advance our collaborative work:

Title Author Updated Likes
Can the spectrometer or turbocharger be used for lal testing? @Ag8n 5 months ago
How can we detect contaminants in water samples with a DIY spectrometer using reagents? @warren 8 months ago
Can a DIY spectrometer be used to measure water turbidity? @warren 8 months ago
What's an easy way to compare two liquid samples with a spectrometer? @warren 10 months ago
How do I collect a sample for laboratory analysis? @warren 11 months ago
Desktop Spectrometry Kit to arduino? @jjoll about 1 year ago
Can a Spectrometer be used to detect material type? @jjoll about 1 year ago
What are good containers to use for spectrometry samples? @warren almost 2 years ago
Can I upgrade a DIY spectrometer with a Raspberry Pi camera? @warren almost 2 years ago
Question: Can DIY-spectrometer be used for analysis of soil @interestedperson_ha New Contributor about 2 years ago
Getting the spectrometer to work with a Raspberry Pi? @anjohn12 New Contributor over 2 years ago
Show 1 more

Ask a question  or help answer future questions


Have you added to your starter kit, improved it, redesigned it, or solved one of the above challenges? Show others how to take it to the next level by posting a build guide here:

Purpose Category Status Author Time Difficulty Builds
3D printed mini spectrometer - - @rthalman New Contributor - - 0 builds: Try it »
Reduce light inside foldable PL spectrometer - - @xose - - 0 builds: Try it »
Tweaks to foldable mini-spectrometer design build proposal @warren 1h easy 1 builds: Try it »
Silhouette Cameo desktop paper cutter for prototyping - - @warren - - 0 builds: Try it »
Silhouette cut Public Lab Mobile spectrometer v2 - - @briandegger - - 0 builds: Try it »

Add your upgrade guide here Request or propose an upgrade

Upgrades should include a parts list and a step-by-step construction guide with photo documentation. See an example.

Limitations and next steps

The resolution and stability (ability to hold a wavelength calibration) of the spectrometer depend on how carefully you construct and store it. This kit is designed to be easy to assemble, and is not focused on precision or highly consistent measurements; it’s made of paper, and will crush if you put it in your pocket -- but it can be made out of easy-to-find materials and assembled in ~15 minutes.

For a more rigid, robust device intended for more advanced work, check out the Desktop Spectrometry Starter Kit.

To improve it, see the related upgrades and feel free to post your own improvements there.

Most digital cameras can record light in the visible range, ~400-700 nanometers, so this determines the range of your device. The resolution is mainly limited by the resolution of the camera (and its focus!) and less by the narrowness of the slit -- but measurements should be possible at better than 3 nanometers per pixel.