Tech moves fast! Stay ahead of the curve with Techopedia!
Join nearly 200,000 subscribers who receive actionable tech insights from Techopedia.
Chip art refers to microscale artwork that is printed in integrated circuits. When chips are designed and laid out, sometimes there are empty spaces that are not taken up by buses and other components; chip designers often take the liberty to use the empty spaces to add their own signature or other images, ranging from simple initials to more rather complicated drawings.
Chip art is also known as silicon art, silicon doodling or chip graffiti.
Chip art involves the inclusion of images and other icons or signatures into the negative (mask) of a chip that will be etched into a silicon wafer via photolithography. Given the microscopic size of the parts of the chips, chip art cannot be seen without a microscope, and the fact that the designers did not advertise that they added something extra or an Easter egg to certain chips means that there are a number of undiscovered chip artworks out there.
Chip art was also considered as a form of copyright protection prior to 1984 because if a competitor was able to produce a similar chip, and upon examination that chip contained the same images or doodles, then it would serve as a strong evidence that the design was copied or stolen.
Because of the hidden nature of chip art, its existence did not become public knowledge until photographer Michael Davidson accidentally stumbled upon it while photographing the geometric patterns of microchips in 1998. The Smithsonian Institution now has a large collection of chip art, thanks to Davidson and other contributors such as Chipworks, a provider of reverse engineering services.