Copper micro-patterns have been fabricated on polyimide substrates by ultra-violet (UV) lithography without the use of evaporation techniques or photoresist materials. Using a photoreactive polymer-reducing agent, methoxy poly(ethylene glycol) (MPEG) as a thin film coating, a novel light-directed metal-patterning method in air atmosphere was realised. The interaction of UV light and MPEG in ethanol film enabled the photoreduction of mobile silver ions available within the surface-modified polyimide substrates. The silver nanoparticle patterns thus formed served as active catalytic seed layers for subsequent electroless copper plating. Narrow copper tracks with low resistivity close to that of bulk copper were achieved. MPEG is a non-toxic, low cost and commercially available polymer which can be easily spin-coated and washed off after the patterning process. These attractive properties of MPEG together with its photoreactivity provide great potential for developments of UV direct-metallisation methods. © The Institution of Engineering and Technology.