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World Braille Day: Producing Braille Through Print

We look at some of the ways manufacturers have developed haptic printing to be used to produce braille

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World Braille Day is an international day on January 4th and celebrates awareness of the importance of braille

First recognised in 2019, World Braille Day seeks to raise awareness of the important role braille plays as a form of communication for blind and partially sighted people.

A tactile representation of alphabetic and numerical symbols, braille uses six dots to represent each letter and number. It can even be used to represent musical, mathematical, and scientific symbols. 

Whilst braille is a tactile code that is used for reading and writing, it is not considered a language as it doesn’t have a spoken form. 

The origins of braille are said to date back to the French army in 1819 when soldiers created a military code called ‘night writing’. A man named Charles Barbier was serving in Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army and developed a system for soldiers to communicate safely at night. 

This system was based around a raised 12-dot cell with two dots wide and six dots tall. Each dot or combination of dots within the cell represented a letter or phonetic sound. The only issue here was that the human fingertip could not feel all the dots at one time.

Braille as we know it today was subsequently invented by France-born Louis Braille who after losing his sight at a young age sought an efficient written form of communication for the blind and partially sighted. To do this, Braille modified Barber’s night writing code and spent around nine years developing the new system of raised dots whilst enrolled at the National Institute of the Blind in Paris.

By evolving the code to only incorporate six raised dots instead of 12, a fingertip could now encompass the entire cell unit with a single impression and move quickly from one cell to the next. 

This system remains the same today as when it was developed by Braille and according to Musée Louis Braille, braille is used by six million blind people globally. Signsavers estimates around 30,000 people in the UK use braille to help them communicate, highlighting the crucial role this almost 200-year-old invention plays in today’s modern world. 

New Developments 

To produce braille, a number of techniques can be used and swissQprint has capabilities within its technology to do so. 

“To create high-quality braille, several factors come into play,” the company says. “The shape, size, and build of each braille dot must be precise. Achieving the right adhesion of braille dots is also crucial, as it directly relates to the substrate and ink properties. 

“It is a meticulous and intricate process, involving many layers with varying levels of lamp power control to ensure the correct curing for each layer.”

SwissQprint's machines provide helpful features that facilitate the process of producing braille as well as drastically reducing the time it takes to deliver haptic effects. Previously, it might have taken two or three hours to do a square meter of haptic printing, whereas for today's swissQprint machines, it can be completed in a commercially viable timescale and is opening the creative possibilities to a wide variety of applications.

Haptic printing requires a high degree of control and flexibility. Inks, their volume, and curing levels can vary depending on the desired output. Precision in material and ink control ensures that each haptic print is consistent and adheres to the desired specifications. SwissQprint's clever interface and precision printing enables fast and simple haptic prints, supporting operators throughout the process. 

Haptic effects created on a swissQprint printer

The company adds: “While the learning curve for new users can be steep, the rewards are huge. Print shops are therefore embracing this technology, offering customers a level of versatility they have never seen before. It is an exciting new market that is capturing the imagination of many.”

Another solution for producing braille is Canon’s PRISMAelevate XL for tactile print applications. Launched at the FESPA Global Print Expo in Munich in 2023, PRISMAelevate XL is an extension of the PRISMA XL Suite and is a software application enabling large-format graphic designers and printers to create tactile print applications and elevated print on Arizona printers.

Succeeding Arizona Touchstone, PRISMAelevate XL can achieve up to 20% higher speeds and can create textured 
effects and raised lettering up to 2mm on the Arizona 1300 and 2300 flatbed series. 

The Cristian Library for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBB), one of the largest braille printing services in Europe has utilised Canon’s Arizona Touchstone technology to produce a whole package including braille for its customers. 

Canon unveiled two new products at this year’s FESPA: the PRISMAelevate XL software and Arizona 1300 flatbed printer series

Andrea Haklander, braille and relief manager at the company says this technology has enabled it to offer customers braille, large prints, audio, embossing, and digital reading matter all in one package.

“90% of our products printed on the Arizona are elevated prints and previously, it was not possible to combine relief with fine structuring or with full colour, nor was it possible to print relief on other materials,” Haklander says.

Not only has using this technology enabled the company to produce higher quality braille, it has also saved the business money.

Haklander explains: “Now, all of this is possible. Producing elevated prints requires expertise but Touchstone makes it easy to create a good file, it includes all the elevation data the printer needs to build up the print layer by layer, and that’s how we can reduce costs by 65-80% compared to the previous process. The output quality of the braille is much better than alternative processes can offer.” 

Haptic effects created with Canon technology

Braille in our Everyday Lives 

In addition to these 3D-effect haptic printing technologies, braille has been being produced by printers for many years. This is in the form of embossing and embossing dies, through screen printing stencils, and later through 
digital printing with the use of inkjet and varnish. 

As well as playing an important role in signage and other navigational and communication formats, the use of braille in packaging is crucial as it ensures the safety of those relying on it. This can be in the form of navigating medication, food packaging, cleaning and household products, and so on.

Highlighted by Interpack in its Tightly Packed magazine, braille has an impact on labour and costs with printers needing to navigate differences in the format of braille for different languages, as well as accounting for specific dot diameters, offsets, and line distances when embossing or printing to ensure the dots are easily readable.

Braille produced on a label for cleaning fluid 

The production of braille also requires the right drying properties, higher printing speeds, and high-quality nozzle flow. 

Alongside the functionalities of braille, designers also need to find a way to incorporate it within the look and feel of the product and more and more brands are doing this creatively. One example is Coca-Cola’s 2025 Share a Coke campaign in Mexico and Argentina which saw the brand’s recognisable red cans of coke and bottles embossed with braille text as part of the main design.  

Popular card games such as Bingo and Uno are also now available in braille with others also able to be adapted by the addition of braille labels. According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), learning just 15 braille letters would enable a person to play games involving a pack of cards – anything from ‘Snap!’ to a tournament of Bridge. 

All of these examples show how braille can be incorporated in our everyday printed products to make the lives of blind people and partially sighted people easier to navigate. 

If you have any news, please email carys@linkpublishing.co.uk or join in with the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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