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Manual Creation of Tactile Graphics

Module by: R.G. (Dick) Baldwin. E-mail the author

Summary: This module describes one of the ways for creating tactile graphics for the modules in this collection.



This module is part of a collection of modules designed to make physics concepts accessible to blind students.

See for the main page of the collection and for the table of contents for the collection.

The collection is intended to supplement but not to replace the textbook in an introductory course in high school or college physics.

This module describes one of the ways for creating tactile graphics for the modules in this collection.


In addition to an Internet connection and a browser, you will need the following tools (as a minimum) to work through the exercises in these modules:

As you will see in this module, there are some additional requirements for creating and exploring tactile graphics.

The minimum prerequisites for understanding the material in these modules include:

Viewing tip

I recommend that you open another copy of this document in a separate browser window and use the following links to easily find and view the figures while you are reading about them.


Supplemental material

I recommend that you also study the other lessons in my extensive collection of online programming tutorials. You will find a consolidated index at .


I will begin this discussion with a discussion of a type of graphics file known as Scalable Vector Graphics file.

Scalable vector graphics

There are a variety of different formats for storing graphics information in disk files. One of those formats, and the one that I have adopted for this collection of modules, is called Scalable Vector Graphics . Files containing Scalable Vector Graphics information typically have an extension of svg, and are often referred to simply as svg files.

You will find a good explanation of Scalable Vector Graphics in the Wikipedia article titled Scalable Vector Graphics .

Can be scaled without corruption

For my purposes, the major advantage of using svg files is that they can be enlarged or reduced in size without corrupting the image. For example, the images in the svg files that I will provide are designed to be printed on 8.5x11 inch paper stock. However, if you have access to a printer that can handle larger paper, you can use a program such as the free svg editing program named Inkscape to enlarge the images without corrupting them. You can then print the larger images on larger paper stock.

Download the svg file

You will need to download an svg graphics file named 1.svg to complete the work in this module. Click this link to download a zip file named containing the file named 1.svg.

The need for graphics in physics

It is very difficult to learn introductory physics without having access to a variety of pictures, charts, and diagrams. Many of you are likely to need those materials in tactile form. While we can transmit words, sounds, and pictures via the Internet, we still don't have the ability to transmit tactile graphics via the Internet.

This means that it will be necessary for you to use the svg files that I provide and to make your own arrangements for having those files converted into tactile graphics.

A range of options

Depending on the resources that you have available, you have a range of options for the creation and exploration of tactile graphics.

My plan is to provide the necessary svg graphics files to produce tactile graphics for a range of different resources.

Machine embossing of tactile graphics

One of the available options for creating (and exploring) machine-embossed tactile graphics (on paper) is the IVEO Hands on Learning System from ViewPlus Technologies . (See the disclaimer below.)

The svg files that I will provide are intended to be compatible with the IVEO Learning System.

The opposite end of the budgetary spectrum

At the opposite end of the budgetary spectrum is the student whose only resource for tactile graphics is a human embosser using various tools from a tactile graphics kit to manually emboss printed versions of the svg files. The files (and the supplementary information that I will provide) are designed to support manual embossing as well as machine embossing. (The file that I will provide for this module is intended for manual embossing only. Future modules will include the necessary files for machine embossing.)


There are two steps involved in first creating and then using tactile graphics:

  1. Embossing a paper copy of the graphic
  2. Exploring the embossed copy of the graphic using touch, and in some cases, sound.

Embossing the graphic

There are at least two ways to emboss the paper copy of the graphic:

  1. Manual embossing
  2. Machine embossing using a graphics-compatible Braille printer such as those from ViewPlus Technologies .

Exploring the graphic

There are at least two possibilities for exploring the graphic:

  • Exploration using touch alone.
  • Exploration using the IVEO Hands on Learning System with a ViewPlus touchpad, which adds sound to the mix.

Several combinations available

Depending on available resources, individual students might find themselves combining either of the two embossing methods with either of the two exploration methods. The files that I will provide for many of the modules will be designed to satisfy all four possible combinations.

However, my guess is that most students will find themselves in a situation where they are limited to manual embossing and exploration by touch only when they first begin studying the modules in this collection. Therefore, I will limit the discussion in this module to the use of the svg files for manual embossing. I will explain how to use the svg files for the other three combinations in future modules

Manual embossing

If there is at least one sighted person who is willing to assist you, you should be able to use the svg files that I will provide to create manually-embossed tactile graphics for the images in this collection. I will refer to that sighted person as "your assistant" in the following discussion.

Description of the scenario

This scenario assumes that you don't have access to an embossing printer and you don't have access to the computer and touchpad resources necessary to support the IVEO system. Therefore, you will need to arrange for an assistant to manually emboss the images for you. You will also need to explore the embossed image by touch alone, using the supplementary information that I will provide in this module.

The file named 1.svg

For this scenario, you will need to extract and print the file named 1.svg from the zip file mentioned earlier . You could use the free IVEO Viewer software to print it on an ordinary non-embossing printer. However, since this scenario has no IVEO involvement, it isn't necessary to use the IVEO Viewer software to print it. A simple alternative approach is to

  • Ask the your assistant to open the file named 1.svg in either Firefox 5 (or later) or Internet Explorer 9 (or later).
  • Set Page Setup on the File menu to Portrait or Landscape as appropriate.
  • Select Print Preview
  • Use the print scaling capabilities of the browser to make the image as large as will fit on a single page.
  • Print the file.

Another alternative

Another alternative, (which may do a better job of maintaining the actual size of the graphic than either browser mentioned above), is to print the file using a free svg drawing program named Inkscape (see ).

Inkscape can appear to be rather daunting when it first appears on the screen. However, the process of opening a file in Inkscape and printing the file can all be handled by making simple selections from the File menu.

More importantly, as I mentioned earlier, if your printer can accommodate paper that is wider than 8.5 inches, the Inkscape program can also be used to enlarge the image in the svg file to provide you with a larger tactile graphic image.

A scaled version of the graphic

Figure 1 shows a scaled version of the graphic contained in the file named 1.svg for the benefit of your assistant who will emboss the image. Note that this is a mirror image of the image that is to be presented to the student after embossing. Having a mirror image makes it possible for the assistant to emboss the image from the back of the paper, producing the correctly-oriented image on the front of the paper.

Figure 1: Mirror image from file 1.svg.
Mirror image from file 1.svg.
Missing image

Figure 2 shows the same image in normal (not mirror image) orientation.

Figure 2: Normal image from file 1.svg.
Normal image from file 1.svg.
Missing image

The image

This image is provided as a test case to allow you and your assistant to experiment and to determine what works best for you. Much of the information and many of the objects in the image have to do with things that you haven't learned yet, so you shouldn't expect to understand why they are there.

Your assistant will probably notice that all of the text is printed backwards. This is because the svg file contains a mirror image of the actual image. In effect, your assistant will emboss the image from the back side of the paper. When you turn it over and explore the front side using touch, you will be exploring the image in the orientation that it is intended to be viewed.

Your assistant will also notice that there is a (reversed) letter in a small oblique font to the right (from her viewpoint) of each of the major text elements in the image, plus a few other letters in that same font scattered throughout the image. These are key characters, which are to be embossed in Braille. I will have more to say about this later.

Manual embossing

If your assistant has experience with manual embossing, the two of you probably know more about manually embossing tactile graphics than I do. However, manual embossing experience is not a requirement. Just about any sighted person should be able to emboss the images with your help.

Mostly straight lines

Most of the lines for the images in these modules will either be straight lines or gently curving lines that can be embossed using a serrated tracing wheel. (Serrated tracing wheels can be purchased at fabric, hobby, or craft stores. If there is a choice, ask your assistant to purchase the wheel with the sharpest serrations.)

Just ask your assistant to emboss narrow lines once in the center of the line, and to emboss wide lines twice, once on each side of the line. Very wide lines can be embossed three times, once on each side and once in the center. The use of a straight edge as a guide works very well for straight lines. If the line is not straight, your assistant should do her best to follow the line with the tracing wheel on a freehand basis.

A backing pad is required

Don't attempt to emboss the image with the paper on a hard surface. You will need to place it on a backing pad of some sort so that the serrations will penetrate the paper. A block of Styrofoam works pretty well for this purpose, as does a piece of corrugated cardboard from a cardboard packing box. Many tactile graphics kits include a backing pad, but those kits are pretty expensive and may be overkill for your needs.

You may be able to identify another inexpensive material for a backing pad that works even better. If you do, I would like to hear about it so that I can pass that information along to other students.

Don't emboss the English text characters

The most difficult thing about manually embossing the image in Figure 1 is the task of embossing the English text labels in a form that is accessible to a blind student. Therefore, I don't intend for your assistant to emboss that text, unless she elects to do so using Braille as described below .

Key characters

The image in the file named 1.svg contains 19 strategically placed key characters consisting of the characters from A through S. (Other images in other modules will have different numbers of key characters.) As mentioned earlier, the key characters are printed in a smaller oblique font to make them easily distinguishable from the regular text. (They are also printed as a mirror image of the actual English character.)

Emboss the lines and Braille the key characters

Your assistant should emboss all of the lines in the image, and should replace the smaller, oblique key characters of "A" through "S" with corresponding Braille characters using a slate and stylus. This may be the point where you will need to help. If your assistant doesn't know Braille, have her place the Braille template over the character and tell you what the character is so that you can emboss it yourself.

Alternatively, your assistant can find a visual chart showing Braille characters for the alphabet at Wikipedia. (See .)

Make sure the orientation is correct

Each Braille character should be embossed in reversed orientation relative to that chart. For example, when you turn the paper over and touch it, you should recognize the Braille character for an "A" where the key value "A" appears (reversed) in English text on the printed mirror image.

In addition to the key characters, you or your assistant should emboss a Braille label of your own choosing on each image so that you can identify it later.

You may need a flag

Some of the key characters, such as the letter "A", with a small number of dots may be difficult for you to locate on the embossed image. Therefore, you and your assistant may need to emboss some sort of a flag near the Braille character to alert you of its presence. One possibility would be to use the tracing wheel to emboss a small X next to the Braille key character. If the two of you come up with a flag that is both effective and easy to create, I would like to hear about it so that I can pass the information along to other students.

Key-value pairs

Figure 3 contains the text values associated with each of the Braille key characters shown in Figure 1 .

Figure 3: Text values for Braille keys in file 1.svg.
Text values for Braille keys in file 1.svg.

A: Beam supported by a diagonal cable
B: V
C: H
D: M*g
E: T
F: Ty
G: Tx
H: 30 degrees
I: The large characters are 32 pt and these characters are 16 pt
J: Note: Vectors not drawn to scale
K: Wall supporting beam
L: Vertical support vector at wall
M: Horizontal support vector at wall
N: Beam
O: Weight vector for beam
P: Horizontal component of tension vector
Q: Tension vector
R: Vertical component of tension vector
S: Physical support cable

The text values in the right-hand column in Figure 3 are the text values that you would read if all of the text on the image were embossed in Braille. However, embossing all of that text in Braille would make your assistant's job much more difficult. Therefore, in the interest of simplicity, my approach will be to present the text for an individual image as shown in Figure 3, and to provide Braille key characters on the images that you can use to tie the text to the image.

On the other hand

If your assistant is good at manually embossing with Braille and can spare the time to do so, there is no reason that she can't simply emboss Braille right over the printed text. Then, except for keys that refer to objects such as the key labeled "M" in Figure 2 , you and your assistant can simply ignore the keys.

The intended operational mode

The intended operational mode is for you to locate an object of interest on the embossed image, locate the Braille key associated with that object, and then come back to Figure 3 to read the text associated with that object.

A vector diagram

Once you begin exploring the embossed image from the file named 1.svg by touch, you will discover that there are several objects on the image that consist of heavy straight lines with arrow heads. Those objects are what we will refer to as vectors in subsequent modules.

This diagram includes a vertical wall on the left side of the image. A rectangular beam protrudes horizontally from the wall towards the right a little below the vertical center of the image. A supporting cable is attached to the right end of the beam at an angle of 30 degrees and attaches back to the wall above the point where the beam is attached to the wall.

The image shows the vectors associated with various forces in the wall-beam-cable configuration along with the beam and the cable in the background. This will be a common theme throughout this collection. A picture of something will be presented in the background and vectors will be shown in the foreground.

Very light gray shading

Your assistant will note that I represented the wall and the beam with a very light gray shading and a few widely-spaced dots along the edges. I also represented the cable as a dashed line.

I'm not sure of the best way to emboss the beam and the wall. One approach would be to simply use the tracing wheel and emboss the outline of the beam and the wall. However, I'm concerned that the addition of the horizontal and vertical lines required to do that would make it more difficult for you to discern the more important information, which is the location and direction of each vector.

You and your assistant will probably need to discuss this issue and determine what works best for you in terms of identifying the location and shape of the beam and the wall. Ideally, you will come up with a solution that can be applied to the background pictures in other images in future modules.

One option might be to print two copies of the file and ask your assistant to emboss only the outer frame and the background picture in one, and to emboss everything but the background picture in the other.

If you come up with a really good idea in this regard, I would like to hear what it is so that I can pass it along to other students.


I will publish a module containing consolidated links to resources on my Connexions web page and will update and add to the list as additional modules in this collection are published.


This section contains a variety of miscellaneous information.


Housekeeping material
  • Module name: Manual Creation of Tactile Graphics
  • File: Phy1004.htm
  • Revised: 07/02/2011
  • Keywords:
    • physics
    • accessible
    • accessibility
    • blind
    • graph board
    • protractor
    • screen reader
    • refreshable Braille display
    • JavaScript
    • trigonometry
    • tactile graphics
    • embossing
    • IVEO



IVEO Learning System : I have made positive statements about software and equipment from ViewPlus Technologies in this and other modules. That information is provided on the basis of the suitability of the ViewPlus software and equipment for the task at hand. I have no business relationship and receive no compensation in any form from ViewPlus.

Financial : Although the Connexions site makes it possible for you to download a PDF file for this module at no charge, and also makes it possible for you to purchase a pre-printed version of the PDF file, you should be aware that some of the HTML elements in this module may not translate well into PDF.

I also want you to know that I receive no financial compensation from the Connexions website even if you purchase the PDF version of the module.

Affiliation : I am a professor of Computer Information Technology at Austin Community College in Austin, TX.


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