Enabling Technologies

Frequently Asked Questions About Braille Embossers

Table of Contents


Why does the quality of braille matter?


Image of the following text in a poor quality font


(What if every assignment, every pop quiz and every exam including finals is written in poor quality type like this.)


There is no such thing as a magnifier for braille. Braille dots should be as bold as the paper will hold. Would you want to struggle to read your final exam? Wouldn’t you learn more if the reading was easy so you could focus on the content instead of struggling with just reading the text? Reading good braille, like reading good print is an essential foundation for a good education.


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What does high quality braille look like?

Look for small cracks in the dots. Those small visible cracks tell you that the dots are as high as they CAN be without tearing the paper. If you want to see well-formed dots for the sake of comparison, examine a sample made on a Perkins mechanical Brailler in good condition.  These well-formed, uniform dots constitute the standard for the industry.  You will see tiny cracks in these dots where tiny pockets of the paper are trapped for an instant against a pin, which creates the actual shape of the dot. Dots without small visible cracks are probably made too quickly or with too little impact. In any case, they are likely to weaken or disappear over time. The same can be said for dots which are misformed by poking holes all the way through the paper. This can lend a jagged or scuffed feel to the Braille.

When in doubt about the quality of a Braille sample, show it to a Braille reader and listen carefully. It takes training to prepare a visual inspector to recognize good, uniform, clear Braille.  But for the person who reads it tactually for information purposes, no training is needed. It's either clear and uniform, or it isn't, and most any Braille reader can tell you right away which is true.


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How can I tell how fast a braille embosser is running?

LISTEN for the brief pause in the normal sound of embossing as the machine moves to a new sheet of paper.  Glance at your watch's second hand during this momentary pause, and look again at the next similar pause, and you have just measured the actual speed of the embosser. Speed ratings by manufacturers often involve complex calculations requiring wild guesses about line length and number of lines per page. When you time the interval between sheet changes during an embosser demonstration, you are learning the ACTUAL speed at which the machine embosses a page. Say the interval between pauses is ten seconds. That means the embosser in question can produce about six pages per minute, or roughly 360 pages per hour. This is a meaningful measurement for people who want to know how long it will take for their important work to get done.

Incidentally, a ten-second page could mean the machine is capable of roughly 100 characters per second, assuming it operates on only one side of paper at a time.  Double-sided embossers must finish a sheet in roughly twenty seconds to achieve a similar speed. In any case, if you can time or even count to yourself to estimate time per page, you'll know more than the brochures or even the periodical reviews tell you about how fast it is really.


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Do I need a braille translator?

Some braille embosser manufacturers supply free braille printer drivers with their products. A driver in this context is a program designed to feed information directly to an embosser from a Windows program such as Microsoft Word.  The trouble is that such drivers tend to scramble and misformat the text instead of presenting clear, easy-to-read Braille.  This may be acceptable to print the occasional web page or email but it cannot replace a high quality translator when clear, professional results are needed.


A Braille translator costs money, just like a print word processor, but when the job needs to look right, free Braille printer drivers simply aren’t up to the challenge. High quality braille translators such as DBT from Duxbury Systems have made the production of high quality braille and tactile graphics relatively simple. They include many tools to import your print materials and very quickly and easily translate them into well formatted grade 2 braille.


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What should I ask when I am getting a product demonstration?

Regardless of what manufacturer’s product you are considering, you should always ask the company representative to produce something for you from scratch. Do not simply look at “canned” product demonstrations. These are often optimized to hide the faults in a product’s capabilities and also gloss over the complexities often involved in producing  materials such as tactile graphics.


If the company representative is not capable of producing materials similar to those being shown in the demonstration, then you should be very wary of the product’s true capabilities and the claims of ease of use being made in the literature. When in doubt you may wish to talk to people who already own the product you are considering.


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What is the difference between a braille embosser and a tactile graphics printer?

These are two distinctly different products. A braille embosser is optimized to produce high quality braille much like a LaserJet printer produces high quality print. Tactile graphics printers, sometimes referred to as haptic printers, are optimized for the production of tactile relief images. In order to produce high resolution tactile graphics that include braille labels, the quality of the braille must be compromised to accommodate the graphics format. Oddly shaped, poor quality braille characters might be acceptable for labeling a chart or graph, but it is not acceptable at all for producing entire text books or longer documents. Poor quality braille is extremely difficult to read tactually and greatly reduces reading speed and comprehension.


Most braille embossers on the market also offer graphics modes of slightly lower resolution. These produce the best compromise in quality between braille and tactile graphics. Remember this, a braille embosser can be substituted in most applications for a tactile graphics printer but a tactile graphics printer CANNOT be used as a substitute for a braille embosser.


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Is there a standard for braille characters?

Every major braille producing country has standards for braille character spacing and minimum height of the dots in each braille cell. The majority of countries have adopted the braille character standard produced by the Perkins mechanical braille writer. When this standard was first established decades ago, extensive testing was done with a large number of braille readers to determine the optimum characteristics for good quality braille. This is the standard used today by the United States Library of Congress and several other international agencies that oversee the production of books, magazines and other materials in braille.


There are other standards that have been created for specific applications. The European Union has recently adopted a standard known as Marburg Medium braille that has been specifically designed for use on pharmaceutical labels. To date, Enabling Technologies is the only braille embosser manufacturer that has been certified to produce braille meeting this stringent specification.


Enabling Technologies embossers exceed every national braille standard worldwide by a very wide margin. Producing consistent, high quality, properly spaced braille characters is what has made us the world’s leading manufacturer of braille embossers. There are only two other manufacturers in the world that have proven a comparable level of consistent, high quality in their braille products. One is located in Tonsberg, Norway and the other in Marburg, Germany.


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How long will my braille embosser last?

Braille embossers are very much like an automobile in most respects. Individual driving patterns can make an automobile last anywhere from 5 years to 20 years or more, depending on how well it is maintained and how much use it receives. If you run a braille embosser 5 or more hours a day, every day you will probably need to replace the machine sooner than someone who uses the same model of product only occasionally. If you use good quality paper, run the embosser within its rated production level and provide all recommended maintenance, you should get ten years of service from your Enabling Technologies product. We have been manufacturing braille embossers since 1971 and we have many customers who have owned and operated their machines for 20 years or more. That’s longer than most braille embosser manufacturers have been in business.


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Why does Enabling Technologies have 16 different models of braille embosser?

Producing braille, like producing print is done in a wide variety of ways. A student who prints out the occasional homework assignment does not need a braille embosser capable of producing several text books a day. Braille production volumes and requirements vary greatly from one application to another. In addition, there are a number of specialty applications such as placing braille on signage or on labels that are applied to objects like CD’s, DVD’s, food containers or even pharmaceutical packages. Large scale braille producers utilize braille plate masters created on special plate making machines. These plates, when mounted in a high speed press, are capable of producing over 20,000 pages of braille in one hour.


When selecting a braille embosser it is very important that you select a model the meets your individual requirements. When it comes to braille production, one size does not fit all applications. Some manufacturers with small or limited product lines may try to convince you that their small, personal embosser can also handle your high volume production needs. This is definitely not the case. You would never consider using an inexpensive inkjet printer to replace a high speed, ink printing press capable of making thousands of copies per hour.


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Why is my braille embosser so noisy?

Unfortunately, it takes a considerable amount of impact on heavy braille paper to form good, consistent, high quality braille characters. If this impact is reduced, the quality of the braille is also reduced thus effecting readability. Enabling Technologies strives to incorporate as much noise reducing materials and technologies as possible in all of its products. If noise is an issue in your particular application, we do offer a stylish sound enclosure called The Peacemaker that eliminates up to 90% of the perceived noise made by our braille embossers.


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Does the quality of the paper I use matter?

Absolutely! Most paper that is used for the production of braille is fairly heavy in weight and corresponds to the type of card stock often used for index cards and file folders. This type of paper varies widely in quality and thickness. The single largest enemy of all braille embossers, regardless of the manufacturer, is paper dust. This extremely fine dust is created when the paper is embossed and the microscopic fibers that compose the papers formulation are broken when the braille dots are formed. This process is unavoidable when making high quality braille.


Using the best quality papers that have been formulated for braille production greatly reduce the accumulation of paper dust in your braille embosser. This in turn reduces the frequency in which you need to have the paper dust professionally removed from your embosser. When selecting a brand of braille paper cost should not be the sole factor you consider. Cheaper, lower quality papers might save money in the short run but the savings could easily be taken back in higher equipment maintenance costs and poorer quality finished braille materials.


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Ink Safety for Print and Braille Applications

In developing the TranSend SE, product engineers at Enabling Technologies performed an extensive review of various ink products to use in our low cost print and Braille embossing system. The TranSend SE system has been designed to work with a number of very specific dot matrix printers. The reason for this is because the inks used by these printers have been classified as non-toxic and are so safe that the Federal government has exempted them from the requirements to produce Material Safety Data Sheets for their ink. This is not true of all ink formulations.


Almost all inks used in ink jet cartridges contain toxic compounds that can cause skin and eye irritation and long term exposure can cause allergic reactions. In addition, some ink jet cartridges contain carcinogenic compounds. Our TranSend SE system has been designed to operate with a specific list of dot matrix ink printers. But to improve the products usability we have also incorporated the capability to use virtually any Windows compatible ink printer. We do not support the TranSend SE system with these other printers but the capability to drive them has been included in the product.


Before applying any ink to print and Braille materials for distribution to Braille readers we encourage you to insure that the ink used is safe for tactile reading applications. All manufacturers of printers using ink jet cartridges are required to provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for their products. You can find Material Safety Data Sheets for many of the major manufacturers quite readily on the internet or directly from your printer distributor.


 Last revised: January 26, 2010