Braille production is a complicated process involving many different steps. The information below outlines the major points in the production process. However, the best way to understand braille production is to experience it for yourself. That's why we encourage people to tour our facility in person or listen to an audio tour.
The braille production process begins in the Transcription Department, where special software is used by staff transcribers to transcribe the written word into braille code. The transcriber then reviews the document to ensure all code is correct. Our transcribers' extensive training enables them to transcribe literary, math and music braille; to transcribe in multiple languages; and to earn certification by the Library of Congress.
Experienced braille proofreaders are employed to find any errors in the transcription. These proofreaders examine pages of braille - often comparing the transcribed braille document to an audio version of the original print document - and note mistakes on either a Braillewriter (braille typewriter) or a braille notetaker (a portable electronic braille device). Like the transcribers, our proofreaders go through extensive initial and ongoing training that enables them to proofread a variety of braille formats. The proofreaders are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of our braille.
Once a braille document has been proofread, it is ready to be embossed. An electronic file containing the document's transcribed braille code directs one of two Plate Embossing Devices (PED) to emboss braille dots on to zinc plates. The PED is capable of embossing on both sides of a plate, which is referred to as interpoint braille. It takes 35 seconds for the PED to emboss one side of the plate, and a full page of interpoint braille can be embossed in under two minutes. A second check from our Proofreading Department ensures the PED machinery has embossed accurately, as these plates serve as our template for producing multiple copies of the same page. After being used to create many copies of paper braille, the zinc plates are recycled.
After the braille plates have been made and any errors corrected, the plates are used to produce braille copies in high-volume on one of three Heidelberg sheet-fed presses modified for braille production. When only a small number of copies are required, the electronic file containing the transcribed braille code is input into braille embossers (similar in operation to a conventional computer printer) rather than creating zinc plates that are mounted on the presses. Our pressing services also include offset printing, mainly for large-print documents and paper book covers.
After carefully planning the graphic design, the next step is to construct a template or "master" using ordinary materials like heavy gauge aluminum foil, tracing wheels, carbon paper, string, and cardboard cut-outs. Braille labels identifying key components of a diagram or drawing are embossed on heavy paper and glued to the master. In addition to this "collage" method of creating a master, three-dimensional images can be made using a special type of braille embosser such as the Tiger Embosser, which utilizes electronic files to create shapes and images with raised lines and dots. Copies are made by placing the master in a heated vacuum press called a Thermoform Machine, which melts the plastic Thermoform pages around the master to form the image. Learn more about tactile graphics.
Finishing staff collate and fold the braille documents by hand. All work is checked for quality then bound with a stitch or ring binding. Some projects may consist of thousands of soft cover, magazine-style copies, while others may consist of hundreds of hardcover editions with stamped print or printed graphics.
We enjoy showing the general public how we produce braille. To request a tour date, please call or email Hannah Ransom Canning at 617-266-6160 ext 412.
Cost: Free, donations appreciated
Reservations Needed: Yes, with two weeks' notice.
Days and Hours: Monday - Friday at 10:30 am or 1:00 pm.
Length of Time: 1 hour
Minimum Age: While there is no official minimum age, children should be at least 6 years old to appreciate the tour. We try to make the tour more interactive for children.
Read what some of our visitors have said about the tour.
Directions to National Braille Press.