Stage 2: Experiments

Now that I understand how microcapsule paper works, it’s time to get a bit nerdy with material science.

Most blind students in Austria attend regular schools, so they will have sighted people around them. This is why we decided to try and make the materials work better for this integrative approach by including the text in schwarzschrift (literally black print, I don’t think this term exists in English so I’ll stick to the German) too. Schwarzschrift here, for us, is red though. There’s technical reasons for that, but maybe I need to explain how swell paper works first.

Pages of swell paper with test lines in different line styles and red writing in different shades that has stayed flat in the swelling process

Testing different shades of red by applying different heat settings.

Close up of swell paper with black, 3D lines and flat red writing.

Now to find a colour that is the easiest to read for sighted people while not interfering with the tactile parts of the page.

The basic idea is simple: Microcapsule paper, or swell paper, reacts to heat. It is being printed on like regular paper, but after printing it is put through a machine (the fuser) that heats paper up using infrared light. When the infrared light hits the printed pigment, the paper underneath the pigment gets hot enough to swell up (It’s a bit like popcorn).

Since the swelling is caused by a combination of black pigment on the special paper and infrared light, changing parameters means it is possible to print content that won’t puff up when put through the fuser. Specifically, red ink absorbs less infrared light and heat and therefore doesn’t make the paper swell up.

So why is this a good idea? Braille has a very low density of information, so one page can fit much less text than it would with schwarzschrift. Space on a Braille page is precious, so we do not want to take up space with text that doesn’t need to be tactile. Additionally, having the schwarzschrift parts swell up would be confusing when reading the Braille and tactile graphics.

A Page of the Pythagoras chapter. It has labelled tactile triangles. The text is available both in Braille and in red for readers that cannot read braille. This is the first finished page from the short test chapter we are using to test the basic design.

If the schwarzschrift text does not swell up in the production process, it can just exist in the white space of the tactile page. Reliably being able to have content that swells and content that does not means we can make the most out of the limited space we have available while still providing all the information for different readers: It simply adds another layer of information that is imperceptible for those who don’t need it.

How to read Braille

Pages of swell paper with different surface patters consisting of dots, lines and crosses

A number of pages with different surface patterns and intersections of lines and patterns

My new design project is interesting. It mostly consists of maths and programming, combined with social research. After that, finally, some layouting and typesetting – but the final product will not necessarily look pretty. That’s alright though, since it’s not made to be looked at: We are working on teaching materials for blind and visually impaired students. More specifically, a graphics catalogue to be used in high school maths education.

A page of swell paper with different styles of dashed lines.

How do dashed lines behave and feel? How much difference is needed so we can distinguish styles by touch?

close up of swell paper with different dashed line styles

It’s hard to get a good picture of the three dimensional quality of the paper.

And this is exactly why I love being a designer: Getting to make things that work, no matter how contradictory the requirements may seem initially.

A page of swell paper with different dot pattern surfaces

Here I am trying to come up with different patterns to replace what would usually be different colours. After creating a lot of “test squares” we had teachers and students test them at the school.

Pages of swell paper with different surface patterns

Pages of swell paper with different surface patterns

I’m really looking forward to working on this project. I have never used swell paper before I was approached with this project, but it’s an exciting material. It makes it possible to create tactile graphics with a standard printer and a special device to actually make the print tactile.

The first step is testing the properties of the material we are working with so I can get a feeling for it. We are closely working with both blind students and teachers to learn the basics about tactile graphics and typesetting in Braille, but also about the Braille system itself.

Close up of swell paper with different surface patterns and line styles

Intersections and Lines that go over what would traditionally be coloured fields are much harder to distinguish in tactile graphics.

Next up: learning how to actually read Braille.

moar scissors

I Love the aesthetics of linoprints.

In between all of the usual end-of-year chaos, a dear friend invited me to play with her printing press. We made a few things, and in the end I finally managed to print the linoleum plate I cut as a test when trying out the newest laser cutter.

Turns out that the prints I wanted to make were too complicated for water based paints, so now I have oil based ones (jay for black fingers and mineral spirits ;). When looking at my black fingers, I keep being reminded of my print workshop teacher from art school – When anyone was annoyed with their paint-stained hands, he would always smirk and say “Na, es heißt ja die schwarze Kunst” (Well printing is black art after all).


Posted in Printing 15.12.2016

finally: zombies

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Posted in DIY, Printing 21.08.2014

and even more scissors!

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So I printed scissors on things again. This time: screen printing.

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This is the picture I used to make the template for the screen.


Posted in Printing 27.01.2014
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i do have a lot of pin-back monsters now

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Aren’t they great? The cephalopods and zombies are screen printed on different fabrics. The printing for each design needed two passes – one for the outlines, and one for the colouring.

Special thanks go to Alex, who basically provided all the features an additional human body has to offer when working on a project like this one … Especially having two extra hands to use turned out to be rather useful ;)

And he got us the fancy badge maker we used.

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As I’m all about figuring out how things really work, what made me happy was that I finally managed to prepare a screen for screen printing that can actually be used (I just flooded the dark room one and a half times in the process -.-).

Also, This is the first time I printed on fabric with more than one colour, which is exiting as well.

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MONSTERS! ZOMBIES! :D


Posted in DIY, Life, Printing 24.12.2013

zombies and tentacles

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Posted in Printing 18.12.2013