Post date: 
Friday, 29 July 2016
Braille printer

In part four of Insight’s braille series, John Chester, VI and Sensory Learning Coordinator, shares how the King’s Academy Middlesbrough produces braille for their students.

For those not familiar with braille, the associated formatting rules and the intrinsic methodology, people may be forgiven for thinking that creating braille resources isn’t as simple as pressing print on your computer.

Below are some tips and methods for creating resources, many of which are used at the Kings Academy Middlesbrough.

How is it done?

At the King’s Academy, we use two embossers and two software packages to create and emboss braille. 

  1. Index Basic D with Duxbury (DBT) 11.3 – this is a continuous feed embosser and we use it to emboss longer documents, such as chapters of books and exam papers (including Maths). DBT 11.3 is currently the most up-to-date version of the software and comes with Unified English Braille (UEB) document templates including one for UK formatting.
  2. Emprint SpotDot with Tiger Software Suite (TSS) – the universal selling points of this embosser are plentiful, it creates tactile graphics and also prints, which means printed text can set underneath the braille to make it accessible for sighted people. This has obvious advantages for teachers and teaching assistants. The TSS sits within Microsoft Word as an “ADD-IN” so you don’t need a separate program. This embosser is great for shorter documents, graphs and diagrams.

Both embossers have their pros and cons. While the Emprint SpotDot is unlike nearly anything else available, and it supports UEB, an Index Embosser really comes to life because of the versatility of Duxbury.

Getting stylish

Before importing your files into any braille software I strongly recommend you use “Styles” to set-up the document correctly. The simplest way of doing this is to use Heading 1 and Heading 2 for the various headings and sub-headings in your files. These enter markers in your document which software like Duxbury will pick up when importing. Styles are useful in any document type whether the desired outcome is large print, braille, DAISY or simply electronic. These markers can also be used to create a table of contents.

Where Duxbury really shines is the use of styles, especially when importing from Microsoft Word:

  • Duxbury has different document templates and import filters, which means you can quickly import from Word and start preparing your document to be embossed in UEB.
  • Set up your document correctly in Word using “Heading Styles”, this ensures a lot of the formatting for headings and sub-headings is done automatically.
  • You can also add styles within Duxbury before you translate your document.  Use the Layout menu to find a seemingly endless list of styles.
  • Whether you have edited styles in Word or Duxbury, make sure you check the position of these in the document. Just like in Word, Duxbury uses formatting codes, which you can choose to view or not view. You can toggle these on or off using Alt+F3 (see the View menu).
  • Duxbury’s coded view will also reveal the location of new lines, pages, paragraphs and of course styles.
  • New styles can also be created and/or edited to meet specific demands.

Duxbury shortcut keys

Here are just some of useful shortcuts you can use:

  • F3: File, Save As
  • F8: Apply Style 
  • Shift + F8: Apply last Style
  • Alt + F3: View codes
  • Ctrl + T: Translate
  • Ctrl + E: File, Emboss

Additional options

Styles can also be used for creating bilingual documents or inserting Maths symbols and equations. It is not always as simple as needing one style per document, especially when producing textbooks in Key Stage 4 or 5.

  • For bilingual documents, use the appropriate language style for the particular section(s). Think of this like a switch or a mode.
  • Using a similar method, use the insert menu to add maths symbols. This is great for sub/super script, Roman numerals, fractions or square root.


MathType is a great programme which allows you to create Mathematical sums and equations in programmes, like Word, and then import them into Duxbury, which in turn can be translated easily into UEB. TSS also reads MathType equations, although does not currently support UEB Maths translation. 

Additionally, these equations can be enlarged using MathType, so in theory you can create one document and then use it to create braille and large print resources.

What else do we use?

The Emprint embosser is a fantastic tool for making tactile graphics quickly and inexpensively, but I believe it is best to be versatile.

The Zychem range of products is also extremely useful.  The swell paper is quick and easy to use and these days many diagrams for key topics are available through the RNIB Bookshare (formally known as Load2Learn). Pictures and diagrams can be easily accessed and then printed onto the swell paper.

Moving forward…

Creating braille from pre-existing books or literature has become the norm, through necessity in many ways. The increased availability and affordability of braille displays (available from the RNIB Shop) means that access to braille is becoming much more straight forward.

Braille displays can be connected to desktop computers, laptops, tablets and even Apple devices, increasing access instantly. Many core texts are available through RNIB Bookshare, so embossing entire text books may become a thing of the past.

Creating, embossing or displaying braille and tactile information needs an adaptable approach and equally the producers and transcribers need to be aware of the versatility and limitations of their means of production.

Part five: Assessing the braille literacy and progress of learners



Insight Online: archive