Reading and Writing Images: Tactile Graphics
Tactile graphic images are used by individuals who are blind to obtain information that sighted people get from looking at pictures. For example, a student who is sighted in a geography class would have a difficult time learning about the different regions of the world without the use of maps. A student who is blind needs tactile maps to gain this information.
Tactile graphics are images that use raised surfaces so that a person who is visually impaired can feel them. They are used to convey non-textual information such as maps, paintings, graphs and diagrams.
Tactile graphics can be seen as a subset of accessible images. Images can be made accessible to the visually impaired in various ways, such as verbal description, sound, or haptic (tactual) feedback.
Tactile graphics are not a straight reproduction of the print graphic and does not include color or other visual additions.
When textbooks are produced in braille, they are often accompanied by tactile graphics. Most often, the transcriber produces the graphic along with the braille text. Teachers of students with visual impairment or blindness (TVIs) often produce tactile graphics to accompany classroom materials and activities. Students who are braille readers can also produce tactile graphics.
It is important to recognize that tactile graphics are not automatically meaningful to a child who is visually impaired or blind. Understanding the tactile “picture” requires that the reader develop an abstract concept about the “real” thing.
Tactile graphics need to be simple graphics that clearly represent an idea that must be represented in a spatial context. The more complex and detailed the graphic is the larger the tactile representation must be to convey the information.
In the surrounding images, see visual examples of learning about varied stuffs using variety of tactile forms.
Adapted from: Tactile Graphics by Lucia Hasty
More information available at:
Tactile Graphics Website by Lucia Hasty
Tactile Pictures Pictorial Representation for the Blind 1784 - 1940 by Yvonne Eriksson, 1998
Center of Excellence in Tactile Graphics, IIT Delhi
About this Page
Tactile graphics is widely used to aid visualization for the visually impaired. While Braille itself is tactile, it is usually not considered as a form of tactile graphics as it concerns only dots.
Tactile graphics used raised lines and surface textures to communicate visual information through touch. It has, naturally, wide use in educational aids, like maps, geometry, anatomy; and day-to-day life like labeling, watch etc. Recently, advances in 3D printing technology has also made the use of tactile graphics possible for appreciation of visual arts or communication of emotions.
We present a glimpse of this very useful technology in the following sections:
Tactile Graphics Aids and Device: A wide range of low-, mid-, and high-tech aids and devices are discussed.
Tactile Graphics in India: We then take a specific look at the innovations in tactile graphics material as promoted in India. These are specifically targeted around low-cost and mass-based use. Some of them are localized for India (involving Indian languages and / or needs).
Visualizing Art by Tactile Graphics: At the cutting-edge of technology, classical are like Mona Lisa has been printed in Tactile form so that the unsighted can see it. A museum in Spain leads the way.
Tactile Emoticons: Research in Thailand has been able to show that visual and tactile perception on visible texture and surface texture can be correlated to create emotion expressions in tactile graphics in a Touch Project.
Tactile Graphics Technology: How is tactile graphics produced today from a 2D drawing to a tactile design to mass-production options? Fascinatingly emerging technology show the future.
Tactile Graphics Aids and Devices
Here we present a representative set of aids and devices that used tactile graphics. These are categorized as:
Low-Tech: These are based on simple mechanical aids, papers and models. Most of them are low cost and some of them can be built at home as well. These are used widely for educational purposes, used by students and teachers.
Mid-Tech: These device often use use more of technology, often use advanced material, and many of them can be used for creating tactile graphic contents as well. These are usually more expensive than the low-tech aids, however, they for use by advanced individual users.
High-Tech: These are mostly for mass production, depend on advanced technology and material, and often are expensive. Few high-tech aids are for individual use.
Low-Tech Aids and Devices
This Graphic Art tape is available through APH but can also be purchased commercially. It can be used to insert tactile lines on graphs, mark hand positions on embossed clock faces, illustrate geometric figures in math, create diagrams and show features on a map.
This paper, available through APH, contains tactile colored sheets that can be cut and applied to other surfaces. See the list of suggestions on the Art page for more suggestions of materials that can be used.
This two-volume set of thermoformed tactile graphics gives a comprehensive overview of the body. Includes the skeletal, muscular, nervous, and endocrine, cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. Each tactual diagram has braille and print labels accompanied by a brief braille description. A print version of each brailled text is contained in the included Instructional Text.
Use in combination with the diagramming strips and shapes included in the original kit. Can also be used with APH’s ALL-IN-ONE Board.Two puzzle frames with smooth and bumpy textured shapes are included. For optimal tactile and visual contrast, sort the red, smooth puzzle pieces into the bumpy, yellow puzzle frame and the bumpy, yellow puzzle pieces into the smooth, red puzzle frame.
A fun, squishy, tactile introduction to human anatomy.
Cast organs in different colors and arrange them in a transparent plastic torso!
Mix up colorful slime mixtures and pour them into the included molds to make some of the human body's major organs: the heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, and liver.
Stamp a brain out of putty!
Pretend to be a doctor by experimenting with a safe plastic scalpel for a fun, mushy, hands-on learning experience!
Set of thermoformed raised-line drawings depicting geometry concepts, figures, and relationships. Graphics are larger and easier for students to measure than those in braille textbooks.
Kit includes 26 white plastic thermoform sheets measuring 8 1/2 x 11 inches. 52 drawings total. Includes two specially adapted protractors, a teacher’s guide in print and braille, and a storage binder.
In this Teachable Moment, Sharon Stelzer demonstrates a full-day calendar system that she developed for a 14 year old student. Sharon talks about how the student demonstrated readiness to transition from a half day (morning or afternoon) calendar to a full day system and how the calendar system was constructed to meet the student's needs.
The Tactile Book Builder Kit contains a wide selection of materials enabling users to quickly custom-make books of many kinds—firsthand experience storybooks, concept books, simple texture books, informational books, alphabet books, adaptations of print books, and more!
Mid-Tech Aids and Devices
This kit, available from APH, can be used to create embossed graphics. The kit contains stencils, embossing tools, and other items needed to create tactile graphics by dry pressure embossing. Use a light source, such as the APH lightbox, to place underneath sheets to be embossed.
The Swail Dot Inverter, available from APH, allows the user to construct simple diagrams, graphs, maps, etc. by embossing a series of single dots. Braille paper is placed on top of the rubber pad. The special sylus allows dots to be embossed upwards by puncturing the paper on the down stroke and then pulling the dot upwards on the up stroke. USE CAUTION as the stylus is VERY sharp!
The DRAFTSMAN, available through APH, is used in combination with special film and a stylus to create instant raised-line drawings. It can be used to create simple raised-line graphics. The board has a plastic frame that encases a double-layered rubber surface. Clamp a sheet of included drawing film onto the board and use the stylus or a ballpoint pen to quickly draw a raised image.
The Tactile Graphics Kit, available from APH, allows teachers to create custom tactile graphics. It allows you to create raised-line masters on heavy -gauge aluminum that can be reproduced using a vacuum-form machine. It includes a braille slate and stylus, braille eraser, rubber embossing pad, ruler, and foil sheets.
The inTACT Eraser is a battery operated eraser specifically designed for tactile drawing. It allows the user to erase mistakes and can also be used to create dashed lines. The eraser works like a miniature iron, heating the flat tip to approximately 180 degrees. It flattens tactile drawings quickly and erases them tactually. This eraser can be used in tandem with the inTACT Sketchpad or it can be used with the APH Draftsman.
The inTACT Sketchpad is a great alternative to the Draftsman. It is particularly beneficial for students to use and create their own tactual graphics due to its ease of use. When the cover is lifted, there is a recessed area to place the drawing sheet on. Magnet strips completely cover the perimeter of the board creating a secure closing when the lid is lowered.
High-Tech Aids and Devices
It is a simple, fast method of creating tactile maps and graphics. Print onto specialty paper through a standard printer or copy machine. Next, run the paper through the Swell-Form graphics Machine. The heat reacts to the black ink and swells, creating a tactile image.
This creates tactile and talking maps, tailored to the needs of blind people, like the ones developed by LightHouse. Audio-tactile technology allows the maps to maintain a clean design and provide easily changeable information.
Referred in Infra in Mobility
PIAF is a simple and fast way to prepare tactile graphics. It makes raised line drawings on special paper, called capsule or swell paper. Users can draw, print or photocopy pictures onto the swell paper and pass it through the PIAF. The heat causes the lines to swell as it reacts to the carbon in the ink, and then the drawing can be read with the fingers.
A Thermoform Machine is the most accurate way to reproduce braille text and tactile graphics. To use, place a master copy or mold onto the machine, then place a sheet of specialized plastic material, Brailon, on top of it and close the clamp. Once the clamp has been engaged, slide the heating element to the front and wait a few seconds. When it is removed, there will be a tactual graphic of the master copy.
Material Extrusion (FDM): Material is selectively dispensed through a nozzle or orifice
Vat Polymerization (SLA & DLP): Liquid photopolymer in a vat is selectively cured by UV light
Powder Bed Fusion (SLS, DMLS & SLM): A high-energy source selectively fuses powder particles
Material Jetting (MJ): Droplets of material are selectively deposited and cured
Binder Jetting (BJ): Liquid bonding agent selectively binds regions of a powder bed
Direct Energy Deposition (LENS, LBMD): A high-energy source fuses material as it is deposited
Sheet Lamination (LOM, UAM): Sheets of material are bonded and formed layer-by-layer
Tactile Graphics in India
The Centre of Excellence in Tactile Graphics (COETG), set up as part of the ASSISTECH group at IIT Delhi, aims at empowering the persons with visual impairment by providing access to figures and diagrams in a meaningful and comprehensible tactile form.
The centre has developed technology for producing high-quality yet very affordable tactile diagrams using 3-D printing for mold making and thermoforming for actual production of tactile diagrams. ASSISTECH is also working on using the latest image processing and machine learning techniques for automating production of tactile diagrams meeting applicable International guidelines.
CoETG has incubated two successful startups (see below):
Further, Centre For Rehabilitation Engineering And Assistive Technology (CREATE), An Interdisciplinary assistive technology research center at IIT Madras, has created Tactograph - Tactile graphics printer.
Raised Line Foundation
Raised Lines Foundation (RLF), a Section 8 company incubated at IIT Delhi, started in 2015 under Centre of Excellence in Tactile Graphics (CoETG), to develop end to end solutions for tactile diagrams in affordable and scalable manner.