top of page
  • Anja Bennis

Code Savvy Presents: Tactile Graphics


We experience and learn about the world through the senses of sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing. I recently learned that more science than I ever realized is accomplished by licking things. Being a visual learner myself, I stop and think of the sheer amount of information received via sight.

From every flavor of text book, manual, technical paper, standardized test, and web page to sharing a meme and a laugh with a friend, information is communicated via images. More than not, the content displayed visually is needed to understand the entire concept. This is particularly the case in the STEM [or now STEAM as it includes the arts] fields.

Graphics can communicate a lot of complicated information that is vital for comprehension of the readers. Being unable to access that information puts the visually impaired and blind at a disadvantage especially in those fields.
Hands with a pen writing on some paper graphs

Example of generic science graphs

Hand on braille output on a digital screen

A student feeling raised squares on a digital board.


People who are visually impaired have been using braille and screen readers which read "alt text" labels on web labels on images. Those labels are entered by the webpage creator and the quality greatly varies. Even a quality description of, say, an economics graph, would not give the viewer all of the information a non-visually impaired graphic image would give. This is where tactile graphics come in.

Tactile graphics are just like it sounds: raised surfaces outlined via several methods or a 3-D object of the graphic for obtaining that same information via touch. This has been done for quite some time in the form of pressed or embossed paper images, little models, or raised plastic images for learning and demonstration purposes. In the earliest publishing, they would wet paper, press it between two woodcuts, then varnish it.

In a recent NPR feature, a college professor has her TA trace graphs with a glue gun before giving them to her to correct. Information you can trace with your fingers started thousands of years ago, when people produced lithophanes or engravings as forms of art.

a 3D Lithopane of a cat's face in white printed material

Example of a lithophane.


  • Swell paper - paper that swells with heat.

  • Relief - Images are scanned with the fingertips in relief in several different forms and made by several different techniques.

  • High-resolution graphic embossers

  • The collage method - (aka Models or figurines) ​A collage tactile graphic can be created using a variety of craft materials that can be found in craft stores or recyclables. Possible materials for creating the area include braille paper, cardboard, dried handi wipes, textured paper, fine sandpaper, needlepoint backing or fabric.

  • 3D printer objects

An example of tactile swell touch paper

Example of Swell Paper

3D Printed Tactile Graphic Matching Game

Example of a 3D Printed Tactile Graphic Matching Game


There are multiple tactile graphics libraries online, free of use to submit and share. Many of the templates are base images such as state outlines, clock outlines, and empty graphs so you can add your own content, then possibly resubmit it for others' usage. APH's library has a tactile specific graphic designer that reviews the entries and has recorded extensive instructional YouTube videos about every piece of the process. There are some considerations specific to this type and they and others provide very comprehensive style guides. Other libraries are available for 3D printer object items for download, at least one listed below is specifically tailored for the visually impared but most can be very useful tools .



  • APH [American Printing House for the Blind] - APH’s free online Tactile Graphics Image Library (TGIL). Vector images are available in PDF format, along with .png and .stl files.

  • Makerbot Thingverse - The rest of the listed options are created specifically for the visually impared but there are several nonspecific 3D printing libraries out there that contain very useful models for printing and sharing.

  • Tactile View is a program similar to how a PDF viewer works for tactile file formats such as Svg. It is available free for download on the website.

We will have more on Tactile Graphics next week, as we continue to explore this fascinating and accessible communications technology ... Stay tuned!

30 views0 comments
bottom of page