Paper Research for Braille
I see and feel paper but not in the same way as my blind daughter. She strokes, rubs, scratches, smells, even listens to paper. In short, she investigates and experiences paper in a different way. When reading braille on paper, her fingertips zip along the dots using highly developed tactile skills.
When we think of paper for printing we generally don’t think of braille printing. For this reason I decided to make a thorough investigation before making my paper choice. Braille has unique characteristics (size, height and strength) which require certain qualities in paper.
In my search for the most suitable paper I selected a whole range of papers in various weights (130 g t / m 300 grams) to be printed in braille. I then asked three experienced braille readers to judge the quality of the braille. Their level of tactile perception was amazing and their feedback specific and detailed. One of the most striking observations was ‘its rough smooth’, a contradiction in terms but spot on. (Perhaps something like a Bodoni light on a glossy paper.) The paper was beautifully smooth but this didn’t have a flowing effect when reading the braille.
Regarding the actual braille dots, the responses varied: ‘clear but at the same time a bit pointy; a fuller point but less well defined; beautiful clear points for young readers; the dots appear larger and more robust as if they are set into the paper; the dots read faster or slower’. Even slight weight differences could be felt and this subsequently had an effect on the quality of the braille, that is the tactile legibility. Paper often used in desktop braille printers was recognized immediately, it gave a familiar result. Another paper with a special soft coating (feels a bit like felt) was associated with swell paper (also known as capsule paper) which is often used for printing tactile drawings. The braille was less defined and the paper was experienced as sticky.
Further Paper Research
My research, bound together in a ringbind, proved to be a valuable source of information, also for the braille printing company. It is interesting to note that these braille readers had previously never been asked to judge the quality of braille in this way, that is on a complete range of papers. I would very much like to extend my paper research; I think it could provide valuable and interesting information about how paper (and other materials) can affect the legibility of braille. Moving forward it would also be interesting to combine this with previous research into the size (diameter, height) and spacing of braille.
The technical requirements for printing braille had to be taken into account when choosing the paper.. The size, height and strength of the dots (as well as the durability) are inextricably linked to the weight, flexibility and finish of the paper. I wanted to use braille on the cover, which automatically meant using a certain production technique (because of the cover size) and also a heavier weight. Using feedback from the braille testers I chose Munken Lynx Rough in 300 grams. This is a beautifully strong, uncoated paper with a natural feel under the fingers and a warm tone. The braille dots, nestled in the paper, are very clear to feel.
The book really comprises of two separate booklets: Part 1 (theory) and Part 2 (practical examples of braille). For Part 1, which is printed in full color offset, I used Olin Regular High White in 120 grams: an uncoated, natural white paper. Not too smooth, not too rough, not too white or transparent, with a perfect printing result for both solids and rasters.
For Part 2, in which offset is integrated with braille, I wanted to make a subtle distinction in both tint and weight. For this I used Munken Lynx in 170 gram: an uncoated white paper, bulkier and slightly warmer in tone than Olin. As with the cover, this paper has a natural feel under the fingers resulting in a good balance between resistance and sliding effect for the braille.