Braille-It: a Low-cost Braille Label Maker!

Introduction: Braille-It: a Low-cost Braille Label Maker!

Braille-It is a pocket-sized device that lets blind people emboss Braille into ordinary "Scotch" tape.  Braille labels help blind users identify everyday items, like food packaging, medicine containers, money, CDs, and buttons/controls on media devices and household appliances.  They can also be used to record contact info, notes, and reminders to place in a notebook or elsewhere.  Braille-It is language-independent, equally suitable for users of any Braille alphabet. Scotch® Magic™ tape easily imprints with well-defined, enduring Braille dots, and it won't obscure visual cues used by sighted people (fold over an edge for easy removal).

I designed Braille-It so that a blind person can build it, provided he/she has the right equipment and training.  This Instructable is a bastardized version of the blind-accessible construction process, to allow sighted builders to make the best use of whatever equipment is available.  By contrast, a blind person requires a more specific set of methods, hand tools and bench-mounted equipment to perform the construction safely and effectively.  (Feel free to contact me for further info regarding the blind-accessible construction process.)

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Materials and Tools


- Aluminum sheet, thickness: .050" (1.25mm); approx. 12" X 8'' (or comparable area with one side no less than 6.5");  Alloy 5052 or similar (3003 okay);

- 1/16" (1.6mm) diameter Galvanized Steel Wire or Mild Steel Welding Rod.  Galvanized steel wire is commonly found in hardware stores, most often in coiled form.  You can straighten segments of this wire, before cutting short lengths to shape into embossing pins.  Alternatively, you can use 1/16" diameter mild steel welding rod, which comes pre-straightened.  Note that mild steel welding rod often comes copper-coated, which is okay --- it actually makes for rather attractive embossing pins.

- Music wire, or other spring-tempered steel wire. Diameter/Thickness: approximately 1mm (.040").  [will only use a length of several inches]

- Size M3 or Size 4-40 Screws and Nuts 
      Thirteen (13) 25-mm length screws 
      Six (6) 14-mm length screws
      Two (2) 4-mm length screws
      Thirty-four (34) Hex nuts
      Six (6) Nylon-insert lock nuts (hex)
  [Note: screws may be cut/filed to adjust length]

- Two (2) Pop-Rivets / Blind-Rivets, 3-mm diameter [Optional; can be replaced with two short screws if necessary]

- Thin-walled plastic tubing, 3-mm inner diameter (approx.) --- e.g., Plastic stir straws, used for beverage-mixing or Shrink-wrap tubing, used for electrical insulation ;  should be just wide enough to fit around the shaft of M3 or 4-40 screws (minimal stretching may be required);  outer diameter less than 3.8mm.

- Plastic Tubing, 4.5 to 5 mm outer diameter, approx. 3-mm inner diameter.  Possible sources:  Nylon tubing or nylon spacers or PVC tubing or pneumatic/polyurethane tubing or circuit-board spacers or heavy-duty electrical wire insulation.  (This tubing should be relatively hard, not too compressible.)

- Three (3) small wheels with 12.5-mm (1/2") outer diameter, 3 to 4-mm center hole diameter, and approximately 4-6mm thick.  This requirement can be met in a variety of ways, e.g., with appropriately-sized nylon wheels/spacers or with a stack of 1/2" diameter washers fit around a plastic tubing core.  The outer diameter of these wheels is key --- no less than 12-mm and no more than 13-mm.  This will be crucial in order to achieve proper Braille spacing (which we will constrain to one-sixth of the wheel circumference).

- Six (6) Small compression springs, between .16"-.20" outer diameter, and approximately .25" in length.  If you are only making one or two devices, these can be harvested from retractable ball-point pens (one pen spring can be cut to yield 3 or 4 Braille-It button springs).  Or you can buy assorted packs of small springs in many hardware and crafts stores.  Or you can wind your own springs from thin-gauge music wire or other spring-tempered steel wire (approximately .014"-.019 wire diameter).  Or you can stretch extension springs into (substantially longer) compression springs. [Important: Be very careful when making or modifying springs, or when handling uncoiled spring wire.]  Or you can buy several feet of spring (e.g., McMaster #9662K15).

- Rubber bicycle inner tube, 28-32 mm width range (28-32C) or even a bit smaller.  A used/broken/recycled tube would be ideal, since we'll only need a small length of tube for each device.

- One (1) roll of Scotch® Magic™ Tape.  Width: 19mm (3/4") 

- Perfboard, Stripboard, or other perforated material, with approximately 2.5-mm (.1") vertical and horizontal hole spacing. [Optional, but quite helpful for drilling/punching accurate six-dot Braille pattern by hand]


- Sheet Metal Corner Notcher --- makes things much easier, but possible to use hacksaw or bandsaw

- Sheet Metal Cutter or Shear --- can use hacksaw/bandsaw if necessary

- Sheet Metal Bending Brake --- bends can alternatively be performed with sheet metal locking clamps (or other make-shift approaches), though perhaps at the expense of ease and/or precision

- Sheet Metal Punch and/or Drilling Apparatus (manual, power, or machine)

- Steel files, medium and fine-tooth (for filing aluminum edges and steel wire, respectively)

- Razor / Utility blade / x-acto knife

- Center punch (automatic or manual+hammer)

- Riveter / Rivet-gun [if using pop-rivets / blind-rivets]

- Fine-tip punch [Optional]--- can use a nail with a sharp, conical tip, or another steel implement with a fine, narrow-tapered tip.

- Cup Bur [Optional] --- very useful for rounding a flat-cut end of steel wire; a needle file or other grinding tool can be used instead, but require significantly more patience/effort

- Sheet Metal Nibbler with 2 to 3mm-wide nibbling tooth [Optional]

- Deburring tool [Optional] --- can use steel file instead

Step 2: Print, Cut, Divide, and Stick.

The dimensional drawings (PDF files) are to scale, so printing them at full size and using the process described here allows one bypass a lot of tedious measuring and marking.  However, there are many other ways to go about cutting and patterning the desired aluminum components --- feel free to do what works for you.  


Download PDF files, and print the dimensional drawings at full scale, so that the size of each component template matches measurements indicated. Note that the measurements are labeled in millimeters.

Cut out the component drawings:  
(1) Place each drawing on a flat wooden or plastic surface (something you won't mind scratching up with a razor).  
(2) Use the edge of a ruler (or another straight, flat edge) to guide your razor as you cut along the outer border of each component.  

Divide your aluminum sheet into more manageable-sized pieces.  You can use a sheet metal shear, bandsaw, or even a hacksaw (just be sure to immobilize the sheet close to where you're cutting).  I am using a low-cost Rotary Shear (basically a glorified can-opener).  

Make two approximately rectangular pieces, sized slightly larger than the two large housing components.  Additional pieces can be sized slightly larger than each of the remaining component cut-outs, or you can spread several small component cut-outs on a few medium-sized pieces.  

Use double-sided tape (or rubber cement or other sticky substance of your choice) to stick cut-out component drawings to the aluminum pieces.  Be sure to apply tape (or other removable adhesive) along the edges of each cut-out and wherever a hole is indicated in the drawings, so that these areas stay firmly attached to the aluminum.

Step 3: Shaping Your Aluminium Parts.

Note:  Although I describe shaping before patterning below, some of the more elaborate hole patterns will be easier to achieve before the component is cut to its final shape.  For example, the 12 small holes on the Braille Dual-Template should be made before cutting the four corner notches (which make the piece as a whole more delicate).  You may want to set the Dual-Template aside, and we can deal with it separately a few steps from now.



If you are working with a Corner Notcher, you can make duplicates of pieces quite easily, using the existing piece as a template.  As a matter of fact, I use these same dimensional drawings to prepare thicker, steel templates for use in the blind-accessible construction process. 

Here's how to cut out an aluminum piece in the same shape as another flat component using a Corner Notcher.  First stick the component to an over-sized piece of aluminum --- you can do this with double-sided tape, adhesive mounting putty, or similar.  Then trim away the portions of the aluminum sheet that protrude beyond the edges of the component you are copying.  You can do this relatively easily by aligning the component's edges with the slightly raised blade of the Corner Notcher.

Make one (1) copy of the Cartridge-Frame.

Make three (3) additional copies of the Role-Shim piece (the elongated rectangle with a single hole marked in the center).

Use a steel file to smooth the edges and corners of the Housing-front and Housing-back pieces.  (For long edges, you may also use a deburring tool, if you have one; if not, a steel file will suffice.)

Step 4: Patterning Your Parts.


XX.  Use a steel file to round the top edges (near the large holes) of both Cartridge-frame pieces.

Step 5: Braille-Dual-Template, WTF?!

If you are having trouble making evenly-spaced 1.6mm holes for the Braille-Dual-Template, you can use a piece of StripboardPerfboard, or other material with holes spaced at approximately 2.5-mm intervals, to help guide hole placement. 

IMPORTANT: When drilling your circuit board, be careful not to inhale the resulting powder, which usually contains fiberglass and/or potentially toxic resins. 

The image shows a cut section of perfboard and a 1.6-mm (approx 1/16") drill bit, held in a tap wrench.

Print and cut the drawing again if necessary, and attach it to a new, slightly over-sized piece of aluminum.  Don't cut out the corner notches just yet.

Step 6: Side-Notches! (are Optional)

You'll notice that the larger components in particular have 3mm-wide side-notches indicated, flanking each 90-degree bend marking.  I introduced these side notches to enable blind people to make the required bends quickly and precisely.  Blind builders/makers perform patterning by fixing each aluminum piece to a corresponding steel template, which guides the positioning of punching dies and nibbling teeth.  The notches are easily made with the help of a sheet metal nibbler with a 2.5mm-wide tooth.  

If you have a Sheet Metal Nibbler with a 2 to 3mm-wide tooth, make rectangular side-notches where indicated on the component drawings.  Notches are also relatively easy to make with a fine-toothed/needle file (or a medium-toothed file and a steady hand).  If you are comfortable with a bandsaw or a Dremel tool, notch-making should also be straightforward. 

Side-notches help in two ways:  (1) For blind builders in particular, they help to align the unbent aluminum with a reference surface on a bending brake or sheet metal clamp, and (2) Since the region of aluminum between the notches is narrower than the surrounding area, the notches help to target the bend to this region, even if the bend is not optimally arranged. 

That being said, side-notches are optional.

Step 7: Bending, Where Appropriate...

Precise bending is most easily accomplished with the help of a sheet metal bending brake.  Machine shops will often have large finger/pan brakes.  The device that I'm using is very cheap and simple by comparison.  If you don't have access to a brake, a make-shift bender should be easy enough to improvise --- just be sure to test your bender with scrap metal before trying it out on one of your carefully shaped and patterned pieces. 

Step 8: Forming the Embossing Pins

Materials for this step:
- One (1) block of wood
- Two (2) steel nails (2.5- to 3-mm diameter; at least 35-mm length)
- Steel wire (or welding rod), 1/16" diameter

Preparing the Pin-forming Jig.

A. Cut a block of wood such that it measures exactly 43 mm along one dimension --- should not deviate by more than 0.5 mm.  The other two dimensions should be at least 35 mm (its okay if they're substantially larger).

B. Position you wooden block with 43-mm dimension oriented in the up-down direction.  Choose a spot on the top surface of the block, about 10-15 mm from the closest edges.  Using a 1.56mm (1/16") drill bit, drill a straight hole through the wooden block along the 43-mm dimension, producing a 43mm-long through-hole, just wide enough for a straight piece of 1/16" diameter steel wire to pass through.

C.  Mark two additional points on the top face of the block ---- one point at a distance of 8 mm from the hole center, and the other point at a distance of 14 mm from the hole center.  The 8-mm and 14-mm distances from the drilled hole should be measured out in different (approximately orthogonal) directions. 

D.  At each of these two positions, drill a hole about 15-20 mm deep (you can use the same 1/16" drill bit).  Then hammer one nail into each of these blind holes, stopping at 15-20 mm depth.  

E.  Clip off the head of each nail, leaving about 10 mm of nail shaft protruding at each site.  File the tip of each shaft to remove and sharp or pointed edges.

Rounding the PIn Tips.

F.  Cut six (6) 100-mm (4") lengths of steel wire or welding rod (1.6mm diameter).  If you're using wire from a coil (or some other non-straightened form), do your best to straighten the segments of wire before cutting each length to size.  You can straighten coiled galvanized steel wire by wrapping the wire in cloth, gripping it with pliers, and running the pliers along the length of the wire several times (or use nylon-jawed pliers if you have them). 

G. Using a fine-toothed steel file, flatten one end of each length of straightened wire or rod.  Do not try to round the end without flattening it first.

H.  Round the flattened end of each length of wire/rod.  There are several ways to go about this.  By far, the easiest way I found is with an appropriately sized Cup Bur (Note that the cup bur sizing scheme refers to the outer diameter of the cup --- to round the end of a 1.6mm wire, you need either a 1.8mm or 2.1mm cup bur, depending on the style.

If you don't have a cup bur, you can use a fine-toothed file, needle file, or grinding stone to round the flat end of each wire. 

Shaping the Embossing Pins.

I.  Place your Pin-shaping Jig on a hard, flat surface, with the nail shafts pointed upward. 

J.  Insert the rounded end of one of your straight lengths of wire into the through hole, and push the wire all the way down into the hole.  Lift the Jig off of the hard, flat surface and feed the wire a bit further, until the rounded end protrudes slightly beyond the bottom face.  Now, lower the Jig back onto the flat surface and press down, so that the tip of wire's rounded end sits flush with the bottom face of the Jig.

K.  Continue to hold the Pin-forming Jig and the wire firmly in place.  Keeping the rounded wire tip and bottom Jig face in contact with the flat surface, bend the protruding end of the wire toward one of the nail shafts.  The result should be a roughly 90 degree bend

L.  Wrap the wire end around the nail, forming a loop --- go around one full revolution, until the loose wire end is pointing in its original direction. 

M.  Clip the end of the wire, leaving a full (or nearly full) loop that does not intersect itself.  Now that the loop does not intersect itself, you can flatten it.  The image shows loop flattening being performed using the flat, wide region of pliers' jaws.  

N.  There are four possible pin-loop conformations:
(i) clockwise around the farther (14mm) nail,
(ii) counter-clockwise around the farther (14mm) nail,
(iii) clockwise around the 8mm nail, and
(iv) counter-clockwise around the 8mm nail. 

You will need a total of six pins:  two each of conformations (i) and (ii), and one each of conformations (iii) and (iv).

Step 9: Forming the Feed-Incrementing Spring

Wire-bending Jig.

Step 10: Assembling the Button Complex

In this step, you will use the following:
- Housing-back aluminum piece
- Button-guide aluminum piece
- Six (6) M3 or 4-40 screws, 25-mm length
- Two (2) M3 or 4-40 screws,14
-mm length
- Thin-walled plastic tubing (i.e., a stir straw)

- Twenty (20) M3 or 4-40 Hex nuts
- Six (6) small compression springs, approx. 5mm (.2") length

Thin-walled plastic tubing should fit snugly around your M3 (or 4-40) screws (stretch slightly if necessary).  Cut four 4-mm lengths and eight (8) 6-mm lengths.  Provided the tubing is at least somewhat translucent, you can use tape to mark the desired length from the tip of a a screw; then slide the tubing onto the screw up to the marked length, and use a razor blade to cut the tubing flush with the tip of the screw (see photos).  Try to cut the tubing edges as straight as possible.

B. Fit the four 4-mm tubes and two of the 6-mm tubes all the way onto your six 25-mm length "button screws" (one tube per screw).  Then insert one screw into each of the six large holes on the short side of the Housing-back piece ---- the two screws with 6mm tubes should go into the two outer-most holes (farthest from the tall side of the piece).  Apply one hex nut to each screw --- the nuts should press the tubes firmly against the screw caps.  (If the tubes are too tight to slide down the screw shaft, you can nudge them along slowly/evenly when apply the nut.  Do not tighten the nuts so much as to deform the tubes.)

C.  Insert the two 14-mm screws into the two smaller holes on the short side of the Housing-back (in between the button screws).  Apply three nuts to each screw, tightening each nut before applying the next.  (Two of the nuts on each screw are effectively being used as spacers --- to save nuts, you can use small washers or other spacing elements adding up to about 4mm, and then tighten one nut on top of them.)

D. Fit the remaining four 6mm tubes onto the six button screws, pushing them all the way down to the nut. 

E. Place one compression spring on each button screw, so that each spring has a 6mm tube at its core.

F.  Fit the eight holes of the aluminum Button-guide piece over all eight screws of the button complex (six button screws and two shorter screws in the middle.  Apply another hex nut to each of the two shorter screws, and use them to tighten the Button-guide down.  (Make sure that the six larger holes fit around the 6mm tubes on the button screws, so that none of the tubes is crushed when you tighten down the Button-guide.)

G. Screw the remaining six hex nuts onto the six button screws, all the way down to the top edge of the 6mm tubes.  Tighten the hex nuts enough so that the top and bottom edges of the 6mm tubes are in contact with the upper and lower hex nuts, respectively --- i.e., there should be no exposed threading between the upper hex nut and the cap of the button screw.  (Just don't tighten so much as crush the tubes or thread the nuts over the tubes.) 

Step 11: Affixing the Peripherals

In this step, you will use the following:
- Housing-back piece (now with button complex)
- Closure-bar aluminum piece
- One (1) Role-shim aluminum piece
- Role-core aluminum piece
- Two (2) 4-mm length screws
- Two (2) 25-mm length screws
- One (1) 14-mm length screw
- Five (5) Hex nuts

A.  Align the three holes in the main face of the Closure-bar with the three lowest holes on the large inner face of the Housing-back.  Use two 25-mm screws and two hex nuts to attach the Closure-bar to the Housing back via the pair of holes directly above the button assembly.  The screws should be fed through from the outer surface of the housing back, so that they protrude out over the button assembly.

B.  Place the Roll-shim piece along the length of the closure bar (on the side opposite the pair of screws you just inserted).  Align the single hole in the Roll-shim with the remaining hole on the main face of the Closure-bar. 

C. Place the Role-Core piece (aluminum rectangle with two bends) on top of the Role shim, with the holes aligned. 

D. Insert a 14-mm screw through the hole, feeding it from the outer surface of the Housing-back.  The screw should traverse four components: the Housing-back, Closure-bar, Role-shim, and Role-core.  Apply a hex nut to the length of screw protruding from the center of the Role-core, and fasten it down tightly.

Step 12: Assembling the Pin-Feed Complex [Part 1]

Step 13: Assembling the Pin-Feed Complex [Part 2]

Materials for this step:
- Housing-back piece (with partially completed Pin-Feed assembly)

- Plastic Tubing with 4.5 to 5 mm outer diameter, approximately 3-mm inner diameter
- Three (3) wheels with 12.5-mm (1/2") outer diameter, approximately 3-mm inner diameter and 5-mm thick. 
(You can alternatively use several plastic or metal washers with 12.5-mm outer diameter, in place of each wheel, stacking them to achieve 4-6mm thickness --- if the inner diameter is much larger than 3 to 3.5 mm, use plastic tubing as a core.)
- Two (2) 4-mm length screws
- Two (2) 14-mm length screws
- Two (2) hex nylon-insert stop nuts

- Four(4) hex nuts

A.  First, affix the two 4-mm screws to the side flaps of the aluminum Closure-bar, with screw caps facing outward (hex nuts on the inside). Make sure the hex nuts are on tight.  If the screw ends protrude very far beyond the end of the nuts, file them down so that they are smooth.  In particular, the tip of the screw on the right Closure-bar side flap (nearer to the Roll-core) should be filed so that it is smooth and flush with the nut.

B. From your plastic tubing, cut two 12.5-mm lengths, two 7-mm lengths, and three 3.5-mm lengths.  To get flat/straight edges, you can cut slightly larger lengths than required, and then sand them down.  Do not worry too much about precision --- rather, try to err on the high side, and then you can come back later and sand pieces down as needed.  (Note: Sanding is often more effective than filing for removing small amount of plastic.  To sand the end of a plastic spacer or tubing, hold sand paper stationary against a flat surface, and rub the spacer/tubing back and forth against it, while applying even pressure.)



Step 14: The Final Touches...

Materials for this step:
- Housing-front aluminum piece
- Embossing-face aluminum piece
(elongated rectangle folded thrice)
- Three (3) Roll-shim aluminum pieces
- short length of rubber bicycle inner tube (preferably size 28-32C)
- Two (2) aluminum blind-rivets (aka, pop-rivets), 3-mm (1/8") diameter.
Note: If you don't have rivets and a riveter/rivet gun, you can use short screws and hex nuts --- they will just be a bit tricky to fasten, since the folded Embossing-face is a tight space.
- One (1) 14-mm length screw and one (1) hex nut

A. File down all sharp edges and corners!
Use a steel file to smooth all sharp edges and corners on the device housing (both the Housing-front and Housing-back pieces).  Also file down any edges on the inside of the device with which the user may come into contact when the housing is open, including the four corners of the Roll-core and the four corners of the Closure-bar flaps.

B. Install the Embossing Face.
Cut a 13 to 14-mm length of rubber inner tube.  This should give you a rubber ring of 13-14 mm width (i.e., do not cut the tube lengthwise).  Turn the rubber ring inside out, and rinse it in water to remove powder/dirt.  

If you are using blind-rivets, verify that your rivets fit through the two holes in the top of the Housing-front piece as well as the two holes in Embossing-face piece.  If its a tight fit, widen the holes slightly --- you can use a drill bit, deburring tool, screw driver, or whatever works.  The holes in both pieces should be wide enough for your rivets to move through them freely.

Place the Embossing-face aluminum piece inside of the rubber ring.  Use the tip of a razor blade (or small, sharp-tipped clippers) to cut holes in the rubber ring coinciding with the two holes in the Embossing-face.... 



XX.  Attach the Roll-shims
Cut about 10 mm of aluminum from both ends of each of the three remaining Roll-shim pieces.  Then, affix the three truncated Roll-shims to the main inner face of the Housing-front piece, using a 14-mm length screw and hex nut.  Only the screw cap should be on the outer face of the Housing-front.  (The orientation of the Roll-shims is not important.)  After tightening the hex nut, clip off the protruding end of the screw, and smooth the screw stump with a file.

XX. Loading Tape.  Hold the tape roll in your right hand and the loose end of tape between your left thumb and index finger.  Unroll about an inch or two of tape.  Then, as you begin to fit the tape roll onto the "roll core", feed the loose end of tape under the (bare) positioning screw and over the feed wheels.  Pull the loose end forward over both axles of the feed-wheel complex, and then advance the tape another inch or so.

Step 15: Gifting Your Braille-It?

Be the First to Share


    • Trash to Treasure Contest

      Trash to Treasure Contest
    • Raspberry Pi Contest 2020

      Raspberry Pi Contest 2020
    • Wearables Contest

      Wearables Contest

    3 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

    This looks like a great project, but it looks like your missing half the steps? Steps 8-15 have very little detail, as if you did not finish it off yet.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I'm so happy to see this on instructables! Long live detailed explanations of years of work being freely available online! And, of course, amazing work!