3D Printed Tactile Picture Books Distribution

by Jeeeun Kim 

I am a PhD student at the University of Colorado Boulder. My PhD study has been on how to utilize rapid prototyping technologies, such as 3D printing, to design and make tactile story books for children with visual impairments. In this blog post, I want to share some of the methods I have used to create and distribute 3D printed books to a broader community.

Tactile Picture Book Contest

In 2013, I created a 3D printed tactile picture book based on “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown, a beloved children’s book, and submitted this book to the international Tactile Picture Book contest organized by Typhlo & Tactus, for the international tactile illustrated book prize. This book turned out to be the first 3D printed book ever submitted to the contest! Afterwards we received a lot of inquiries about the book from the parents, teachers, and other community members; many people emailed us to ask for a copy.

Because of the affordances of 3D printing, we were able to 3D print,  bind the pages with sticky felts and rings, and send copies out to parents, teachers, librarians, and other interested community members.

There are two images. One is of a 3D printed book page with a 3D bowl and a brush, and the second images is of the outside of the 3D printed book. It has a curtain and the number two on it.
Image 1. One page from “Goodnight Moon”, saying “Goodnight Mush, and Goodnight Brush” (left), bound in the book format with ring and soft felt cover (right).

As you might guess, we opted to distribute the books in their physical format because at the time 3D printers were not widely available. In order to process all of the requests, we 1) emailed people back to ask for their physical addresses, 2) 3D printed copies at the scale they wanted, 3) bound the 3D pages as a book format, 4) put the book in a secure envelope for the long journey 5) and sent the packaged books. As you see in the image below, during our fifth batch, we even received a request from the Kingdom of Tonga!

The number of requests to get a copy flooded in; we started to struggle to respond to everybody–despite my best efforts and many hours spent standing in line at the post offices.

This is a picture with a collection of envelopes, ready to be sent out.
Image 2. A pile of packages with a “Goodnight Moon” copy in, that will be sent to Massachusetts, Virginia, New Jersey, UK, and Kingdom of Tonga.

Digital Distribution

As the waitlist to receive a hand bound 3D printed book from us became very long, my colleagues and I had to make a strategic decision. Recognizing that we have limited resources compared to commercial publishers or manufacturers, we decided to put the digital versions of our books on Thingiverse, the biggest online community of 3D printer users to share 3D printable models. After we uploaded all the models of our books, we informed people that they could go online to download these model files and print their own copies. For those who do not have access to a 3D printer, we referred them to a cloud printing service such as 3D Hubs, a service that matches people who need to 3D print with those who owns a 3D printer.

This is a picture of the Thingiverse website and of the entry.
Image 3. TactilePictureBooks entity page at the Thingiverse community site, sharing digital STL files of tactile picture books as one “thing” (left), an example “thing” with several different pages to construct a set of book.

Our collection of books on Thingiverse grew. Each book consists of several pages. Each page is an individual “thing” file.  We have observed that there are more than 250 downloads of the “things”, and we got some successful reports from users about their own printing experiences.

This is a picture of a 3D print, on the bed of a 3D printer.
Image 4. An image from one of our followers, printed his own copy of page shown in Image 1.

Library Circulation

Early this year, I worked with the Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL) to create a 3D book based on Dear Zoo, an interactive lift-the-flap board book written by Rod Campbell. CTBL circulates audio recorded books and carries a small collection of tactile books for people with visual impairments. The director of CTBL wanted to add a 3D book to the library’s collection of tactile books. We visited the library to learn what the library’s requirements are for distributing physical books by mail. It was a great opportunity for us to see how current tactile books were bound. We noted that they are often bound using one ring at the top corner, which is appropriate for relatively smaller books; larger books with additive tactile materials attached were bound in the binder to prevent damage during the circulation. Also, these tactile books were often delivered together with the originals to provide sighted parents with literary references and to respect copyrights.

There are three images showing different binding types.
Image 5. Different types of Library binding for tactile picture books delivery. Binding with one ring at the top corner(left), binding with a binder(middle), and binding with a spring with original book (right).

When we delivered the 3D printed books to the library, they were put in a delivery box which looked a lot like a pizza delivery box, which safely keeps the tactile form of the book in sturdy walls to hold inner contents. (We made sure to print the book as big as possible, using the box as our guide for size.) Also, we made a wall cover to hold movable parts in the case safely, which the CTBL librarian suggested.

There are three pictures of the book as it is getting ready to be sent off. The first is of the book, the second is of the plastic box, and the third is of the materials ready to be sent.
Image 6. 3D printed lift-the-flap book of DearZoo, bound in a big binder, and put it a black delivery box.

As we move forward, my colleagues and I are still figuring out how to share the results of our research efforts on transcribing visual information into tactile formats, the design of new accessible information, and ways to readily reach the broader community. In order to broaden our efforts, we created a group of “3D accessibility” in Thingiverse, hoping all caretakers including practitioners, designers, educators, and parents can access the community’s efforts to create accessible pictures and learning materials, and share their own content, customized copies of pre-existing models, feedback about others designs, and help build resources on design considerations.

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