The world’s leading manufacturer of Braille printers can be found in the far north of Sweden.
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Index Braille was started by Björn Löfstedt in the early 1980s, and today it has more than half the global market for Braille printers, or embossers. The company’s headquarters and production are in Gammelstad, outside Luleå, and this is also where the hardware and software for the printers are continuously developed.
“Our printers are under constant development,” says Mikael Vikman, head of production and deputy managing director at Index Braille. “Right now we’re on the verge of a technical leap forward as we introduce Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. This will make the Braille printers simpler to use and even more similar to regular printers.”
The print head in the company’s printer has 13 small electromagnets with pistons that are alternately convex and concave, and they emboss both sides of the paper at high speed. The result is a double-sided printout, but one where the rows are staggered height-wise.
“For us sighted people it looks very disorganised, as we can see both the raised dots and the pits that make up the print on the other side, but it works perfectly well for a visually impaired person,” Vikman explains.
The printers from Index Braille come with proprietary software that makes it easy to adapt the machine to local languages. All the printers are delivered with English as the default language, but customers can easily set their own language with the accompanying character table.
“It’s currently possible to set about 80 languages, and new ones are being added all the time,” Vikman says.
“Our guiding principle is that it should be simple to use our printers. That’s why we also devote a lot of time to good design. Braille printers tend to be heavy, noisy and unsightly, but we focus on design and user-friendliness. Our latest machine, the Braille Box, has won several design prizes, including the Red Dot Design Award.”
Index Braille has also concentrated on producing better dots, and it has been developing and refining its magnets since the 1990s.
“A high-quality dot is nice and round and whole at the top,” Vikman says. “If the dots have cracked tops, they quickly wear down and can only take a couple of readings. The paper is obviously also important. Regular copy paper works, but it should ideally have a grammage of 160 g/m2.”
TEXT: KARIN STRAND