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How to Make a 3D Printed Tactile Map

Date & Time
Thursday, March 17, 2022 - 11:20 AM PST  
Orange County  

Wayfinding has come a long way in the last few years. From having to print out your directions from Mapquest, to simply asking Siri to take you to the nearest Starbucks, user options have advanced drastically, and greatly improved navigation. However, wayfinding for individuals with low vision still proves to be a difficult task, with maps and apps designed for cars and roads, and little to no accessibility being implemented in their development.

To address this issue, 3D printed maps, used on college campuses, has greatly risen in popularity. These tactile maps allow individuals to learn building locations by touch, as well as how to navigate between them. But the experience needed to make such maps can be difficult to come by. That is why in this presentation, I want to provide a walkthrough to describe how one can, with little to no experience in 3D printing, make their own 3D printed tactile map to accommodate individuals who may need them. I will do so with live demonstrations of all the tools and websites needed for the workflow.

One of the first things you will need are the needs of the user. This will shape the entire process and end product, so gather as much information as possible from the user. Do they want the entire campus? Or just the main buildings? What type of information would they like added? Building names? Walk ways? Number of floors? Other points of interest? These will be critical to ensuring that the tactile map meets what the user needs.

Next, visit a website called Type your location in, and change the map until you have all the locations the user will need in frame, then click “create tactile map” below. This will create the main template that you will use for editing, adding and removing features, and shaping for the printer.

Then edit your STL. There are a number of free platforms out there, but this guide will focus on using tinkercad, which is free, to make the necessary edits. Depending on what size you used in touchmapper, you will need to edit out parts of the map, such as parking lots or unnecessary buildings. You can do this by selecting a shape from the side panel, changing its properties to “hole,” and placing the hole object over the area you want to remove. By then grouping the hole with your STL file, any overlapping areas of the map with the hole object will remove the area. Do this until you get the general area you want for your print.

Now, you will need to add braille. Using acronyms for buildings is usually the best method, as it reduces the amount of time it takes to label buildings, and be easier to fit. The best workflow I’ve found is to use half spheres, slightly sunk into the buildings, and set to 2mm in height and width in tinkercad, and then using CTRL C/V to duplicate the dots, and then the arrow keys to move them around to spell out the acronym. 2mm is important, as these settings will allow you to accurately line up the dots to allow you to make braille. Once all the needed landmarks are labeled, export the STL file.

Now you need to slice your STL file, which tells the printer how to print the design. Use 0.12mm layer height, at least 50% infill density, and PLA or ABS material. I also recommend taking several small sections of the STL file, cutting them out into a separate file, and test printing that first. This will give you a good idea of what the final print will look like, but much sooner, and with much less material. Once your test print looks good, print the full file. If that looks good, give it to your user! Be sure to ask for feedback on ways it can be improved.

This Presentation Link is provided by the Presenter(s) and not hosted by the Center on Disabilities at CSUN. The Center on Disabilities has confirmed, as of February 9, 2022, content linked is relevant to the presentation, but has not been reviewed for accessibility nor will the Center on Disabilities attempt to remediate any accessibility issues in the linked content. Please contact the Presenter(s) with any accessibility concerns.

  • Higher Education
  • Information & Communications Technology
Audience Level
Session Summary (Abstract)
This session will show individuals with little to no 3D printing experience how to print a custom tactile map, complete with braille markings, for their own campus or location.  
Session Type
General Track  
  • Blind/Low Vision
  • Design
  • Independent Living


  • Kevin Cleppe

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