Embossing Patterns Directly from the BrailleNote

Those of us who like braille love the luxury of embossing braille patterns and tutorials directly from the computer. I say “luxury” because braille embossers are expensive, two to three thousand dollars being the low-end price; they usually require the purchase of extra software–another seven hundred fifty dollars–for translation from print to standard braille codes; and they pose the challenge of keeping them in good repair, not to mention form feed card stock in standard paper sizes. So a relatively small number of people own them and tolerate their quirks, even putting off upgrades to other systems in order to continue access to quick braille.

I’ve had a Braille Blazer (now discontinued) for over ten years. It’s temperamental, and if I don’t guide the paper, it jams or does peculiar things to line spacing, but it puts a nicely brailled hard copy of a pattern or pattern stitch in my hand within minutes of my finding it on the web. And there are few things as blissful to a yarny as referring to a brailled pattern while enjoying a TV show or waiting for a ride.

During the past year, I’ve upgraded my home office (computer, printer, scanner, and telephone) but haven’t been able to finish the transition to 2011 technology because I couldn’t find a way to use my embosser on computers that no longer have parallel ports.

Then the other day, while talking to a friend, I remembered that the BrailleNote, which I also own, should be able to convert print documents into contracted braille, and it should be able to connect peaceably to an embosser, so I did some reading of the manuals of both devices, Googled around a bit, and learned that I had three options: serial connection (always a PITA), Bluetooth adaptor and connection (described as iffy), and USB converter and connection (discussed more confidently).

Since I had a USB to parallel converter lying around, I used the third method. The converter is a Cables To Go 16899 USB To DB25 IEEE-1284 Parallel Printer Adapter Cable for Windows, which I bought from Amazon for about eleven dollars. The process worked beautifully the first time, so I decided to pass along the steps for embossing directly from the BrailleNote to a device with a parallel port. I have an mPower and Braille Blazer, but the steps should work for other BrailleNote and embosser models.

Translating the Document to Braille

The first step is to make sure the pattern is a braille file, so start by saving it as a brf or KeyWord braille file. The quickest way is to open the document in KeyWord and use the save As feature:
1. Open KeyWord, then open your pattern document after locating it on the SD card or in one of your folders.
2. Press Space+S or ctrl+S to save the document.
3. Press Backspace once to change the folder, or twice to select the drive where the file will be saved.
4. Press backspace+X or ctrl+X repeatedly to change the file format to brf.
5. Write the file name and press Enter.

Take a moment to read your file to make sure abbreviations have been translated correctly.

Setting up the Embosser

The second step is to set up the embosser. This only happens once, so you shouldn’t have to do it again.

1. Connect the usual parallel cable to the braille embosser.
2. Screw the USB to Parallel cable to the free end of the cable in Step 1.
3. Turn the Braille embosser on.
4. Turn the BrailleNote on.
5. Plug the USB end of your extra long cable into the BrailleNote. the BrailleNote says, “Printer ready.”
6. Go into the Keyword main menu, select Embosser, press space+S or type S to adjust embosser settings, set the port to USB, and the page and line lengths to 25 lines and 32 characters, exit and confirm that you want to save settings.
7. It’s a good idea to restart the embosser after changing the settings, so you may want to turn the Blazer off and on at this point.
8. The BrailleNote manual strongly recommends that you test the embosser right away by brailling the two practice documents in the General folder.

If the practice docs emboss correctly, your embosser is ready to go.

Embossing the File

The third and final step is to emboss the pattern. It’s the easiest of the steps.

1. Open your braille pattern file in KeyWord.
2. Press space+dots 2346 or ctrl+read+b to Go into Formatting, and make sure the page and line lengths are consistent with the embosser (25 lines and 32 characters).
3. Go back to the KeyWord main menu, select embossing, press enter, and respond to the prompts about the folder and file name, and so on.
4. The last promt is “Embosser ready.” Press enter, and after a pause that goes on a couple of seconds longer than you expect, embossing begins.

Nothing to it. Once the USB to parallel cable is connected and the embosser is set up, making braille patterns directly from the BrailleNote is a matter of converting the document to a braille format like brf, choosing the Emboss option from the KeyWord main menu, and following the prompts. A yarn crafter’s life doesn’t get any easier.

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