How to Create Accessible 3D Printed Objects for Users with Visual Impairments

Published March 15, 2024

As technology advances, 3D printing has emerged as a powerful tool with the potential to enhance accessibility for individuals with visual impairments. Integrating tactile features into 3D-printed objects opens new possibilities for creating inclusive products. 

Users with visual impairments often rely on touch and tactile feedback to comprehend and navigate their surroundings. Therefore, incorporating tactile features into 3D-printed objects can significantly improve usability and accessibility. In this guide, we will explore techniques for designing and producing 3D-printed objects that cater specifically to the needs of users with visual impairments.

Design considerations for 3D printed objects


  • Color contrast — Utilize high-contrast colors for different sections of the 3D-printed object. This helps visually impaired users distinguish between various components easily.
  • Textured contrast — Integrate varied textures on the object's surface. For example, a smooth surface may indicate a non-interactive area, while a textured or raised surface could signify a control or input region.


  • Tactile markings — Incorporate tactile markings or patterns that convey information through touch. These can include raised dots, lines, or other textured elements that serve as guides or indicators.
  • Texture consistency — Ensure that textures are consistent across similar functions or controls, establishing a tactile language that users can learn and recognize.

Sensory feedback

  • Tactile buttons and controls — Design 3D-printed objects with tactile buttons or controls that users can feel and press. Ensure these controls provide distinct feedback, such as a click or resistance, to signify activation.
  • Auditory feedback — Consider incorporating auditory cues in conjunction with tactile feedback. For example, when a button is pressed, a beep or click sound can reinforce the tactile interaction. 

Size and shape 

  • Ergonomic design — Focus on the ergonomic design of the object to ensure it fits comfortably in the user's hand. Smooth, rounded edges can enhance the tactile experience and reduce the risk of discomfort or injury.
  • Distinct shapes — Use distinct shapes for different functions. For instance, circular elements may indicate turning or rotating features, while rectangular shapes could represent sliders or switches.

Braille annotations 

  • Strategic placement — Integrate Braille annotations at strategic locations, ensuring they are easily accessible and correlate with the associated information. For instance, place Braille labels adjacent to the buttons or controls they represent.
  • Clear communication — Use concise and clear Braille language to convey essential information. Braille annotations should provide details about the object's purpose, settings, or other relevant information.
  • Tactile graphics — In addition to Braille, consider incorporating tactile graphics that represent visual information through touch. This can be particularly useful for conveying spatial relationships or complex information.

Remember, the key to successful design is user testing and feedback. Involve visually impaired individuals throughout the design process to ensure that the 3D-printed objects meet their needs effectively. Regular iterations based on user input will contribute to the refinement and improvement of accessible 3D-printed objects.

Techniques for designing accessible 3D printed objects

3D modeling software 

  • Accessibility-focused software — Choose 3D modeling software that prioritizes accessibility features. Look for platforms that support easy manipulation of tactile elements, allowing designers to create and visualize textured surfaces, raised features, and intricate details.
  • Parametric design — Utilize parametric design capabilities to create adaptive and customizable models. This enables designers to adjust the dimensions, textures, and other features based on user feedback and specific accessibility requirements.
  • Collaborative platforms — Explore 3D modeling platforms that facilitate collaboration. This allows designers, engineers, and visually impaired individuals to work together in real—time, ensuring the inclusivity of the design process.

Haptic feedback design 

  • Understanding haptic technology — Familiarize yourself with haptic technology and its application in 3D printed objects. This involves creating tactile sensations through vibrations, textures, or forces, enhancing the user's sense of touch during interaction.
  • Variable haptic feedback — Experiment with variable haptic feedback based on user input. For example, adjusting the intensity or frequency of vibrations to signify different interaction levels or convey specific information.
  • Dynamic haptic modeling — Implement dynamic haptic modeling, allowing for real-time adjustments to the haptic feedback based on user preferences and environmental factors.

Multi-material printing 

  • Material selection — Explore a variety of materials suitable for multi-material 3D printing. Consider each material's hardness, flexibility, and texture to achieve the desired tactile qualities.
  • Combining materials — Take advantage of combining materials in a single print job. This allows for the creation of complex objects with both rigid and flexible components, mimicking real-world textures and structures.
  • Gradient transitions — Experiment with gradient transitions between materials to create smooth and natural tactile experiences. This technique is beneficial when designing objects with intricate surfaces or varying hardness levels.

User testing and feedback 

  • Inclusive user panels — Form inclusive user testing panels that include visually impaired individuals. Their direct involvement in the design process provides invaluable insights into the effectiveness of the 3D printed objects.
  • Prototyping for testing — Develop prototypes for user testing, allowing visually impaired users to interact with physical models and provide feedback on the tactile features, ease of use, and overall functionality.
  • Iterative design process — Adopt an iterative design process based on user feedback. Regularly refine and adjust the 3D-printed objects in response to user suggestions, ensuring continuous improvement and alignment with user needs.
  • User-centered design workshops — Conduct user-centered design workshops where designers and visually impaired users collaborate to co-create accessible 3D-printed objects. This fosters a deeper understanding of user preferences and promotes direct engagement in the design process.

By combining these techniques, designers can create 3D-printed objects that not only meet accessibility standards but also provide a meaningful and intuitive experience for visually impaired users. Continuous collaboration and refinement based on user feedback are key components of successful accessible design in 3D printing.

Production and implementation 

Accessible 3D printers 

  • Multi-material printing capability — Choose 3D printers that support multi-material printing. This capability is essential for creating objects with diverse tactile features, as it allows for the simultaneous use of different materials in a single print job.
  • Variable layer height — Choose printers that offer variable layer height settings. This feature allows for the creation of intricate details on the surface of 3D-printed objects, enhancing the overall tactile experience.
  • Large build volume — Consider printers with a large build volume to accommodate the production of sizable objects. This is particularly important when creating 3D-printed objects designed for users with diverse preferences and requirements.

Material selection 

  • Tactile materials — Choose materials that offer a range of tactile qualities, such as hardness, flexibility, and texture. TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) is an example of a flexible material suitable for creating soft and tactile elements, while PLA (Polylactic Acid) may be used for rigid components.
  • Biocompatible materials — If the 3D-printed objects come in direct contact with the user, use biocompatible materials safe for prolonged skin contact. Ensure that selected materials are non-toxic and meet relevant safety standards.
  • Material compatibility — Verify the compatibility of chosen materials with the specific 3D printer model. Different printers may have varying temperature requirements and material compatibility, so matching the material with the printer's capabilities is vital.

Post-processing techniques 

  • Sanding and smoothing — After printing, employ sanding techniques to smooth the surfaces of 3D-printed objects. This is especially important for tactile elements, as it enhances the comfort and usability of the object during interaction.
  • Polishing — Consider polishing the surfaces of printed objects to achieve a high-gloss finish. While this may not be suitable for all tactile elements, it can enhance the overall aesthetic appeal and cleanliness of the 3D-printed object.
  • Painting and coloring — Use painting or coloring techniques to enhance contrast and differentiate between various components. Ensure that the chosen paints are non-toxic and do not compromise the tactile qualities of the printed object.
  • Sealing for durability — Apply a protective sealant to enhance the durability of the 3D-printed object, especially in areas with high tactile interaction. This helps prevent wear and tear over time, ensuring a longer lifespan for the accessible product.

By carefully considering the capabilities of 3D printers, selecting appropriate materials, and implementing effective post-processing techniques, designers can optimize the production and implementation of accessible 3D printed objects. The goal is to create products that not only meet the specific needs of visually impaired users but also adhere to safety standards and offer high quality and durability.

A transformative technology for users with visual impairments

The integration of tactile features into 3D-printed objects has the potential to revolutionize accessibility for users with visual impairments. By understanding their needs and employing thoughtful design and production techniques, designers and manufacturers can create products that enhance their daily lives. The ongoing collaboration between technology, design, and user feedback is essential to advancing the field of accessible 3D printing and making it an integral part of creating an inclusive environment for all.


Accessibility Services for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses - Free Online Event!

Join us on Wednesday, May 1st, at 1 PM ET for a free online event to explore how to evaluate and select accessibility services for your small to medium-sized business. Click here to learn more about this event and to register.

Click here to see our Events Calendar.'s 2024 events will utilize the Zoom Events platform, offering a virtual expo hall for attendees to meet with prospective vendors. If your company is interested in being part of the expo hall, don't hesitate to get in touch with

Vendor Directory offers the premier impartial listing of digital accessibility vendors.  Search for products and services by category, subcategory, or company name.  Check out our new Vendor Directory here.