Re-envisioning Reading with 3D-printed Picture Books

Re-envisioning Reading with 3D-printed Picture Books

Computer Science Professor Tom Yeh, left, and graduate student, Jeeeun Kim.

For generations, countless parents have read the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon to help lull little ones to sleep. The poetic text follows a young rabbit as he softly wishes goodnight to his surroundings — “goodnight room, goodnight moon, goodnight cow jumping over the moon,” the story goes. With help from computer science faculty and students, that tender tale has now been translated into a 3D-printed, tactile book for blind children and their families to touch, feel, and read together. 

Goodnight Moon is the first prototype for the Tactile Picture Books Project at CU-Boulder. Flipping through the book’s dense plastic pages, readers can run their fingers along layers upon layers of tiny plastic threads that fused together to make up items like Goodnight Moon’s iconic rounded cow. Jeeeun Kim, a graduate student in computer science, helped create and fine-tune the model book. 

“We chose Goodnight Moon because it’s one of the most popular books in America,” Kim says.  “We liked that the story is simple and all objects the little bunny says ‘goodnight’ to are easily found in our daily lives, enabling children to imagine what those look like. Also, parents can interact with their children by helping them say goodnight. It leads to co-reading between parent and child by building strong relationships and helping parents to understand their children’s development level at the same time.”

Kim and project leaders create tactile storybooks that facilitate interaction between adults and visually impaired children at a pivotal time in child development. Thus, the Tactile Picture Books Project explores human-centered computing and involves parents and children in the process of improving 3D printing computer software for tactile books. Led by CU-Boulder Computer Science Professors Tom Yeh and Michael Eisenberg, the project is primed to make 3D printing technology more tangible for the public. 

“We are looking for ways to make 3D printing more accessible and interactive,” Yeh says. “There are several interfaces for designing 3D models, such as Google SketchUp, but no program has been created with the needs of parents in mind. We want to make sure there will be an interface for parents and teachers of the visually impaired, so that they can easily design or simply customize shared 3D files according to children’s developmental levels or interests and print their own tactile books in the near future.”

Tactile books for the visually impaired are not new, but traditional tactile books are often expensive and made by hand. Readers have limited choices. 3D printing poses an opportunity to design, produce, and inexpensively replicate tactile picture books, Yeh says. Soon, 3D printers are expected to be affordable for everyday citizens and there will likely be opportunities to print books at school or from home.

“Currently, tactile books are very beautiful but they are also very labor intensive and expensive,” Yeh says. “Affordable 3D printing technology should be available in the very near future. In two to three years, 3D printers could be less than $1,000.”

As the public adopts 3D printing, the Tactile Picture Book Project aims to have software and printing instructions at the ready. With support from the CU-Boulder Outreach Committee, the project is currently beta testing software programs with parents and teachers in partnership with the Anchor Center for Blind Children in Denver. The Anchor Center provides educational and therapeutic services for visually impaired children from birth to age five. The center’s teachers, volunteers, and parents are invited to learn about 3D printed tactile books’ reading experiences led by Tactile Picture Book Project faculty and students. Also, they will be invited to the do-it-yourself 3D printing course, to learn about how to operate a 3D printer and how to share models with others using online databases of open-sourced designs and computer software.

Since producing Goodnight Moon and soliciting public feedback, the project has received unexpectedly broad interest and responses from national and international communities. Project faculty and students have since produced printing instructions for two other children’s book favorites, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Cat in the Hat. Their goal is to grow a library of downloadable 3D picture books with continued input from their partners in the Anchor Center and interested community members. 

To learn more about the Tactile Picture Book Project visit

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