The ViewPlus Columbia Embosser: A Solid Choice for the Home User

The ViewPlus Columbia Embosser rests on a table; the machine says "VP Columbia" and it has four buttons on the right front side.

The ViewPlus Columbia Embosser: A Solid Choice for the Home User

ViewPlus is known for its excellent tactile graphics embossers. The Tiger line has been used for years in many different areas, including being the required embosser for on-demand graphics in states with Smarter Balanced standardized testing. The Columbia is the latest embosser from ViewPlus. It can emboss one-hundred characters per second, emboss double-sided Braille, and is fully tactile graphics capable. The Columbia is also reasonably priced.

Speaking of Embossers

My full review of the ViewPlus Columbia follows. However, if you’re planning to attend our national convention next month, I’d like to also invite you to participate in the Jernigan Institute technology seminars where my colleagues and I will be presenting on various access technology topics throughout the week. Check the convention agenda to find out when the technology seminars will take place, and stop by to learn about everything from embossers to iPhones.

Description and Setup

The Columbia is a rectangular device, measuring roughly six inches high, twenty-two inches wide, and eleven inches deep. It weighs just under twenty pounds. Its outer casing is made of plastic. The headphone, USB, and Ethernet ports are all at the bottom of the right side from front to back. The menu, feed/reverse feed, and online/offline buttons are on the top front edge near the right side of the embosser.

On the back are the on/off switch and the port for the power cord. To load paper, lift the lid covering the back half of the embosser, open the tractor feeds on both sides, insert the paper making sure it is aligned properly, and close the tractor feeds. When the embosser arrives, there is a bolt locking the embosser head in place for shipping that must be removed. Simply lift the lid and remove it from the panel containing the embosser mechanism. There is a loop for storing this bolt mounted on the right side of the paper loading area if the back of the embosser is toward you.

As for the software, a USB drive comes with the embosser containing the manual and driver, as well as licensing information for the copy of the Tiger Software Suite that comes with the embosser. Simply plug in the drive and open the webpage to access these.

Configuring the Columbia

The Columbia has two different configuration profiles, one that is set directly on the embosser for use with legacy notetakers and anything that embosses directly through USB without any configuration, and another that is done through the normal printer configuration dialog on the computer and is used for all embossing jobs. The Columbia’s configuration menus are voiced, but there is no internal speaker and the headphone jack is not amplified, so the volume will be extremely low unless a pair of powered speakers is used.

To enter the onboard configuration, hold down the menu button. You will hear a rising tone, followed by the Columbia announcing that you are in the menus. Use the up and down buttons to scroll through the menus and the menu button to activate choices. In the menus, you can set a variety of options including margins, paper weight, dot height, graphics quality, and more.

The configuration for all embossing from a computer is done through the printer properties button in any print dialog, or from the devices and printers section of settings. Almost every aspect is adjustable: single or double-sided embossing, five options for dot spacing, dot height, graphics quality, several different paper weights from copy paper up through card stock, and much more. The net effect is that you can customize the output to your exact specifications. The downside to all these options is that it can be hard to track down where the problem is if the Braille doesn’t come out right, especially as some settings such as margins are duplicated in multiple locations.

Embossing with the Columbia

During testing, I embossed with three different programs: Braille Blaster from APH, the Duxbury Braille Translator, and Word and Excel through the Tiger Software Suite. The Tiger Software Suite enables direct embossing of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets directly from the respective programs. Simply open a document you want to emboss. Under the new Tiger tab, select or create the embossing profile you would like to use. The profile determines many aspects like paper size, Braille table, and many of the other settings that are also found in the printer properties discussed earlier. Next, press the translate button, save the new document, and either use Word’s standard print dialog or press the quick emboss button in the Tiger tab. Assuming everything is set right, your document will emboss with no other effort needed. It will also emboss embedded graphics in a document properly.

Output and Quality

Whichever program is used to emboss a document, the Columbia embossed quickly and with quality Braille. While the Columbia is not a quiet device, I’d rate it about average when compared to other modern embossers. The Braille output is very similar to other ViewPlus embossers. In a direct comparison of several tactile graphics produced on other ViewPlus embossers, there was no measurable difference.

Changing the dot quality did not seem to affect regular text, but did make a noticeable difference in the speed. Despite “best” quality being markedly slower, I did not notice a significant difference in the quality of the paper graphic. The Columbia also handled a job of more than one-hundred interpoint pages easily, with no signs of heat or paper alignment issues.

The Columbia fed paper just fine, and there were no paper jams or erroneous out of paper alerts during testing. It is not necessary to make any adjustments to the paper before embossing, as the Columbia finds the top of the page before beginning every job. In fact, the Columbia leaves the leading edge sticking out slightly from the front of the embosser, both to facilitate removing the completed job and as an indication that everything is ready for the next one.

Quirks and Oddities During Testing

Unfortunately, not everything was completely smooth. I encountered several odd quirks and areas of confusion during testing. The most common issue encountered was wrong margins. This sometimes happened, such as when using Braille Blaster, where the Columbia was configured for 11.5 by 11 and it was not clear until I received a printout formatted for 8.5 by 11 paper that I needed to change settings in Braille Blaster. I also discovered that conflicts can arise when using older versions of Office and with other embosser drivers installed. I started getting margin errors when translating Word documents even though everything seemed right. This was with Office 2010 installed along with other embosser drivers and Braille Templates. As we tried to troubleshoot, we encountered increasingly strange issues of the document defaulting to odd layouts, single-page when we’d specified interpoint, etc. Eventually clearing off all Braille-related software and upgrading to Office 2016 fixed the problem. After this, no further errors or odd behaviors were encountered.

The only issue we weren’t able to resolve was one when embossing through Duxbury. The top line on each page would always have either two or dots cut off, unless the top margin in Duxbury was set to two. This would result in a lot of empty paper at the top of the page. No amount of tinkering with settings resolved this.

Conclusion

The ViewPlus Columbia is a solid, no frills embosser that will do quality Braille or tactile graphics at an affordable price. The included Tiger Software Suite also makes quick and simple embossing a snap for home users. Despite some quirks during testing, once they were worked out, the Columbia proved to be a solid choice for a home or small office embosser.

—Karl Belanger