Communication Symbols
The expansion of AAC has generated heavy new demands for customised
graphics for support. You can save a lot of time by using Boardmaker
software on the Mac or PC to generate materials incorporating PCS Picture Communication Symbols - in either colour or black & white.
Boardmaker versions
Like most software products, Boardmaker has been developed and
upgraded over time. This means it exists in several versions: the most
recent update has a UK version, eliminating problems when searching for
vocabulary by name, which used to arise where US & UK English differ.
However, NB: there are still some cultural differences in content, which
may make certain symbols inappropriate for UK use. These may need to
be adapted; others may need to be added.
Also, note: as with other software while later versions will process files
developed on the earlier ones, it does not work the other way.
Boardmaker 5 Mac will import earlier PC and Mac boards.
In Boardmaker 5, you can at any time choose whether you want Black &
White or Colour Libraries under the Settings button - the images are the
same, but as line drawings, the b/w versions are more easily colour coded
by hand for individual user preferences.
The way you launch Boardmaker depends on what you want to do with it.
Pre-made grids
In addition to the symbols libraries, Boardmaker offers a range of grid
templates to fit various commercial AAC devices, as well as some layouts
for ’low tech’ users of PCS. If you want to make an overlay using a premade grid for a specific AAC device, open BM Communication Devices
and scroll through the list to select.
Double click on the icon for the grid specification you want, and it will
open up ready drawn to size.
Custom Grids
However, to design your own grid from scratch, click the New Board
button to launch the application and open a blank designer board.
Go to File – Page Set up to choose your paper size and orientation.
Then go to File – Board Set up and select Use Printer Page.
You may also want to check Use As Default at this stage.
Use the box tool to draw the first box to the required size; then use the
‘spray’ tool to replicate it as many times as you choose.
Now, with either your pre-made or custom grid on screen, you are ready
to start browsing through the picture libraries. Whichever version of
Boardmaker you may have, the search program works in much the same
Click on the Boardmaker icon to begin to search for the pictures you
require. This will open up the picture libraries database.
In the Libraries program, you can search either by
browsing (frame by frame) or by word search.
Boardmaker libraries are grouped in categories, with banks of symbols
stored in files under their group name.
Symbol categories
Click the Thumbnails button to see thumbnails of all items
in the selected category
Click the Categories button to see the available categories
The Boardmaker Manual
You can check out the range of symbols available in each category in the
manual supplied with each BM pack
Accessing the Libraries: using the Arrow Buttons
When you access the libraries via the Libraries icon, it will open up at an
individual symbol. From there, if you want to browse, the arrow buttons
allow you to move forwards or backwards through the frames.
Accessing the Libraries: using the Word Index
To search the word index, type in the name of any item you are looking
for. Before clicking to begin the search, usually it is best to click on
Whole Word. (Compare what happens with a word like “hat ” if you don’t).
If you have a number of symbols to locate, it is also good idea to have a
list of items you are looking for. If you want to restrict the field of
search, click on the appropriate button.
The Symbol Finder will show the first symbol selected. Use Arrows to
move forward and back through the list, or click Thumbnail button to see
all selected.
Display information
Click the Symbol Finder Settings button to select
language, text shown or hidden, to change the size shown
and used on grid/button
NB: some requests will pick up more than one symbol containing the key
word: if you click on Next.. the program will search through all the files
till it has exhausted the items, which fit your specification. Unless you
are very sure you have got the best symbol for your purpose, it is always
best to click on arrows or Thumbnail button to check the alternatives.
Sizing a Boardmaker symbol
Using the % button, in Symbol Finder Settings, you can change the size of
the symbol when extracted from the library - not crucial when pasting
into a Boardmaker grid, since buttons have an Auto Re-size features, but
useful when symbols are being pasted elsewhere.
Cropping a Boardmaker symbol
If you want only part of a symbol, click the marquee/lasso
button on Symbol Finder box, and draw round it to crop
the part you want.
Copying a PCS Symbol
When you have selected your preferred settings, copy the
symbol to your grid by clicking on the copy to clipboard
This will automatically take you to your Boardmaker grid, and if you had
previously selected the target button, it will automatically paste the
symbol into that button.
Press Return or Enter and symbol will be placed in the next empty button.
It is automatically resized to fit button; this can be resized by click and
push/pull corner.
Resize symbols
For most purposes, the Auto Resize feature is useful. However, there
are times when the size should be changed eg:
to allow a symbol to be re-sized within the button
Click on the symbol and drag the symbol from the corners
to incorporate more than one symbol within a single button
place first symbol on button; find second symbol; with arrow tool, click on
button to have the extra symbol added; click Add to from the window
which opens - symbol is added; now it can be resized etc as required
to allow the text box to be altered, reformatted or moved, or copied
to another button
select A, the Text tool, click and drag across existing
text, delete and enter new text
Symbols can also be extracted from Boardmaker to paste into any Draw
or Paint program, such as AppleWorks. To do this, repeat the process as
for working in Boardmaker, but click on to the Draw page to activate it
and use the Paste command in the Edit Menu
Customising Symbols
Many AAC programs come with ready-made overlays, but the
systems depend on having symbols which are meaningful for each
individual user. As well as careful editing of lexicon names, this
may demand some creative adaptation of standard symbol sets.
Modifying Symbols in Boardmaker 5
The basic Toolbar contains tools to change the look of the
buttons and the grid background.
To make any changes, click on the board or button/group of
buttons to select, then...
Click on colour button to see the range of colours, single click in
selected colour to change
Click on line tool to change the thickness of button border
Click on the corner tool to change the button shape
Click on the button tool to change the way the button looks
Modifying Symbols in Boardmaker 5
It is much easier to customise and change symbols in this
version of Boardmaker on Mac. Click on a symbol on a button
to see the extended Toolbar.
There are 4 different features which can be looked at when
modifying or changing a symbol:
*The symbols have to be converted to bitmaps before they
can be changed - just click Yes on window
Click on the symbol, then on the appropriate direction button on
Click on symbol, then push or pull out to reduce or enlarge symbol
See notes on page 6 for details
Click to select the symbol then click the Fill tool, click the colour
tool, choose colour, click inside the symbol with tip of paint drip.
To fill the background of the symbol area, choose the colour then
click on the Fill All tool
There is an Invert tool, which produces an effect similar to a
negative - useful with black and white symbols
You can create your own pictures or symbols in any drawing or painting
software and import them to use in Boardmaker.
You can also import digital images from digital cameras or web pages.
The process is - create an image, copy to Paint, select required part,
copy, and paste into Boardmaker, name then use.
Create an image - draw shape etc or download from a digital camera or
take a screen shot from a web page or scanned image.
To take a screen shot from a Mac - press shift-command-4. Transfer
image into another document, ie Word, edit and paste.
To add to Boardmaker - paste image into Symbol Finder [to add and have
available later] or on to selected button [single use]
To name and categorise new image - click on change symbol
names button, enter name, click on assign categories button then
show my categories button to edit your own categories [libraries]
To create your own category - click unlock category names box, then
enter name for your new category, OK
See p34 in BM booklet for more information
Colour Coding Storyboards
The colour coded boxes, which hold symbols and texts for a Storyboard
can be made in Boardmaker.
When black and white symbols are being used, it is important to decide
whether you would like the colour of the symbol to be the same as the
background colour or if you would like the inside of the symbol to remain
If the latter is the case, the symbol can be filled using the Fill tool.
It is worth remembering that the final colour of the symbol or box may
not be the same as you see on the computer screen! Often the choice of
printer used can cause the colour to be slightly lighter, darker, more pink
PCS symbols used in Boardmaker are copyright
Where you have adapted or reproduced graphics from Boardmaker,
always check that the use you will be making of them is legal.
To be avoided: sharing picture sets with users in other establishments, or
using images in any materials, which are offered for sale.
When your grid is complete, use the Print command in the File Menu to
print your grid.
Paper Size
When printing overlays for a number of US designed Voice Output Aids,
you will find that the overlay size is too large to fit on an A4 sheet. They
are designed for US legal paper, which is slightly larger that UK
Foolscap. US legal is obtainable from Office Suppliers, and is worth
obtaining, in order to avoid having overlays pieced together from two
To change Paper size - from Print Setup dialog box, choose Properties select required paper size from there.
Interactive Symbols
Symbols that are interactive are more interesting to use and encourage
paper fasteners can be used so that different parts of a symbol can be
velcro enables the symbols to be moved from one place to another
small versions of a symbol can be added to a simple voice output aid with
BluTak as a signal for use
laminating symbols will keep them clean and new looking; check that ‘glare’
is not a problem for user
organise your Boardmaker files so that it is easy and quick to find a
symbol you have modified, combined or created
SAVE all symbols you create, modify or customise - you never know when
you might want them again!
Scanned images, or those taken from a Photo CD or digital camera, are
likely to be too big in memory terms to use in Boardmaker directly.
using your image editing or scanning software, preview and crop image
set output size to most likely size required eg Boardmaker grid of 3cm x
3cm buttons image resized to 2.5cm [the software will maintain
proportions so only the largest dimension required]
digital photos resolution can be from 72pixels/inch, simple pics to 150ppi,
better quality for more complex pics
set the size to the largest size you anticipate using as enlarging a digital
image in Boardmaker gives poor results
some programs have a Save for Web or Save for Email setting - use that
to ensure the image is around 75-150kb memory
Save photo as a bitmap [.bmp] or jpeg [.jpg] to import into Boardmaker
To save your new image or symbol into Boardmaker
Pictures from a variety of sources can be imported into the SYMBOL
FINDER for future use. Digital images, symbols created from other
symbols, clipart can all be added.
a. saved photos or graphics
with Symbol Finder open, go to File menu - Import, navigate to find and
select your image
it will show in a dialog box to be named and given a category
b. copying a new symbol from a button
this is for a symbol you have created or modified
with Symbol Finder open, select your symbol
Shift-click the multiple parts
do not select the name/title
Edit menu - Copy
click on the Symbol Finder, Edit - Paste
it will show in a dialog box to be named and given a category
the dialog box allows you to name your new symbol, in English as well as in
other languages, and under several names
enter the name/s you want under the Add New Name button, click the
button to confirm
to put your new symbol into a category, click the Assign button
from the list, click the tick box to select
you can assign several categories, or create a new category
for more information, see pages 54-60 in the Boardmaker Handbook
The colour fill does not fill solid colour
check the monitor resolution - try 1024 x 768
also, set colours to 16-bit High
make these changes in the Control Panel dialog window
The colour fill does not fill whole symbol, or selected area, but dot by dot
make sure you select the colour fill tool [Fill or Fill all] before you click
the colour palette
*For more help and information go to and follow
the links
updated calendar grids are available for each year
some libraries - eg topic, language
boards for stories and songs
upgrades to software