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Map This!

Posted By Don Mappin On March 20, 2012 @ 1:00 am In GMing Advice,Tools for GMs | 9 Comments

Need a spiffy map for you game and are strapped for cash? Want to make it large and visible, but don’t have a plotter at home…or the dough to have your local printshop take care of it for you? Provided you’ve the source art—or access to a community willing to share—here’s a low-cost way for you to manufacture maps, maps, maps to your hearts content!

If you’re like me—good looking, famous, and happily married to a spouse with lots of art and scrapbooking supplies (note, only one of those is true)—then you’ve probably everything you need on hand already. It’s a quick project that you can bang out in about 30 minutes or so.

The Map Is Coming

A few months ago I mentioned that I was running a “Game of Thrones” RPG and when dealing with a land as vibrant and detailed as Westros, you really need something to point to. Hence, the need for a map. But not just any map. A big, colorful one that leaps out at you.

Fortunately, I found one and I shall dazzle you with it now.

Awesome, right? I mean how can you not want to print this out on your wall?

Sadly, at only 96 dpi, slightly larger than screen (72 dpi) resolution, blowing up to poster size isn’t really an option. However, using the family inkjet printer I’m pleased to say you can still make some damn impressive posters of your own. (Note: Please make sure you have ownership or permission to print for personal use.)

The Tools

You’ll need some basic items for this project, most of which you probably already have:

  • Source image, preferably higher than 72 dpi (300 or 600)
  • Cutting board/mat
  • Hobby knife
  • Inkjet paper, heavier than 20 lb but not cardstock (110 lb)
  • Paper glue (acid free)
  • Poster board
  • Straight edge
  • Roller
  • Matte sealant

The hardest part is scaling your print job to the size of the final product. If your printer is like most and won’t do 8.5×11 borderless then some cutting will be involved.

In this particular example I used legal paper, using the longest dimension (14”) as the width of my poster. Westeros is “taller” than it is “wider,” so I didn’t see the need to go larger than 14” across. In a more complex map we might have to print out our map in a traditional grid form, say 2×3 (six sheets). Mine ended up being 1×4.

If you have it laying around, high-quality photo paper is a good choice as well. Tends to be a thicker weight and shows the colors better. However, much more expensive.

Use the free image manipulation program of your choice to print your map in the aforementioned sections and lay them out on your poster board.

If your printer can’t do borderless you’ll need the hobby knife and straightedge to trim the whitespace. Unless you happened to print with laser-like efficiency your pages will overlap. Do a dry run (literally) and find how your pieces line up with each other. Lay it all out as desired then flip over on the vertical axis. Now we glue!

Depending on the type of glue you picked and the weight of your paper use your best judgement. Too much on thin paper can cause bubbles and curls. Not enough causes obvious problems. Be liberal on the edges. Make sure to use a paper-friendly glue; not just any old stuff you have laying around.

The roller, as you expect, evens out the paper onto the poster board surface. Use a damp cloth after each page to wipe down the roller (it’ll pick up glue) and then dry it off again. Line up your overlaps/seams and gently shift into place before rolling; once you’ve rolled your likely not moving the piece without tearing it off completely and reprinting.

Repeat for your grid until finished. Let sit and dry.

The last step is to take your matte sealant—similar to the kind sold in model hobby stores—to seal the paper. This will help stiffen the surface, protect the paper (and ink), and give the map a more even appearance. Don’t overdo it!

Afterwards, trim your poster board to size and you’re done!

Because this project is so quick (and cheap!) feel free to use thumbtacks on your map, write on it, or whatever strikes your fancy. I suppose if you went with a heavy gloss sealant you could even try dry wipe markers. (Worth testing out!)

Any map making tips of your own to share? Tell us below!

Westeros map courtesy of Tear from the Cartographers Guild. Amazing work! 

About  Don Mappin

For nearly 30 years RPGs have been a staple of Don’s life — so that means he’s pretty old. Author of a dozen RPG books, Don has worked with companies such as ICE, Last Unicorn Games, Decipher, and AEG. He now spends his time working in IT management, enjoying his family and two children, or gaming.




9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Map This!"

#1 Comment By Hawkesong On March 20, 2012 @ 7:29 am

Very nice tips here!

I have access to Photoshop (an old copy, but I’m not complaining). My own method tends to be to draw out a map by hand – and yes I do use quad paper – and then make copies from that “master.” I’m lucky to have had some art training; I find it no particular difficulty to enlarge my hand drawn maps. The quad paper grid makes this much simpler.

But, if I make a copy of the “master” map – black only, just the “line art” bits – and scan that into my computer…

Then I can add terrain and what have you, and labels, and have everything look just spiffy. Getting something like that printed out into poster size would not be cheap though.

However, for my own game, if I need the players to look at a large map of the kingdom/world – I just pull it up on the big TV screen. Detail is instantly available by zooming in, and no poster or pages to stow.

This method would be pretty dang awesome though.

#2 Comment By Sektor On March 20, 2012 @ 7:41 am

PosteRazor (http://posterazor.sourceforge.net/) is a neat little (free!) tool to cut your images into printable parts. I last used it about half a year ago, and remember it had some stability problems, but in the end it got the job done.

Another tip: the map that I printed then was glued to a foam board and cut into pieces. It was a tactical grid map for placing miniatures on, and each piece represented a room that I would attach to the map as they opened each door (using tooth picks to keep all the pieces neatly together).

It took a lot more work (although most of the time spent was figuring out how to pull it off for the first time), but it was really worth it in the end. The players were amazed, enjoyed the visual appeal of a professionally published map, while at the same time the surprise was not spoiled by giving away the entire map at once.

#3 Comment By RocksFallBlog On March 20, 2012 @ 8:56 am

Genius. I’m going to go do it for my next session.

#4 Comment By Alan De Smet On March 20, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

A few things I learned doing similar things:

- A good papercutter is quite nice for trimming white edges off pages. Given its usefulness in cutting out initiative cards, small handouts, and more, I view my papercutter as a core gaming investment.

- I like a little bit (maybe a half-inch) of overlap in the images. This gives you slop space, ensuring you don’t end up with white lines from either over or under trimming the edge.

- It’s not as polished looking, but you can certainly just tape the pieces of paper together for a faster, easier solution. If you do this, only trim off half of the white edges; the overlap is useful to giving you something to tape.

#5 Comment By Stromquism On March 22, 2012 @ 9:46 am

A few tips,
- on straightedges, go with a cork backed metal ruler, pick a length that suits your projects and work space, I have 12 and 24 inch versions.
- Adhesive, if you can do it outside then 3M Spray adhesive work really well. Spray it evenly and you can put it on immediately or wait for the glue to dry and get tacking then lay it down. Letting it dry a bit can be more forgiving if you need to re-position things.
- I usually use a heavier stock paper and foam core, specifically Black foam core, for some reason it seems stronger and over time the adhesive contracts and will bow the foam core if it isn’t framed, the black version seems to better resist bowing. Foam core can also be bought with adhesive on one side, like a sticker, its a one shot deal though, if you mess up your reprinting and buying more foam core.
-If you are looking for something a little nicer than ink jet prints I’ve found that Costco does posters up to 2×3 for around 35 bucks, which isn’t terrible, and if the print doesn’t look good they’ll redo it for free. There are online printers that can do 24×36 prints for around 30 bucks plus shipping, YMMV on quality. Universities may also have at cost printers, like at their art college or else where, they are very affordable as well, although you may have to be a student/faculty to use them, sometimes not though.
- Matte sealer, several thin coats is far better than one heavy coat. Sealer can also sometimes darken the print or rather, destroy some of the contrast, making it seem dimmer, especially when applied heavily.
PS: Im a graphic designer and mounted 24×36 posters as part of my old job. Always cut towards yourself and always double check to make sure your fingers are out of the way! It may be a good idea to have super glue handy when you slice off the side of your finger.

#6 Comment By Alan De Smet On March 22, 2012 @ 10:47 am

@Stromquism: Why cork backed? I’ve got two metal rulers kicking around, one cork backed and one not. I got the cork backed one because it seemed like it would provide more fiction against the paper, but it doesn’t seem to help. The gap that the cork creates between the paper ruler proper seems to make measurements and lines less accurate as your pen or knife has wiggle room. I suspect I’m missing something.

#7 Comment By Stromquism On March 27, 2012 @ 10:23 am

@Alan De Smet – Exactly as you surmised, its to help with slippage. If it doesnt seem to help wipe the cork off with a slightly damp rag. that should help the cork grip better. In theory, the optimal cut is one where you are always cutting straight towards yourself in one motion, keeping your hand in the same position and blade flat against the ruler, that helps minimize the wiggle. Same if you are using it to make marks with pens/marker/pencil. Its worse with mark making due to the shape of the pencil, you’d be better off not using it to make marks. When cutting, I’d still use the cork backed, cut straight towards yourself, keep the blade flat against the ruler, the extra space helps ensure you dont jump the ruler and slice you finger off. I’ve jumped the ruler a few times and its not fun. As always, find what works best for you. Also, saw an Sunday ad in the paper for 18×24 prints at Office Max or Depot for 9.99 with a coupon, not a bad price at all. Quality may be an issue, just dont accept anything that isnt 100% amazing.

#8 Comment By jasales On March 29, 2012 @ 8:37 am

What product have you used to “tile” your maps to 8.5×11?

What product have you used to seal the pages?

#9 Comment By Alan De Smet On March 29, 2012 @ 10:01 am

@Stromquism – Thanks, all useful tips!


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