Introduction: Globes, Balls, and Robots From a Desktop Printer!

Print and assemble globes of the Earth, Mars, the Moon, or the Death Star!

Turn your panoramic photos into spheres that transport the viewer to that time and place!

Decorate your Christmas tree with bespoke ornamental balls in all sizes and with personalized messages!

Make a planetarium in your bedroom! Just print a hemisphere of the night sky, poke holes where the stars are, and set on top of an LED light.

Craft paper snowmen segments with all the decorations already printed on!

Wear R2-D2's head for Halloween!

When you can print any image you want on a sphere, the options are endless. This Instructable provides templates and the workflow to create any number of amazing projects. It's all done with free software, card stock paper, an X-Acto knife, and your home printer. A laser cutter would sure help with cutting out the gores, though...Ahem.

Step 1: Software Tools - All Freeware

Ambigorous: See the download link on this page. This is a little program I wrote that makes .SVG templates for globes. All of the models shown here were created with this program.

Inkscape: 2D vector image creation. This is where you'll mesh your sliced up image with the cut out template.

G.Projector:A program by NASA that shapes raster images (bitmaps, GIFs, JPGs, PNGs) into slices of a globe.

Irfanview: Super simple image viewer. I use this to easily scale or crop images. It will divide up the output from G.Projector into separate slices to fit to your templates in Inkscape

See the image on this page explaining the workflow.

Step 2: Hardware Tools

  1. PC with Windows, though the freeware I use is all cross-platform, I think (except Ambigorous, sorry).
  2. Desktop printer. Color is more fun.
  3. Card stock paper. I recommend at least 80-lb weight. If you are printing a photo panorama, premium photo paper would be best.
  4. Means of cutting out the image.
    1. A laser cutter such as a 30-watt Zing 16 Laser system by Epilog would knock this out of the park. You could even make a globe out of thin sheet aluminum, with the image etched in the metal.
    2. An electronic cutting machine such as a Silhouette Cameo can really speed up the cutting-out process. The samples shown here were done with a Cameo.
    3. You can get by with an X-Acto knife, a cutting board, and a patient temperament just fine. I've build several this way.
  5. Masking tape, if you want to close up small gaps in your globe.

Step 3: Sample Images

You can use any rectangular image you like, though if you get too long and skinny you'll have a black area on top and bottom of your globe. The ideal image is twice as wide as tall. Why? Because the horizonal dimension is the sphere's equatorial circumference, while the vertical dimension is 1/2 this, or the distance from the South Pole to the North.

Here are some sources to start with, just from some quick Google Image searches:

  • Good stuff lies at The best here are for Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus.
  • Here's Europa. And our own lovely moon.
  • Star maps at NASA. Assemble printed-side in if you plan to poke holes for a home planetarium, or the constellations will be backward. Also, set over an LED light ONLY! Incandescent bulbs will cause a fire!
  • Charon, moon of Pluto.
  • The Death Star, which you can protect with a force field from the nearby forest planet of Endor.
  • Or perhaps you need a Hoth, for some reason.
  • Never lose out to a water hazard, just whip up a paper golf ball.
  • You'll not sustain traumatic brain injury by heading a paper soccer ball. Or this paper softball.
  • Transform some paper into Cybertron!
  • Assimilate some cuddly Borg in a rounded off Borg Cube Ship (actually, this would probably look lousy).
  • Fun with panoramas! This fancy room looks nice. Take Florence in your hand. Spend a night at the Louvre. View Skyrim's Riften or Whiterun from all angles. I rather like this underwater view. Peer into Yankee Stadium.

If you prefer an original globe of your own image, go to the next step, "Creating an Original Design". If you use one of the links above or a photo of your own, proceed to "Slicing into Gores".

Step 4: Creating an Original Design

Your image should be around twice as wide as it is tall. For the example here I will use the "Zones Template.svg" template. Download it from this page and open in Inkscape.

Notice the annotated horizontal bands on the image. The middle horizontal band will be the least affected by slicing and bending, so if there is an important part of your image, center it in this band. The upper and lower horizontal bands will suffer most from slicing and bending. G.Projector slices and compresses the uppermost and lowermost portions of your image to fit into gores, but it does not curve them. Ideally the uppermost portions of each gore would curve slightly pole-ward at the edges (or Equator-ward in the center). As it is, horizontal lines across your image (such as lines of latitude) will match up with each other at the edges of each gore, but in total will form 12-sided polygons around the poles, rather than parallel smooth rings as lines of latitude should on a globe.

Now notice the vertical slice lines. These approximate where two gores will be separated, and will necessarily have a crease line here when formed into a globe. Important, detailed areas of your image should be placed between, not on these lines.

So here we go:

  1. Go to "File/Save as" to rename the template into a new file.
  2. Edit your image on top of the template as you see fit. In the sample image above, I created a Christmas tree ornament by downloading a free background from and importing in into the Inkscape file, then resizing it to match the template border. I type the words on top, and I'm done with the graphic design. Notice how I placed the words well within the middle horizontal band, to maximize fidelity of that part of the design.
  3. Click on any part of the original template that remains visible, then delete it. Likewise, delete everything else in this document that is not part of your globe image.
  4. Go to "File/Export bitmap". Select "Drawing". Under "Bitmap size" set "pixels at ___ dpi" to a reasonable value (90 is probably adequate; 300 is probably overkill). Set a file name and click "Export".
  5. Save and close your file.

Go to the next step, "Slicing Into Gores", which is the same regardless of the source of your image.

Step 5: Slicing Into Gores

First, some definitions.

  • A "gore" is one sinusoidal slice of a map image, shaped so as to almost lie flat on a sphere. Typically globes are made up of 12 gores, each representing 30 degrees of longitude. You could increase the fidelity of the image and the sphere by increasing the number of gores (Why not 360 gores, each equal to 1 degree!), but the increased number of seams between gores would be ugly (as would the intricacy of the cutting-and-pasting part).
  • "Goring" is the process of pasting paper gores onto a rigid sphere to make a globe. This Instructable skips the rigid sphere and gluing parts, relying on the paper itself to provide rigidity and the tabs to hold it together.

NASA did the world a favor by releasing the free software G.Projector that will slice your images into gores. It's fantastic.

How to slice:

  1. Start G.Projector. It will ask you for an image file. Give it one.
  2. An orthographic projection (as onto a sphere) will appear by default.
    1. Get rid of the extraneous lines and dots by setting "Graticule" and "Overlay 1" to "none".
    2. You may check different views of your globe by adjusting the "Centered on Lon ___E', Lat ___'N" blanks. If your source image is a panorama, it will only make visual sense looking straight at the Equator, so set the "Lat __N" blank to zero.
  3. Go to the "Projection" dropdown and scroll down to "Sinusoidal".
  4. Go to the "Format" dropdown and select "Interrupted: 30' Gores".
  5. Go to the "Background" dropdown and select the white box.
  6. Go to the "Border" dropdown and select the white box.
  7. Under "Weight" enter zero.
  8. Go to File/Save Map. Enter a name for your image. When it asks for width and height, enter some reasonable number for width (1000 = lowish size/quality, 7000 = huge size/quality) and the height will calculate automatically. You could get technical and calculate the ideal width based on the DPI you intend to print at multiplied by the circumference in inches of your final globe, but realistically, a width of 3000 is plenty! Click "Okay".

If G.Projector added an empty border around your gore strip, open it in IrfanView and go to Edit / Auto crop borders. You also want the non-gore areas to be transparent. While still in IrfanView go to "File / Save as" and set to PNG, using the option "Save transparent color". It will ask you to click on the area to be transparent as you save it.

You now have a sliced image that you could print and paste onto a ball, if you sized it just right. If that's your wish, you'll need to scale the image so that the printed width of the image equals the circumference of your ball.

If, instead, you wish to make a hollow paper globe/sphere/hemisphere, proceed to the next step to match your gores with tabs to help hold it in shape.

Step 6: Selecting the Right Cutout Template

Now you need to decide how big you want your globe to be.

As review of elementary geometry...

  • circumference = the distance around the equator of your globe, as if you walked on the surface until you ended up where you started.
  • diameter = the distance through the center of your globe, as if you dug a hole straight down until you came out the other side.
  • radius = 1/2 the diameter.
  • circumference = 3.14159 x diameter = 3.14159 x 2 x radius
  • diameter = circumference / 3.14159
  • radius = circumference / (2 x 3.14159)

If you are trying to match your globe to a particular ball, use a cloth measuring tape or some other means of measuring all the way around and back to your starting point. Repeat this several times to make sure you are getting the fattest part of your globe, its "equator". This value is the circumference.

With any of these templates, you can resize it in Inkscape to the precise globe size you need by selecting the template and dragging its corner handles in or out. If you do so, though, be sure to hold down "Ctrl" at the same time, so the aspect ratio stays constant. Another, more precise means, is to select the template, go to Object/Transform, then select the Scale tab, check "Scale proportionally", select the units dropdown (default is "%") and select "in" for inches or "mm" for millimeters (Wa-hey!). Then enter in "Height" one-half of the circumference you need. Do not use "Width", as the equatorial tabs on the template will be counted in this and throw off your numbers.

Choosing the right template to use from this Instructable means finding a balance between ease of template matching, ease of cutting out, and ease of assembly. Here are some tips:

  • Ambigorous can make some truly ridiculous plans, up to 36 gores (1 gore every 10 degrees). Not only would this be absurdly hard to assemble, G.Projector does not slice images that way. For all reasonable purposes, stick to 12, 9, or 3 gores per globe (equivalent to 30, 40 or 120-degree gores in G.Projector).
  • If you are making a non-globe model like the snowflake ornament shown here, try some other gore counts like 4 to 8.
  • The maximum size of your globe is limited by the size of your printer paper and how big each gore is. To make a small (and tough to assemble) globe, use one continuous strip of 12 gores. To make the biggest globe possible, print one half gore per page.
  • If you don't feel like using Ambigorous and want to go straight to the pre-made templates on this page, the file names explain what kind of template they are:
    • D = degrees longitude per gore. 360/D = gores per globe.
    • S = gores per print set. Should be an even divisor of D.
    • G: "1" = full gore, top and bottom. "05" = 1/2 gore.
    • L = degree latitude per tab (or vertex in sinusoid). Lower number = smoother curve, harder to assemble.

Step 7: Aligning Your Gores to Your Template

In the last step you decided on your globe size, downloaded the appropriate template for that size, opened the template in Inkscape, and scaled the template (if necessary) to the precise dimensions for your globe. Unless your template calls for a single strip of 12 gores, you will need to split the gore image created by G.Projector into separate images. IrfanView does this nicely, using the "Options / Export image tiles (split image)..." menu.

Next, in your Inkscape template file, go to File / Import and choose your gore file(s).

Using the corner handles, scale the image to match up with the template's gore outlines. This may take some time and numerous adjustments. Check the upper and lower tips of each gore to be certain it is well aligned. You want your gores to perfectly fill out the template. Minute adjustments are best done through the "Object / Transform" menu (Ctrl + shift + M).

Once you are happy with the alignment, save and print.

If your project is spread over several printed pages you will need to move the gores to match with the template multiple times, printing several times as well. I recommend saving your Inkscape file under sequentially numbered names (ex: "moon_globe_01.svg", "moon_globe_02.svg", etc.) so that you can access them later and reprint without having to duplicate this step.

Step 8: Cutting Out Your Gores

As mentioned in the hardware list, there are three ways to cut out the intricate and exacting shapes you need:

  1. A laser cutter such as a 30-watt Zing 16 Laser system by Epilog.
  2. An electronic home cutting machine like the Silhouette Cameo.
  3. X-Acto knife, a cutting board, and a patient temperament. I'm quick with a knife, but it still takes me over 30 minutes to cut out one sphere.

With options 1 and 2 you will print the template + gores composite image, then place this printout in your cutter, then feed the .svg file to the cutter. Follow the specific instructions for your cutter explaining how to format lines in Inkscape to indicate they are to be cut. In the case of the Cameo, you will export your image as a .dxf file. For laser printers, it's usually by making cut lines blue (0,0,255 on RGB).

Step 9: Globe Assembly

Time for the fiddly bits.

The tabs are designed to hold a globe together without glue or tape. As shown in the unassembled strip image here, you should fold the "ears" on the side of every tab on one side of each gore. The neighboring tabs should remain unfolded. When you push the gore slices together, the folded tabs will catch the unfolded tabs, and hold it in place. Then, on the inside of your globe unfold those tab ears to fully lock the tabs together.

Now to put it all together. If you printed a single connected strip of gores, I recommend you build 1 hemisphere, then the other, then join them. If your image is so large you needed to make individual gores, I recommend completing two hemispheres and joining them together, rather than proceeding in one direction around the globe.

You will see masking tape on the inside of the globe above. This can be added to hold together the tabless areas near the equator, improving final appearance.

Step 10: Finished!

That's it! You now have a unique 3D globe. Please share pictures of projects you've made with this technique in the comments.

As a final note, I hope you find many uses for this technique. Credit referred to this Instructable or myself would be most appreciated. Any educational institute interested in using this for globes or planets to be made by students, please contact me for enthusiastic and free help. Commercial reproduction or sales of the templates here is beyond my control, clearly, but it would be nice to be mentioned.

Also, please vote for this project in the Epilog Laser Contest!

-- Patrick Gaston, mirthgames at gmail dot com.


nancyjohns (author)2015-11-12

Very nice. I learned some vocabulary today!

FlavioM4 (author)2015-11-08

Just to know: why don't you use Pepakura instead? Is a 3D to 2D papercraft model converter, you can also put textures on the models!

Zippityboomba (author)FlavioM42015-11-08

Excellent question! I thought to discuss in the main text, but reconsidered. There are several reasons why I prefer this method over the excellent Pepakura (I've made several Pepakura projects, and it is super cool):

1) The tabs. Ambigorous allows fine control over tab shape, size, and exclusion areas. This makes interlocking tabs possible, which is why my globes need little to no tape or glue! This makes assembly much quicker, simpler and more exact, since the tabs hold the neighboring piece in the correct location and orientation. In the next version of Ambigorous (yet to post) I've extended this further, so zero tape is needed to get good joints throughout.

2) Texture extension. If you look closely at the Death Star, Earth, and later globes, you'll see the joints are far prettier, because this method allows me to extend the texture or at least the color out past the gores themselves, so any peaking out between adjacent gores is hidden, rather than visible as white space.

3) Control over globe resolution, i.e., number of gores per 360 globe.

4) Texture sourcing. While some might find it easy to map a particular rectangular image to a globe, then import into Pepakura, I suspect most would be baffled by that process. The inclusion of G.Projector makes texture sourcing both easy to do and easy to understand.

5) Intricate cutout designs. Since my process incorporates Inkscape, it is easy to design cutouts like the snowflake ornament shown in the samples. I'm sure this could be done through Pepakura, but I expect it would be laborious.

6) Intellectual curiousity! I started this as a way for me to understand how globes are made. Writing Ambigorous forced me to derive the maths, and has been a boatload of fun.

Thanks for reading and questioning,


Johenix (author)2015-11-05

Two wild ideas:

1.) What about a globe made up of 12 pentagons? Buckminster Fuller did it and some calendars are printed on them.

2.) Why do the gore seams of a globe have to be on the same meridian in both northern and southern hemispheres? You could make a globe where the gore seams were on the 0, 30, 60, 90, 120, 150 & 180 meridians in the northern hemisphere and on the 15, 45, 75, 105, 135, 165 & 180 meridians in the southern hemisphere. This would eliminate the tendency for the gores to tear apart at the equator.

Zippityboomba (author)Johenix2015-11-05

I dig buckyballs as much as the next guy, but I don't know an algorithm to warp a rectangular image into the requisite polygons. If you do, please share, I'd be very interested.

As for offsetting lower hemisphere by 1/2 of a gore width, I've played with the idea but found it a) looks no better shapewise, b) takes a bit more work in the G.Projector phase, and c) adds nothing to structural integrity, since each gore slice is already linked to its neighbors on 3 sides.

Thanks for the ideas!

aeroman2010 (author)2015-11-05

good work

jenirose (author)2015-11-03

I love the BB8 model, it is really fantastic! I was wondering if you would be willing to share the image files - I have been searching the internet for good pics but have had some trouble finding suitable ones :)

Zippityboomba (author)jenirose2015-11-03

Sure thing. I'll add it to the last page. You will need to align the different pieces with the template and print, one by one. Look for the X / Y coordinates to align them, using the Object / Transform / Move menu (Ctrl + shift + M). Be sure to turn off "Relative move" before entering the coordinates.

Please vote for me in the Epilog contest!


On second thought, I added them to step 7, where they make more sense. Enjoy!

jenirose (author)Zippityboomba2015-11-04

Thank you so much!! Can't wait to try this build :)

gabgra11 (author)2015-11-03

This is a great instructable! I'd love to see more 3d things that can be made with a 2d printer!

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