Introduction: Laser Cut Wooden Maps With Public Data

Picture of Laser Cut Wooden Maps With Public Data

In this tutorial we will be making a laser cut wooden map using open data from Vancouver's Open data catalog. The Vancouver open data catalog has many different shape files that can be used, in this tutorial we will be using the coastal and public street data.

You can use this tutorial to make maps of any city that you have the .shp file for. The Github repo has files for some other major city.

I first learned of TileMill and Open data maps from a talk that Denim And Steel

Thank guys!

Video version of the tutorial.

Tools needed

Step 1: Download, Install TileMill and Start a New Project.

Picture of Download, Install TileMill and Start a New Project.

  • You can download TileMill for free from MapBox.
  • After you have installed TileMill start a new project.

Step 2: By Default Tilemill Will Give You a Blank Map With a Rough Coastal Outline of the World.

Picture of By Default Tilemill Will Give You a Blank Map With a Rough Coastal Outline of the World.

Step 3: Download Shape Data From Vancouver Open Data Catalog

Picture of Download Shape Data From Vancouver Open Data Catalog

Vancouver has a public open data catalog that has shape files (SHP) that can be download and imported into TileMill. In this tutorial we will be using the “Shoreline 2002” and “Public streets” shape files.

  • Download the shapefiles from the vancouver open data catalog that you want to use, and extract the archives to your project directory.

Step 4: Import the Shape Files Into TileMill

Picture of Import the Shape Files Into TileMill

  • Open the layer menu by clicking the layer icon in the bottom left of the main dialog.
  • Click the “Add Layer” button
  • On the “Add Layer” dialog, Click the “Browse” button next to the data source. This will pop up a new dialog where you can browse for the shapefile that you want to import.
  • Browse to your project directory and click on the “shoreline2002.shp” data. Then click the “Done’ button next to the data source field.
  • On the “Add Layer” dialog, click the “Save & Style” button
  • You should see the vancouver coastline data in blue.
  • Repeat this step for the public street shapefile and non City Streets

Step 5: Clean Up the Map

Picture of Clean Up the Map

  • Disable the “countries” layer by clicking the “eye” in the layer panel. This will remove the white rough shoreline shape file.
  • Change the color of the “map” background to #FFF (white in hex)
  • Click the Save button to update the display.
  • Change the colors of some of the shapefiles to make it easier to deal with in the laser cutter. In this example I am making all the streets solid red (#FF0000) and the shore line solid green (#00FF00)

Step 6: Export to SVG

Picture of Export to SVG

  • Click the Export button in the top right hand corner of the main dialog.
  • By default tileMap will shows you the entire map of the world, there will be a small red section on the map. Zoom in to the red section. (vancouver)
  • Hold down shift and drag a box around the map
  • Click the export button button on the Export SVG dialog.
  • Click the Export button again on the main dialog and select “View Exports” from the drop down
  • Find the exported file in the list and click the “Save” button. A dialog will pop up with the location of the exported file. The file should be saved into your my documents directory.

Step 7: Clean Up the Map in InkScape

Picture of Clean Up the Map in InkScape
  • The green line does not fully encapsulate the project and we need to extend the line so its connected. It does not have to be perfect as the laser will take care of it.
  • Select the green line. From the menu click “path” and “Simplify” This will reduce the amount of time the laser will take to cut the boundary.
  • From the file menu click “Save as”
  • On the save dialog, change the “Save as type” from SVG to “Desktop cutting plotter (r13) (*.dfx)” format

Step 8: Cut the Map in Your Laser Cutter.

Picture of Cut the Map in Your Laser Cutter.
  • Import the DFX file in to LaserCAD
  • Change the power settings and the order of the cuts
    • The power for the Red lines should be just enough to engrave the wood without cutting through
    • The power of the green lines should be enough to cut through the wood
  • Rescale the map to the size you want it to be
  • Download the sketch to the laser cutter

Step 9: Cut !

Cut !

Step 10: Done

Picture of Done

You all done

The example files can be found on my Github (funvill) along with several other maps. (San Francisco, New York)

Here is a list of local vancouver hackspace/maker spaces where you can get your map cut.


Jake Maverick (author)2016-07-05

I know this one a bit old....but I'm thinking about a Games of Thrones Map....can anybody help with that? ;-)

funvill (author)2016-01-20

Please don't spam instructables with your referral links.

domenic3 (author)2014-09-02

such a cool idea

cmcentyre (author)2014-04-22

Great project.

I would like to make one of these, but it's for a small town. Any suggestions on how I can get a map to use as a starting point?

funvill (author)cmcentyre2014-04-26

If your town shows up on then you can download their database and import it in to tilemil.

iezhi (author)funvill2014-08-30

Great project.But i can't download shp file from I don't know how to do.Can you help me?I'm come from china.Thank you.

Dr_JFrank (author)2014-05-26

Excellent tutorial. I have a problem, I import a shape file but I get moved about 180 meters. You Might I say that?

funvill (author)Dr_JFrank2014-05-26

I am not sure what you mean. can you descrive it in another way?

Farrit (author)2014-04-23

Does your laser have an engrave setting? I'm just curious if it does why you would choose to cut the streets instead.

Fantastic project though. :) I'm excited to do this with a map of Detroit, on our 150w laser!

funvill (author)Farrit2014-04-26

Yes it does have a engrave setting. With my laser cutter software the engrave takes an extreamly long time to a full size sheet and i found it much faster just to use the cut function with a very low power. This might entirltly be a flaw in my laser cutter software.

JKans (author)2014-04-18

Right on. Thanks

JKans (author)2014-04-18

Any chance you'd sell me one?

funvill (author)JKans2014-04-18

@JKans Nope, but if you are in the Vancouver area, come down to VHS (Vancouver Hackspace and I will teach you how to make one! Ask for Funvill

If you really really want to spend money, take the files to a techshop or laser cutter cafe or any commercial laser cutting service.

About This Instructable




Bio: I build things with the Laser cutter at Vancouver Hackspace and play with open data.
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