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Make your own Waterproof Maps by Printing directly on Plastic Film...garbage bag film.  This is not simply laminating paper maps.  

The end result of this simple project is a 100% plastic map that is thinner, lighter, and more durable than paper. 

Sure, plastic paper can be purchased for printing water resistant maps however, it is expensive, and usually thicker and stiffer than regular paper; making it difficult to fold into a pocket sized, ready reference.

This process produces a map that is only slightly thicker than a garbage bag; that is waterproof, and best of all, can be folded (or crumpled) without damage for stuffing in a pocket.  

 
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Step 1: Size and Weight Matters

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Water is the nemesis of printed paper maps.  It creates a pretty rainbow effect as the ink bleeds into the paper. 
Nice abstract art but, useless for orienteering.


I like to print my own maps of an area when we go hiking. A trail map, and maybe a topographical (Topo) map, and  a road map for directions to the trail head or pick-up point.

The approach used for years, to keep hiking maps from the elements involved storing them in a zip top plastic bag. Folded into quarters, it looks like the map on the left below.  It keeps maps dry, however, the folded baggie only seems to fit in the square shaped pockets of cargo pants, and eventually, the folding and unfolding takes its toll on the bag and the paper inside. 

Also, There is always a chance the maps will get wet every time the bag is opened.  And many times, the bag has to be opened to shuffle through multiple pages for various sections of the trail. 

For the most part, this method works, and I will probably continue to carry master maps in this fashion.  But, sometimes, especially when traveling in familiar areas, all that is needed is a quick glance at a map to confirm the trail you want is to the left or right ahead.

This is where this Instructables map technique excels... A ready reference thin enough to be stuffed in a pocket, durable enough to survive multiple crumpling and best of all...weatherproof.

It is important to understand the limitations of this process.  
Plastic film shrinks when heated so, the map scale will no longer be correct (i.e. a 1/4 inch will no longer equal a mile, etc.)
The fidelity of fine map details may be difficult to discern. Printer ink does not absorb into the plastic film so, the surface tension of the ink will will blur small text and fine details. 

Despite these drawbacks,  this process will produce a reusable map suitable to tuck in a shirt pocket for reference on the trail in the worst weather, or as a very compact emergency back-up map tucked away in a survival kit. 

Step 2: Materials

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Only a few inexpensive materials are required for this project:
   (4) Sheets of plain printer paper
   (1) One quart, clear plastic sandwich bag
   (1) White plastic kitchen garbage bag

Tools:
    Access to an ink jet printer*
    Clothes iron
    Ironing board or other heat resistant surface
    Utility knife or sissors

*This process was developed for an Ink jet printer.
Do not attempt with a laser printer. The heat used to fuse the toner will likely have an undesirable effect on the plastic coated paper and may gum-up the printer's internal mechanisms.

Step 3: Cut the White Plastic Film

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Cut a White Film Blank from a white kitchen garbage bag.

The White Film Blank should approximatly 10 inches by 7 inches.  

The blank is purposely cut smaller than a standard 8.5 x 11 inch letter sized printer paper.
This is to avoid the plastic potentially overhanging the paper, and coming in direct contact with the hot iron.

Note:  When cutting through the garbage bag, there will be to two sheets stacked together, be sure to seperate the two ply blank.  
Only a single thickness of the white plastic film is required.

Step 4: Cut the Clear Plastic Film

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Cut off the zip top of the 1 quart sandwich bag.

1.  Make the cut 5 inches from the bottom of the bag.  
This will create a 10 inch long  Clear Film Blank when the bag is unfolded in the next step. 


2. Cut down the two side seams of the bag (photo 2) to allow the bag to unfold open (photo 3)


Note: A quart sized bag width is comparable to the width of the White Film Blank cut earlier.  
Again, the final dimensions of both the White Film Blank and Clear Film Blank should be smaller than a letter sheet of paper to avoid the plastic from coming in direct contact with the hot iron.

Step 5: Prepare for Ironing

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Place the White Film Blank plastic sheet between two pieces of printer paper.

The goal is to create a Paper / Plastic / Paper "sandwich" which will be bonded together in the next step

Be sure to center the White plastic on the paper to make sure it does not extend out beyond the paper.  Any exposed plastic will create a gooey mess if it comes in direct contact with the iron.


Step 6: Apply Heat

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A regular clothes Iron is used to apply heat to the Paper / Plastic / Paper "Sandwich"

Pre-heat the iron -  Use the Cotton/Linen temperature setting (it is usually the highest setting).

Note: Iron temperatures may vary so, if you peel back the paper in step 8, and notice the plastic has disintegrated and melted with lacy holes, back off on the temerature setting

Press down on the "sandwich" with light to medium pressure, and keep the iron moving at a smooth gentle pace for about 30 seconds. (like spreading frosting on a cake pace, or painting with a brush)   Keep the iron moving; do not stop on the paper.  

Be sure to iron over the whole page several times during the 30 seconds.  In particular, make sure to go over the edges a few times to ensure the edges of the plastic are bonded to the paper.

Step 7: Clear Plastic

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Repeat the Paper / Plastic / Paper "sandwich" and ironing process with the Clear Film Blank.

Use two additional pieces of printer paper and make a new Paper / Plastic / Paper "sandwich" stack.

Iron the Clear plastic sandwich in the same manner as before.

Note: This is a separate "sandwich" with the Clear plastic.  DO NOT create a double-decker "sandwich" by stacking onto the original White plastic "sandwich".


At this point there should be (2) two individually ironed "sandwiches" - (1) one with the White film, and (1) one with the Clear film.

Step 8: Peel a page from the White film

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Peel one sheet of the printer paper from the WHITE plastic ironed "sandwich".

Make sure the ironed "sandwich" has fully cooled before peeling.
Don't peel the paper until you are ready to print.

Start at a corner and peel carefully, and slowly. The plastic must remain bonded to the second sheet of paper. Discard the removed single sheet of paper. 
The third photo shows a good example of a fully bonded plastic film 
 
The page, with the exposed plastic coating, will curl slightly due to the tension of the cooled plastic. Handle it gently; you do not want to distrurb the bond between the plastic and paper at this point.  

This paper is the substrate that will carry the plastic film through the printer so, the plastic film must be fully bonded to it to prevent jamming the printer.  Some delamination may occur during handling.  The small amount shown in the last photo, should be ok.  The most important edge to be fully bonded is the leading edge heading into the printer.

Note: If, after peeling one sheet of  paper, the plastic film is not fully bonded to the other sheet of paper, replace the top sheet of paper and re-iron the "sandwich" - add a little more time and a little more pressure, and/or increase the temperature slightly, if possible.

Step 9: Peel a Page from the Clear film

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Peel one sheet of the printer paper from the Clear plastic ironed "sandwich".

Make sure the ironed "sandwich" has fully cooled before peeling

Start at a corner and peel carefully, and slowly. The plastic must remain bonded to the second sheet of paper. Discard the removed single sheet of paper.

This is the same process as the White film however, the Clear film will not be going through the printer.

Step 10: Print the Map

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Have your map chosen, cropped, and sized so that printing can occur imediatly after peeling the plastic.

Don't leave the peeled exposed plastic coated paper waiting around.  Be ready to print.  It will lessen the chance the film will delaminate before you get a chance to print on it.

Choose a map without fine detail or small fonts. There will be some granularity loss due to the nature of the process.  
Also, reduce the size of of the map. Remember the plastic film does not extend to the edges of the paper so maps should be less than a full sheet of letter paper.


Place the plastic coated paper plastic side down down in the printer paper tray. 
Printer paper loading differs between printers so, load the film coated paper such that the map prints on the plastic film side.

Black ink produces the best results.  Small areas of color are fine however printing in black and white produces the best results.

Print in Draft mode.  The less ink, the better.  Higher quality print settings will deliver more ink; which is normally better on paper however, larger quantities of ink on the plastic will result in more ink beading/migration due to liquid surface tension.

When ready, send the map to the printer and make sure it prints directly on the plastic film. 

Step 11: Seal the Top Film

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Place the paper with the exposed Clear film over the printed map and seal with the iron.

After printing the map, the White film (with fresh ink) should still be bonded to its paper.  Lay this paper (film side up) on the ironing board surface.
Then immediately, place the paper with the the bonded Clear film over the map.  The Clear film should now be in contact with the White film.  

This will create the follow "sandwich" layers:   Paper with bonded Clear Film / Ink / White Film bonded to Paper

Avoid moving/shifting the Clear film layer on the map this will smear the still fresh ink.

Iron the "sandwich" as before with the same temperature. Less time should be needed since you are bonding plastic to plastic which occurs readily.

Step 12: Peel the Paper from the Map

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After the "sandwich cools both sheets of paper can be peeled from the plastic map.

The Clear top film should be fully bonded to the White film after ironing.  The ink will be sealed in between.
After cooling the map can be peeled from the two sheets of paper.
After removal of the two sheets of paper, any ragged edge from film overlap mis-match, can be trimmed with scissors.


Tips to improve map quality

By nature liquids do not adhere well to plastic.  Printer Ink is no exception; it does not absorb into the plastic like paper.  It sits on the surface and "beads-up" due to liquid surface tension.
These maps only becomes permanent after the Clear plastic film has been bonded over the printed surface.

Reiterated below are, important tips to minimize ink migration and improve map legibility:

1. Have the clear plastic peeled and ready before printing.  Ironing the Clear plastic top film should occur imediatly after printing.  The longer the printed map waits around before being sealed with the top layer, the more time the ink has to bead-up and/or smear.

2. Do not move the Clear film when placing it on the printed surface for ironing.  Try not to adjust or shift the clear film when placing it on the freshly printed map.  Moving the top film over the printed surface, prior to ironing, will drag and smear the floating, still liquid, ink.

3. Print using Draft mode.  Higher quality print settings will deposit more ink on the plastic. This is not good.  Larger quantities of ink will increase liquid beading and smearing.

4. Print in Black and White.  Color maps can be made, as shown, however color ink (at least the ink used here) is much more water soluble; tending to bead the most, and smear the easiest before the Clear top film is applied.  Large fields of color ink will look messy and blurred.  Black ink is more stable and remains more defined; it migrates less.

5. Choose maps without fine details or small fonts.  As mentioned earlier, this process will produce a quick ready reference map that is waterproof however, not a perfect quality master map. Due to the liquid ink and plastic interaction when printed, some amount of ink beading is inevitable.  For the most part this is not a problem;  as well defined routes and details will be clear.  Smaller fine details/fonts however, may be difficult to discern.
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Skwurlito3 months ago
great idea.
kris.alberga8 months ago

I often use Water Seal (Thompsons or Olympic) and just paint it on maps - either USGS or software-printed maps. The water seal soaks through the fibers and you end up with a "Write-on-the-Rain" material - can write on with pen or pencil, folds, and is more resillient than plain paper. A gallon is about $15 bucks (compared to $10 for 4oz of some commercial "Map Seal") and you can do a gazillion maps.on a gallon.

Tip- paint them on something you don't mind water sealing, since the sealant soaks through the paper. I do it on my picnic table and kill two birds with one stone.

bullfrogs3 years ago
What an interesting idea.
However I have been printing Astronomy maps for years for nighttime usage by printing on plain copy paper(Cheap)!!!! and spraying with quick dry clear lacquer , then let dry for 10 min in the oven and it is permainately waterproof and fold-able.
bullfrogs

may I ask why the drying in the oven? Must it be a a certain temp

If you use a warm oven (~250F) it dries quickly and the ink doesn't have time to bleed. Amateur astronomers and scouts have been using this trick for years. As clever as this 'ible is (and it is), the spray can laquer trick gives better results with a lot less effort.

ahauta1 year ago
Awesome ible. I cant wait to try it.
Pfarmkid1 year ago
Judging by the Scout Ranch being the name of the map, i'm guessing this is a map of Philmont?
AntonioMDC2 years ago
thank you for a great idea and a good looking instructible! you know you could use this technique for things besides maps: maybe photos to take on a long trek (if shrinkage is the same in both directions, though could be fun in a different way if distorted) or important info like instructions or phone numbers, or an itinerary for a workout or swimming, or an inspiring quote you really like to take *everywhere* you go. or copy a drawing (do inkjet printers come as 3 in ones? if not, then scan and print separately) which might be a great way to send kids' art to a mom or dad in the military. or even draw right on the plastic with markers. lots of possibilities for art.
Phiske2 years ago
Cool idea and wonderfully explained. There aren't a lot of instructables that can be so easily followed.
I had an idea as far as the print detail goes. haven't tried it on your process but maybe it would work. I remember buying raw shrinky dink material and trying to do colored pencil drawings on them. The surface is pretty slick and didn't allow the color to stay on. So I lightly sanded the surface to be colored with fine sandpaper to give it a bit of texture. Maybe it could work her. But I don't know if that would work on the thin garbage bag to correct the ink issue.
Anywho....Great instructable! and Cheers!
DivaB2 years ago
I have tried the process twice now to no avail. I just can't get the ink to show through the clear plastic....don't know where the heck it goes, but it just disappears at the second lamination point.
Totally brilliant, it only happened to me just once, gonna try this next vacation trip!
Migs3 years ago
So why not just print a map and laminate it with clear lamination plastic that comes in huge rolls for real cheap? The lamination plastic has an adhesive that will bond to the paper, and even fine detail will be visible. I just searched for "laminating roll" in Amazon and there are a ton of options.
hpstoutharrow (author)  Migs3 years ago
Laminating film is usually a heavier weight plastic (and more expensive) The thickness of a front and backside laminated sheet of paper has a thickness that will not fold readily. At that point, its the same bulk as a map in a folded zip top bag.
The real advantage of this instructable is that it produces a map that can be stuffed in a pocket without the bulk. Folding will not create dammaging creases or delamination. The map is as thin and flexable as a plastic baggie.
I think your project is cleaver and innovative, however I do agree with Migs. You can buy self laminating sheets if not from a roll. They aren't very thick and can easily laminate a map without a lot of bulk. Done this many times.
And I disagree - self laminating sheets are fare more bulky that the OP's creation.
solagoddess3 years ago
I think this is a super idea, to keep wet things in a wet fabric without it getting moldy . Please can you tell me the name of the product you use or the brand so, I can give it a go? is it the same fabric like those city maps that are around? I will probably have to buy it online as I live in Australia and we don't seem to be able to get some things here.

Thanks :-)
Read the instructable - it's just a white kitchen garbage bag and a freezer sized resealable bag. You can buy those products in just about any country.
mackamitsu3 years ago
Awesome instructable. I am making a bunch for my local Volunteer Search and Rescue unit, of which I am a member. You have saved us a bundle, Kudos to you.
chaitanyak3 years ago
Impressive!
cory.smith3 years ago
Very Cool. Never would've thought to try something like this.

-Cory
madmanmoe643 years ago
You could run these through a laminator (without the thick plastic) to bond them, more even pressure and less hassle than ironing.
I was thinking the same thing!

Freezer paper is also a good substrate for running things through the printer. I think you would still want to pre-shrink the garbage bags, but if you happened to have some other non-shrinkable plastic you wanted to use, you could stick it to the freezer paper. Just iron it, same way - the shiny side is wax, so put something underneath it to avoid mussing your ironing board. It won't delaminate until you pull it off.

Using tissue paper (stuck to freezer paper) plus the baggie idea would yield a lightweight map without the hassle of smeary ink. Do baggies laminate to themselves? I'll have to try that... many applications if so. I know you can use them with a heat sealer, so maybe if you run it through the laminator on super-hot. (Or just iron it to melt it.)

There's also a substance called "bubble jet set" which will allow you to inkjet print onto fabric and it will be waterproof. I've used it myself and while I wouldn't necessarily trust it for a long-term T-shirt, it should work quite well for a map. Men's hankerchiefs would be lightweight and still have enough thread to produce enough detail.

Cool instructable!

http://www.bryerpatch.com/faq/bjs.htm - bubble jet set
Yes, bags laminate to themselves. Just iron between sheets of parchment paper to keep from sticking to the ironing surface and the iron. When several layers are so laminated, you can make a bag - all ironed together.
Rybka303 years ago
this is great idea even for logbook for geocaching :D :D :D

Great Idea! Will try it out on NOAA's Booklet Charts for help Navigating
Coastal Waters.
DaddyQ3 years ago
Absolute genius. Had to show my long suffering girlfriend because it's such a good idea.
cobourgdave3 years ago
This is a great instructable, really innovative, and a very practical idea.
I will certainly try this one!
9w2xyz3 years ago
In an emergency, spray it with a fine oil mist. That keeps it from getting waterlogged. You can also use it to start your fire.....
was that map for Philmont? or northern Tier?
Philmont is the only "Scout Ranch" because it is an active cattle ranch. Northern Tier is a "high adventure base." Good catch, though, I didn't even notice that.
NO, more Scout Ranches out there. Google "Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch" for one of several.
hpstoutharrow (author)  littlewit3 years ago
More Scout Ranches than you think...
This is a map of the D-Bar-A Scout ranch in Michigan, no idea why the author took the time to cover it up so carefully.

http://www.glcscouting.org/camping/d-a/index.html
mokee3 years ago
Well, I tried it and my printer just made a big mess on the plastic, What did I do wrong?. My ink just won't print on the plastic.
derte843 years ago
Perfect for my next trekking in the netherlands!
The comment about hacking a laser printer to disable the fuser is valid. I know a few craftspeople who took an old laser printer to a repair shop to have the fuser disabled in a way that the printer still thought it was working.

What that accomplished was to prevent the toner from fusing to the paper. Make sure to choose a printer that spits the paper out face-up, because the toner will just be sitting on the paper. You can blow on it or brush a finger across it and the toner will move around like a sand painting.

What it's good for is you now have a loose layer of toner held onto paper by nothing more than static electricity. If you print the image reversed, and then lay the paper on a piece of wood, the toner will transfer to the wood. The guy I saw make the best use of this technique would then carve a person's likeness, or their dog, or a favorite design into a desk sign or plaque, or whatever you wanted. He couldn't draw a lick, but he could sure trace the lines of the printed image!

This is also good for making the name 'chops' like the Chinese use to sign documents. (I worked in Taiwan for a while.) When you're carving the little stone stamp, you don't want to get done to find out that a character is backwards, so some of the shops that make them have the hacked printers. They print the design right-ways, and pick up the toner on the bottom of the stone. Then when they are done carving, they know the design will be right.

How it could be used here is that you could transfer the toner to the white plastic, add the clear and then make one sandwich to iron. All the shrinkage would occur to both pieces of plastic at the same time, so distortion should be minimized, and it keeps you from running plastic through your printer.

I think for inkjets, the ible is the best possible way. I thoroughly agree that using pre-shrunk plastic is good. I am mainly bringing this up to tell people about the toner transfer capability of a hacked laser.
LongLongBow3 years ago
I may suggest something about laser printer option. I used laser printer for circuit designs for a while. What I do is actually having an mirrored image of the circuit, print in on shiny coated paper with maximum toner setting and then I put that paper on copper board and iron it. At the and toner is transfered to the board with some paper leftover. I wipe paper with water and it ends. Toner holds on plastic very well so one may use this technique for map printing too I guess.
dougbyte3 years ago
YOU ROCK! That is a really, really cool instructable! Thanks for sharing
mt4b3n3 years ago
Hey, great tutorial... Though I wonder what's wrong with buying laser- or inkjet-compatible synthetic paper and printing directly onto that? I'm sure you've thought of that, just wondering if you have any advantages in your technique (besides the fun of doing it, of course!).

Also, how well does your map react to being repeatedly folded and refolded?
Awesome idea!

Fantastic ible!
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