Picture of Print Waterproof Plastic Maps
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.  

Step 1: Size and Weight Matters

Picture of Size and Weight Matters
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. 
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Skwurlito4 months ago
great idea.
kris.alberga9 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.

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
cory.smith3 years ago
Very Cool. Never would've thought to try something like this.

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.

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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