Introduction: World Map Decal From Paint Chips for Free!!

Hello, my fellow wanderlusty tinkerers!

A little background on this Instructable: Upon discovering that my dorm single is surprisingly sad looking, I decided to spruce it up with a world decal to remind me of all my cool friends and relatives from all over the world and to honor my recent study abroad experience. Lo and behold the cheapest one is like $20 on Etsy, so being the cheap college student I am I decided to make my own for free*.

*Okay I ended up buying like $10-worth of tools, but assuming you already have those this is completely free!!

Step 1: Tools and Materials


  • Paint chips: This is where the free part of the title really comes in. Those paint samples at any local hardware stores are all free, so I just pretended to be an extremely thorough and indecisive painter and took a bunch of different shades of blue from about 4 different hardware stores that I just happened to be passing by.

INSIDER TIPS: OSH has some decent sized paint chips with minimal color labels to cut off, but Home Depot has the best sized ones. Make sure you check that the paint labels aren't in the middle of the chip or that cutting off the label won't render the remaining paper too small to use for the map.

  • Printer paper
  • Glue stick
  • Tape
  • Graphite paper (optional but highly recommended)


  • X-acto knife
  • Scissors
  • Straight edge paper cutter (optional but highly recommended)
  • Self-healing cutting board or large cardboard sheet (optional)

Step 2: Preparation

Preparing the Map

I used a map template from The Sorry Girls, who used this template to save space when making a cork map. I like this one because there aren't too many tiny islands that can't be cut out and because it saves space and therefore paper. Here are the links to their video and a link to the image of the map:



Once you've chosen a map image you want to use, you can print it on a giant roll of paper using a plotter, or you can use this website ( to print it on various amounts of regular printer paper. The website is super helpful and you can print an impressively large map for free, but if you want to go even larger you can pay a little bit. It also provides a very helpful and accurate size estimate of your poster.

Preparing the Paint Chips

When you're done printing, go ahead and get to cutting the color labels off the many paint chips you collected. It may seem like a lot of work depending on how many paint chips you've accumulated, but it's worth it because the paint labels just make the end product look sloppy. This is where I would recommend using a straight-edge paper cutter as opposed to just regular scissors.

Step 3: "Painting"

Now comes the fun part of tentatively organizing the paint chips on the map. I basically just put on a couple episodes of Parks and Rec and went to town organizing the chips by color on the map. In my opinion, all of the paint chip art I've seen looks best when the colors are gradually blended as opposed to randomly placed, but of course you can organize it however you want. I did mine so that the darker blues correspond to hotter areas on the globe and vice versa for the lighter shades.

Once you have all the paint chips where you want them, go ahead and glue them into the same position ON A SEPARATE SHEET OF PLAIN WHITE PAPER!! This is an essential step because you'll need the printed paper as reference for cutting, and you don't want the random lines to get in the way of the white space between the paint chips.

I don't recommend taping the paint chips because during the cutting process, a lot of small pieces of the paint chips will get separated from the taped part because of weird shaped land masses or islands, so you'll end up just having to glue them anyway. Also, if you plan on laminating the decal like I did, you can see the rolled up tape through the paint chip in the lamination.

Step 4: Tracing and Cutting


Once your paint chip masterpiece is done, you're ready to start tracing. I used a sheet of graphite paper to accurately get all of the nooks and crannies of the continents, but if you don't have access to graphite paper you can just press hard while tracing on a hard surface and you should be able to see the indent on the chips.


Once everything is traced on, whip out your X-acto knife and scissors and start cutting along the trace marks. Tape the backs of the paper wherever you need to in order to keep the continents together, and don't accidentally throw away any islands! I didn't pay crazy amounts of attention to detail since the map drawing is so intricate, but I tried to cut as accurately as possible wherever I could. We'll cover up the cutting imperfections in the next step.

Step 5: Final Touches

Gluing the Islands

Before I laminated the whole thing, I wanted to make sure that the islands and separate land masses were completely accurate, so I taped places like England and Iceland to the nearest larger land mass using strips of left over laminate from my test lamination. Any clear material will work, just as long as it isn't visible once you laminate over the whole thing. For larger land masses, I taped the clear strips onto the back, but for smaller islands I used Mod Podge to attach them to the strips.


Once everything was in place, I wanted to make everything look more professional since some of my cutting left the edges burred. I used a silver Sharpie to carefully outline all of the edges that I had cut (before and after pictures of Madagascar can be seen above). I found that the silver didn't draw too much attention but it also did a great job of hiding the rough edges. You can also use this opportunity to sharpen up any fine details that your cutting might have missed.

Step 6: Laminating

This idea didn't occur to me until after I had laminated, but you could put in all the continents in map order while you're laminating so that the whole thing is just one giant laminated sheet, like an actual decal. But since the thought of having to position everything perfectly while laminating was too much pressure, I just did each continent separately and would combine them later.

I go to my local Lakeshore to laminate because they have a big 2-foot-wide lamination machine, but I know that these stores are hard to find. I think all large office supply store chains have a section for printing and lamination, so check your local store. Here are some tips for laminating:

1. If possible, adjust the machine to the slowest settings. This way, the plastic has time to seep into the small lakes and crazy shaped land masses to really get a good seal on everything. It also just makes it sturdier and less prone to bending.

2. Make sure you feed in the continents straight so that the machine covers everything with plastic! I didn't really have a problem with mine because the machine is 2 feet wide and my continents were maybe 1.5' at their widest, but I had an issue like that with my Chance the Rapper poster. I had to take of the first layer because it missed one of the edges, and some of the paint got ripped off :'( If that had happened with this project, I would've had to start all over again.

3. Make sure none of the paper is weirdly folded over each other. From the way I glued and taped my setup, sometimes the paint chips would overlap with paper where they weren't supposed to, or an island chain would get caught and flip over. Make sure you catch these before laminating so they don't get stuck like that! My suggestion is to set everything up on a huge flat piece of cardboard with no dips or folds where islands can get caught and then just bring the whole flat piece to the store and slowly slide it in.

Then, to make everything look professional-grade, I used the X-acto knife to cut off all the laminate within about 1/8" of the edge of each continent.

Step 7: Finished!

Okay so technically this isn't a decal by the definition of a decal, but it honestly turned out even better than any decal I found online. Also you might've ended up spending a little money on tools that you didn't have or lamination, so TECHNICALLY it wasn't completely free, but it's as free as free can get these days. (Also technically this isn't a world map because the whole of the north and south pole are missing)

So basically the entire title of this Instructables is a lie, I apologize for the deception. Nonetheless, show me pictures of the ones you've made, and feel free to comment any questions or suggestions for future improvements! Happy building!