Edge Lit Bathymetric Map Using LED Standoffs

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Introduction: Edge Lit Bathymetric Map Using LED Standoffs

Multi-level bathymetric maps are very popular and make a great project if you have access to a laser cutter. If you add an an clear acrylic layer and use LED standoffs, this method creates an amazing edge-lit bathymetric map that glows! Whereas topographic maps show elevation of landforms above the water level, bathymetric maps show depths of landforms below the water level. Being able to illuminate the map definitely takes this to a whole new level! (Pun Intended!) I don't think I've ever seen anyone using these standoffs to illuminate a Bathymetric map, so part of this project was to create something truly unique and new.

In this Instructable, I'll showcase my method for adding LED standoffs to a Bathymetric map, and the steps I used in Adobe Illustrator to hide the wiring inside the map. The different lake levels are laser cut and engraved with a Glowforge, but not limited to this type of laser cutter.

I am donating this map will be raffled off a a fundraiser for the summer camp located on this lake. Northern Wisconsin in the summer is a magical place. Put it on you bucket list to check out.

Supplies

Step 1: Why LED Standoffs?

I have seen some interesting edge-lit projects, and have wanted to try using LED standoffs in a project. The benefit of using these versus an LED strip on the outside of the map, is that you get a very cool glow around the exterior of the map, in addition to the glow around the shorelines. Normally you would use the standoff to separate the acrylic layer from the piece, but we're just going to hide the barrel in the lower part of the map. Doing this also provides an excellent method of lining up the different layers perfectly as you assemble the map layers.

The LED standoff has 3 different circle widths that need to be incorporated into the design, and added to the appropriate layers before cutting on the laser.

Step 2: Creating Map Levels With Adobe Illustrator

This tutorial is more about how to use the LED standoffs to create an edge-lit map, but I’ll go through how I create the different lake levels using Adobe illustrator. Unfortunately, the bathymetric maps I’ve created have all been in Wisconsin, where publicly available bathymetric data is not free. There are a number of DNR maps available online, and I’ve used those as a baseline to trace the lake levels by hand. There are probably easier ways to do this, like using a stylus or apple pencil on an iPad and a vector program. However, I just slowly use my mouse to create a series of arcs, and add each line and add points as needed. I put each lake depth on a new layer in Illustrator, and give it a different stroke color to make it easier to isolate and save as an SVG later.

The bottom layer has 2 keyholes in it in case you want to hang this on a wall, but I'll also be making a stand for the final piece.

Step 3: Integrate and Hide the Wiring Into Middle Map Layers

Each LED standoff must be wired to a central hub, which is then connected to power through a wall plug or portable battery. We will hide these wires and connectors inside the map to keep the design clean. Each of the edge-lit maps I’ve done had room at different areas of the map to create pockets to stash the wiring. In this map, I've created a number of different secret chambers to help conceal the excess wiring. In a perfect world, you could shorten the wire, but creating these pockets also reduces the amount of overall weight of the map. With this map, you'd have to remove the back panel to get access to this, but hopefully would never need that.

Step 4: Paint the Different Layers

Although many people leave their different map layers natural, or stained with a single color, I have chosen to paint the map with different shades, getting darker as the levels get deeper. This was done using 5 different paint colors, trying to add the darker blues I had and eventually black. This was more trial and error, but am happy with the color transition.

I then glued each layer and used a nail gun to secure the layers together.The islands were super glued to the acrylic, using the engraving as a reference to line them up. Screw in the top finish screw to each LED, plug it in, and you've got yourself a edge-lit Bathymetric map.

Step 5: Engrave the Acrylic Layer

To get the shorelines to glow when the lights are on, engraving a thin border which will catch the light is essential to this design. Make a copy of the 0 foot lake level, or basically the top layer. this was used as a cut layer, but we’ll use a copy of these vector lines to create an engrave layer. Also keep in mind that the standoff holes at each of the 4 corners is different than the other layers.

I gave the lake lines a 2 point stroke, and then used the outline stroke tool in illustrator. This gives a very slight overhang around the shoreline that catches the LED light perfectly.

Step 6: Another Map: Tichigan Lake With Blue LED's

This map was actually the first LED edge-lit map I made, and was a commission piece. I just didn't take as many pictures of the process. You can see in this version, how I used one big chamber to store all the wiring, versus a series of smaller ones. The major difference is that this map used Blue LED standoffs, versus the white. I like the result of both, but the white seems way brighter. I am super excited about the end result, which gave me motivation to create the second map and this Instructable.

Step 7: Admiration Hour

After assembly, it's time to sit back and wait until it gets dark to enjoy the map at night.

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    15 Comments

    0
    Jlombard1212
    Jlombard1212

    1 year ago

    Nice! Since the islands are not contiguous with the acrylic layer around the shoreline, how did you get them to also illuminate?

    0
    MichaelMikkelson
    MichaelMikkelson

    Reply 1 year ago

    Just engraved like the rest of the shoreline, and it lights up the same.

    0
    sp4rkn
    sp4rkn

    Reply 1 year ago

    The light spreads across the acrylic from the 4 corners. Being an island makes no difference. You could even have a "pond" in the middle of an island as you can see dotted around the map.

    0
    TDCDTweets
    TDCDTweets

    1 year ago on Introduction

    I would imagine you could make resin versions of this if you made some moulds from maybe play-do and cling film. I don’t have a laser cutter so I have to think outside the laser cutter box lol. It’s a great idea. Thanks

    0
    GlennM97
    GlennM97

    Question 1 year ago on Step 7

    its really cool...but the % of light you are using for each standoff is wasting around 75% of each standoff. made a wood frame with pocket hole slot to house 5V led strips on the outside.Used .250 cast acrylic, better light dispersement, no holes for stand offs (altough some people want the stand off look) , and cheaper.
    have also dabbled with thinning or glasing acrylic paint, and sandwiching layers of acrylic with leds to get depth guage....this is a work in progress for sure though
    love the design though.

    0
    MichaelMikkelson
    MichaelMikkelson

    Answer 1 year ago

    Yeah, it was a proof of concept and fairly expensive. What you do get with this design, that you wouldn't get with an LED strip around the outside, is the glow on the outside edges. This gives it a very unique look. I don't think anyone has ever made a map like this with LED standoffs, so it was also about creating something new and different.

    0
    GlennM97
    GlennM97

    Reply 1 year ago

    still looks sweet....if i ever figure a color glazing concept for acrylic (when multiple layers are involved-like your project) ill post something.

    0
    Creative Asylum
    Creative Asylum

    Question 1 year ago on Introduction

    Hello,
    Awesome project. The link for the LED Standoffs does not seem to be working. Can you tell me where those came from?

    Thank Youm
    Steve

    0
    ChrisWx
    ChrisWx

    Question 1 year ago

    Very nice. But the link for the standoffs is empty, and the only places I can find them want upwards of $10 each! Since they're not being used as standoffs, it would be much cheaper to use actual LEDs or even LED strips. Is there somewhere else to get the standoffs cheaper?

    0
    MichaelMikkelson
    MichaelMikkelson

    Answer 1 year ago

    Yeah, they are crazy expensive, but were used as a "just works" solution to get light on the inside of the map.

    0
    Dwarvin
    Dwarvin

    1 year ago

    Hi Michael: The effect is wonderful. I really enjoy edge lighting ideas. I produce a high intensity fiber optic system for lighting model train scenery and it works very well. The advantage of the fiber is you can run it over long distances and it takes up virtually no room. I am wondering if that could provide an alternative light source without the need to insert the larger barrel mounted LED's? You can see my site at www.Dwarvin.com . I would be most interested on your thoughts on this as I am thinking of trying out some edge lit lights on train layouts. Thanks again, great project and beautiful results.

    0
    MichaelMikkelson
    MichaelMikkelson

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks, I'll check it out. Sounds like a great sollution.