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.


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.

Maps Challenge

First Prize in the
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