Introduction: Lasercut Bathymetric Map of Arabian Sea

I came upon these maps when I was browsing the internet for things to do with a lasercutter. There are a few instructables that provided a great starting point. Such as this one :

I wanted this to be a gift for a friend from Oman (a country in the Middle East) and to have some decorations. Most of the work for this involves Illustrator and basic woodworking skills. The actual depth is not 100% accurately represented, call it artistic license and dont use this to navigate :P .

The instructable will show you how to make such a map for any region of the world not just the Arabian Sea.

This instructable truly shows why I like modern Fabrication Tools so much. Your iterations can be done from a computer , its just so damn tidy. The toolchain which I used for this was also a great learning experience. Finding out about LIVE ACCESS SERVERS for geometric data, figuring out how to use it to my advantage and then converting it in Illustrator and Inkscape and adding that bit of Panache by putting in the designs for the Compass Rose. Somehow also this was great because it fused the learning for the digital tools with the woodworking. Espescially wood staining has garnered my attention now with use in a laser engraver/cutter.

The next step is to 3d Print the beautiful Oman mountain range around Muscat (north) to have as an optional design element.

I had taken this output you see in the pictures and as we are talking I am on the second iteration to perfect this design.

I hope you have fun with this and if you choose to make this then please give some kind of attribution! Thank you!

I would like to give attribution to the Fablab in Aachen, Germany at the renowned RWTH university for providing the necessary access to tools such as the lasercutter and the Visicut laser software which is very intutive to use.

Read more about the fablab here

Step 1: Sizing Up the Project

First of all, you need to determine how large your project should be. I was limited to 30x55cm because of the lasercutter I was using (an Epilog Helix) but you can make these any size you like.

You will need the following things :

  • Blue Wood Stain
  • Mahogany Stain
  • 10-12 plywood panels (3mm) a 30x55cm
  • Glue
  • Lasercutter
  • Patience

Step 2: Staining the Wood

My first course of action was to stain the woood to use for the different layers. Staining preserves and highlights the wood pattern which is really nice looking.

The plywood panels have to be lightly watered first, then dried and sanded down with a 120 grit paper to remove the fibres and give it a smooth finish. Dust it off and start staining the wood.

I stained one panel with mahogany stain whch really upcycles the plywood panel. The sea layers I stained with a radiant blue wood stain. To stain apply geneorusly with a brush and brush it in long strokes along the grain and then up and down until the stain is worked in nicely. I only did one side to save on stain. Now optionally once it is dry you can clear coat it with varnish (I did this after lasering but its easier before I have heard).

Give the plywood some time to dry (10-12 hours) in the meantime we can go over to the next step. Preparing the files !

Step 3: Getting Bathymetric/Topographic Data

It really helps to have acess to some good topographical data. Luckily NASA satellites have circled the world and given us plenty of means to access bathymetric data. This works well with larger region maps but not with smaller ones because the resolution is not that high.

Go to or some other Live Acess Server. There you can select the topographical/bathymetric data set and select a region of choice. To get the data into an acceptable format that can easily be turned into a cutting vector you have to go into >Plot Options>Contour levels. I used the following options (-3900,2500,500) which means it will display everything from -3900m to 2500m (or ft). Everyhing below -3900 will be displayed in white which is good because it makes things a whole lot easier to vectorize later. Export the resulting picture by clicking Print (dont actually print). Now you have to repeat this process again and again for each height level




It also helps to turn of the graticule.

Step 4: Opening in Illustrator

Once the renders of the different heights are exported you have to open them in Illustrator and distribute each to its own layer. Now run the Image Trace on each layer with the exact same settings. Once all the pictures are vectorized you have to select the paths with the white fill (the lowest basically) and Select All from that layer that have the white fill and move that to a new layer (I named my layers after height). Repeat this with every height level. and remember to use Paste in Place so that everything fits well.

This will give you the basic cut vector for each plywood panel. Remeber to use a consistent color scheme for your paths.

Now to make things easier you should take underwater elevations (mountains) that are cut off from everything else and copy and paste them to the layer below. Then change their color so yu can tell the laser to engrave or mark these vectors. This will help with positioning the pieces later.

You can add in extra things like mounting holes , it will help make things easier when gluing the whole thing.

Also feel free to add artwork to engrave. I added a layer for streets as well as the different regions and the name of the country plus an emblem.

Once you have done everything comes the annoying part. Every layer has to be saved as its own file. I dont know of a way to speed this up so you have to do it manually. There are scripts out there that can handle this but they didnt work for me.

Step 5: Lasercut and Glue It !

Cut it out with your laser of choice. I used the software Visicut by T. Ostermann it is very intuitive.

You can varnish the pieces now or before it doesnt really matter. Just be sure to use waterbased acrylic varnish if you used solvent stain .

If you have mounting holes then use them ! Put A frame around it or cover it with glass !

Step 6: Gift It to Someone

Now give your finished map to someone you care about. Its a IMHO kickass gift!

Step 7: Update : New and Improved Iteration

This is the updated version of the map. This time I used much more of my max. Margins and made the map thus bigger. I used slightly different vector trace settings which is why the layer cuts look more irregular. I added evenly spaced mounting holes and I gave the layers slightly different shades so they are more distinguished. The blue is also a lighter shade overall. As you can see I painted the wood also after the cutting this time.

I added the SVGs in a compressed folder as well as the .AI source file. Go nuts with it!

Step 8: Update : 8 June 2015

I added a glass panel to make it look cooler ;)

Mind for Design

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Mind for Design