United States Photo Map




Introduction: United States Photo Map

About: Jack of All Trades, Master of One: Being Me!

My wife and I travel a lot for work, and someone recently suggested that I make a map of the states we've visited with pictures from those states. I liked the idea and got started. Since people have shown interest in the map and how I made it, I thought I would make an Instructable so you can make one as well!

The process is really simple once you have the right tools. In the next few steps, I will explain what software I am using and give you a crash course of how it works.

Step 1: Required Software

Image Editor

I am a huge fan of Paint.NET. This is a free imaging tool for Windows users. I use this program as my primary image editing tool. There are tons of free addons you can find online to increase the functionality, but for this instructable, we only need the standard installation.

The only bad thing about Paint.NET is the lack of support for other operating systems. There is an option for Mac and Linux users called Pinta, which is a sort of Paint.NET clone, but doesn't have the support or functionality. This program has the required tools for this guide, but I have had issues with it in the past when copying and pasting a lot in succession (which you will definitely be doing).

Other Tools

In addition to Paint.NET, I highly recommend the Windows Image Resizer tool. I don't use this tool directly in this Instructable; however, I always use it to reduce the size (resolution) of my pictures after I transfer them from my phone or camera to the computer. This saves significant amounts of disk space. There is typically no need to keep your photos in the enormous resolution that cameras commonly take them in - unless you regularly want prints the size of a billboard or need to zoom in considerably. In those cases, I will just keep a high res copy of my favorites in a special directory. For all other images, I resize to 2048 x 2048.

Step 2: Paint.NET Primer - the Basics

There are four primary tool boxes you will see when you open an image in Paint.NET:

  1. Tools - All of our painting tools, selection, text, etc
  2. Colors - Color wheel for painting (not needed for this guide)
  3. History - Keeps a history of your last operations and actions (not needed, unless you screw up!)
  4. Layers - This is the most important part. Consider a nice scenery picture with grass and sky. We could paste a cutout of a dog onto this image, but then we cannot easily move or remove the dog. So, we paste the dog into a new layer, independent of the background scenery image layer. The ability to use layers is the true power of any good imaging program (in my opinion...).

Step 3: Paint.NET Primer - Magic Wand Tool

Of all of the tools available to us, the magic want tool is the most powerful, and (for this Instructable) the most important. The magic wand is a selection tool that allows you to select all of the area within a border, outside of a border, a particular color, etc. In the image, I have selected just the state of Nebraska by using the magic wand.

On the "Tools" menu on the left, the Magic Wand tool is the fourth tool down in the left column. It looks like a ... magic wand (black stick with a white tip and sparkles around it).

When you select the magic wand, new options are available to you on the horizontal tool bar. For this Instructable, you only need to worry about the "Flood Mode" and "Tolerance."

Flood Mode

  • Contiguous - select only what is touching the point clicked
  • Global - select every pixel in the entire image that meets the selection criteria, i.e., within the tolerance


This slider sets the selection tolerance level. The higher the number, the more tolerant the selection tool is. For example, at a low level, the selection tool will only select the exact color that is clicked on; however, at a very high level, if you click on green, all shades of green and even some blues might also be selected.

Step 4: Paint.NET Primer - Shortcuts

As with all programs, there keyboard shortcuts for practically every action. Rather than tell you how to get to every operation I mention as I use them, I will list the operations now along with their shortcuts. Learn these shortcuts - they will save you an enormous amount of time.

  • "m" Move Selected Pixels - the pointer tool, used to move selections (top right tool of "Tools" tool bar)
  • "ctrl + c" Copy
  • "ctrl + x" Cut
  • "ctrl + p" Paste
  • "ctrl + shift + v" Paste into new layer
  • "ctrl + alt + v" Paste into new image
  • "ctrl + a" Select All
  • "ctrl + d" Deselect All
  • "ctrl + r" Resize Image
  • "ctrl + shift + r" Resize image canvas
  • "delete" Delete selection

The "s" shortcut actually cycels through various selection tools (including the Magic Wand). You can use that, or just manually click on the Magic Wand when needed.

Step 5: Get a Map

The first real step of this process is to obtain an image. I recommend a simple map, void of any text or colors. This will make your job a lot easier. It is also best to get an image with a very high resolution. I found this blank US map and increased the resolution a little bit to have a width of 3000 pixels.

Hopefully, this link will take you to a Google search of blank US maps. Find one you like that has a high resolution, download it, and open the map image in Paint.NET.

Step 6: Select Your Images

Once you have your map, then you need to select images for use in the map. I wanted to use pictures of us or scenery from each particular state, but you can use whatever image you want.

Choosing images for the map can be tricky because of the irregular shapes of the state boundaries. You might not be able to use your first choice if it doesn't fit well into the state boundary.

In this Instructable, I will be using this image of my wife and I on our wedding day with our 1967 Chevy Impala.

Step 7: Select a State & Cut It

Use the Magic Wand tool to select a state for your first chosen image. If your map has simple colors, clicking anywhere within the state's borders should suffice; however, if you have issues, try adjusting the tolerance.

When you have selected the state, cut it (using "ctrl + x", remember?).

For this Instructable, I will be using the state of Nebraska. In the image, I have selected just this state and cut it. Notice that it is no longer visible in the map.

Step 8: Paste the State Into a New Layer

With Nebraska cut from the map, we need to paste it into a new layer (using "ctrl + shift + v"). It will look like Nebraska is still there, but it is pasted into a different layer than the rest of the map. You should notice a new layer is available in the "Layers" tool box.

We need to keep this Nebraska layer around, but we don't need to see it. Uncheck the small check box on the layer to make it invisible.

Step 9: Open Your New State Image

Paint.NET allows you to have numerous images open at once. Open your new image in Paint.NET. Notice in the attached photo that our map from the previous steps is still available. You can click here to easily switch between open files.

Step 10: Resize & Copy the New Image

It is likely that this new image is very large, and we should reduce the size a bit before putting it into the map.

To quickly resize an image, press "ctrl + r". In the menu popup, select "By Percentage" and then enter a number in the box. 50% will make the new image roughly half of its current size. Of course, by size, I am talking about the pixel size, not the size of the picture on the screen. These are two very different things.

If your map image is around 3000 pixels in width, try to reduce your new state image to about 500 pixels. This will make it easier to move around. Of course, for huge states like Texas and California, you might want to keep this image a bit larger.

Once the image is a bit smaller, select the entire thing and copy it (using "ctrl + a" & "ctrl + c" ).

Step 11: Paste the Image Into a New Layer

Back on the map, we want to paste our new image into a new layer with "ctrl + shift + v". It will appear on top of whatever level you currently have selected (the selected level is highlighted blue in the "Levels" tool box). You should now have 3 levels:

  1. New Image layer
  2. Invisible "Nebraska" state layer
  3. Background Map layer

Step 12: Move the New Image Layer Down

As mentioned in the last step, you will have pasted the new image into a layer on top of whatever layer was selected. Using the Down Arrow on the "Layers" tool box, move this new image down to the bottom of the list of layers (or at least, to just below the map layer).

Now, the map should be on top of the new image.

Step 13: Move Image Into State Shaped Hole

Make sure the new image layer is selected. It should be highlighted blue in the list of layers. If not, just click on that layer.

Using the Move Tool, move the image to the hole left behind from the cut out state. You can click most anywhere inside of the image borders, or the small arrow box in the bottom right corner of the image, to move it.

Step 14: Adjust the Image


You may now want to resize the image to fit better into the state shaped hole. This can be done by clicking on any of the corners of the image selection outline and dragging the box in or out. First, press and hold while you drag the image corner. This ensures the image aspect ratio (length by width) is maintained.


You can also rotate the image to better fit or align with the state borders. To do this move your mouse to just outside the bottom right corner of the image until the pointer turns into a small curved-double arrow (as seen in the attached photo). When the mouse pointer looks like this, you can press and drag to rotate the image around the axis point (the small cross hairs that are likely in the center).

Step 15: Select All BUT the State

When you have the new image where you want it, it's time to trim the area outside of the state. This might not seem important just yet, but when you try to add images to the surrounding states, you will quickly understand why this matters.

Select the invisible state layer that we cut and pasted back in steps 7 and 8. Once again, use the amazing Magic Wand tool to select the entire image that is NOT the cut out state. Do this by clicking anywhere that is NOT that state. Simple enough...You should see the entire screen highlighted except for whatever state you are working on.

Step 16: Delete All BUT the State

Go back to the new image layer (click on it from the "Layers" tool box) and press "delete". This will delete everything from that layer except what is not selected, which should just be the state in question.

You can verify this operation by unchecking the check box of the map layer. The only thing visible should be the state images you have added, and they should be in the shape of their respective states.

Step 17: Delete Unnecessary State Layer

With the image in place, we no longer need the original state layer. Select it from the "Layers" tool box, and press the red "x" to delete that layer. If you accidentally delete the wrong layer, press "ctrl + z" to "undo the last action" and try again.

Step 18: Rename New Layers

Double clicking on any layer will open a small properties dialog box. You can rename the layer something useful so you know what it is later. In the example, I have renamed the new image layer to be "Nebraska," the state is has replaced on the map. I also renamed the map layer "Map." Now that's original.

From here, repeat these steps for any other states or whatever borders and boundaries your particular map uses.

Step 19: Save the Image

Paint.NET saves as a .pdn file. You should definitely save often! To save as an image, you will want to File >> Save As... Name the map image and choose "JPEG" or "PNG" from the drop down menu before clicking "Save."

  1. The first pop will have a few configuration options. Just leave everything as the default values and press "OK."
  2. The second pop up will warn you that the image will be "flattened." This just means that all of the layers will be flattened into one layer. This must be done to get a regular image file from the .pdn file.

You should now have your custom image map!

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    5 years ago

    help! please im not sure what im doing wrong but every time i try to download paint.net it opens up in itunes. i have a windows computer and im not sure what is going on.

    Kurt E. Clothier
    Kurt E. Clothier

    Reply 5 years ago

    scammy websites - it happens.

    Try this link: http://www.getpaint.net/index.html

    If all of your downloads are getting redirected to iTunes, you likely have some malware to get rid of. Although, iTunes is kind of like malware.


    5 years ago

    Hi Kurt,

    Thank you for taking the time to put this together! If you were going to have it printed to put in your home what size would you recommend given the resolutions of the photos?

    Thanks again!


    Kurt E. Clothier
    Kurt E. Clothier

    Reply 5 years ago

    Well, for that the individual photo resolutions wouldn't be as important as the map itself is (unless you are printing a REALLY big picture!).

    Paint.net defaults to 96 pixels per inch, so an 8.5 x 11 picture would need to be at least 816 x 1056 pixels. However, I would recommend at least doubling that resolution such that it is scaled down when you go to print it. What's more important is that aspect ratio - it needs to be set for whatever print size or else the print will be squeezed or stretched to fit the print size (picture printers are not always good at adding blank space to prevent this from happening).

    But like I said, those numbers are for the entire map as a whole. The pictures of any given state won't need to be near that high of resolution. I think you'll find that the default resolutions for any modern smart phone or digital camera are plenty big for most any purpose. I typically resize my own pictures at home after I upload them to the computer to save on storage space. When will I need to print a billboard sized picture?


    5 years ago

    My son and I travel to different baseball stadiums every summer and I want to do a photo map like this. My question is do you know if it's possible to put multiple pics inside of a state? For example we went to Chicago this summer but there's 2 baseball teams so I have 2 different pics I would like to put inside that state...

    Kurt E. Clothier
    Kurt E. Clothier

    Reply 5 years ago

    That would be really fun, and you would definitely need to split up a states like CA that have so many teams.

    You can definitely do that - it's all just image manipulation. It all depends on how you'd want to split the state, like having two pictures stacked, then outline the both of them. This doesn't look particularly good, but I just did it as a quick example:


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thats exactly what I'm looking to do.. I don't mean to be a pain but if you get time could you explain to me how to stack the pics and split the state.. I was able to follow the directions cutting the whole state and pasting it into a new layer. But I'm very computer illiterate when it comes to these things.. Id be happy to pay you a little bit for your time..

    Kurt E. Clothier
    Kurt E. Clothier

    Reply 5 years ago

    Well, there are two ways to do it that I can think of.

    1) You can repeat steps 9 - 14 for the images you want to put in a single state - place each image in its own layer [CTRL + SHIFT + v]. (You might only want to select a portion of the image with the selection tools and paste that since you will be limited on space.) Then move and adjust them individually on the map. You can resize them from here too by dragging the corners of the highlighted image area. I recommend holding [SHIFT] while you drag a corner which will maintain the aspect ratio (width : height) as you drag the corner. When you are happy with the arrangement of the images, merge them all into one layer before moving on to Step 15. (On the "layers" tool box, the fourth button from the left is the "merge" button which will merge the current layer with whatever layer is below it.)

    2) Pause after Step 8 above. You can expand the canvas of one image [CTRL + SHIFT + r] to increase the image width of height. Then paste the other image(s) you want to use into new layers of the first image. Move them all around and resize them as you like. Merge all of these image layers into one, and then continue with this merged image into step 9.

    I actually did method 2 in the example picture I gave you because it's a bit faster, but for the best layout I would recommend method 1 because you can see how each image will fit into the state boundary. I also highly recommended you make a copy of the .pdn map file so you have a backup. Then you can play around with method 1 without worrying about ruining whatever you've already done. Similarly, make copies of any image files you are altering so you don't accidentally save changes to them and mess up the original image.

    I don't really have time to demonstrate this as a proper instructable at the moment, so hopefully you can get it from what I've said here!


    5 years ago

    This is awesome! I'm going to print out my photos and place them in something like this: https://www.etsy.com/listing/240287044/50-states-photo-map-usa?ref=shop_home_feat_1


    5 years ago

    One of the best things about New England is that you can visit 3-4 states in one day. Bing bam boom! Mountains, city, ocean, countryside. We've got it all! Love your map. Wonderful memories for you!

    Kurt E. Clothier
    Kurt E. Clothier

    Reply 5 years ago

    Thanks. We'd love to visit there, but it just hasn't worked out with timing, weather, and available work contracts.


    6 years ago

    Now THAT is creative! I didn't know it was so much work!

    Kurt E. Clothier
    Kurt E. Clothier

    Reply 6 years ago

    Thank you, but it really isn't much work. The part that took me the longest was picking out pictures to use for each state. Sometimes, the picture you want to use doesn't fit very well in the state shape.

    Once you know the keyboard shortcuts, this entire process will maybe take 30 seconds for the more square shaped states, or a minute or so for the odd shaped states.

    We haven't visited much of the Northeast, but I'm sure I'll have to come up with something a bit special for those tiny states.


    6 years ago

    Really a great idea! I will consider this, since my wife wants to travel, this will be a good way to make a travel log!