Large Format Custom Trail Maps for Print

In this instructable I will guide you through how to create your own large format map with the trail, route, or markings of your choice! For this guide, I will be utilizing publicly available USGS digital maps as well as several sources of route and trail information to create a comprehensive Mt. Rainier map that is large enough for mounting on a wall. This map will have many of the classic and not-quite-classic mountaineering routes marked.

Supplies:

  • Your computer
  • Internet Access
  • Image editing software, I will be using photoshop primarily

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Step 1: Step 1: Dream Big - Select Your Map

One of the perks of living in or visiting the United States is the huge collection of national map data that is available for free! However, there are plenty of resources for topo maps that cover worldwide. USGS maps can be downloaded from HERE. I will be demonstrating the use of this site, but feel free to substitute whatever mapping platform you want to make use of!

Step 2: Step 2: Selecting and Downloading Quadrangles

Zoom in on your region of choice. Using the "Draw Point" tool found in the left toolbar, drop a point in the first map region you want to download. Then in the left half of the screen, select the type of map you want to search for in that region. I like the resolution of the 7.5 x 7.5 minute maps. You can select between lots of different types of imagery including current and historical maps.

I love the look of the "classic" USGS topo maps and since I will be printing this map for display, why not go with what I like? Selecting the type of map you want to search for, press the find products button. This lists the maps available based on your search perimeters. Some of the historical maps are simply different scanned copies, so choose the color profile you prefer and click the download button.

Repeat this process for all map regions that you want to include. Mine will cover the Mowich Lake, Sunrise, Mount Rainier W and Mount Rainier E maps.

Step 3: Step 3: Stitch Together Your Maps

Using the image editor of your choice, start with a canvas large enough to fit all of your maps stitched together. Import the maps into your file. In photoshop, I prefer to keep each map on its own layer until I have them pieced together nicely.

Once you have your maps in the file, crop each one, removing the white space and map legend. You only want the map left after cropping.

Once cropped, move the map segments together using the topo lines to fine tune the matching. In photoshop, the spot healing brush helps smooth out any imperfections in the seams between maps. Click where you want to start and hold shift to lock the cursor into a straight line.

Step 4: Step 4: Choose What You Want to Display on Your Map

Maybe you're happy with just a big beautiful map, but likely you want to add something to spice it up a bit. For my map, I will be adding the major mountaineering routes and other key information to my map. Much of my info is pulled from summitpost.org, mountainproject.com, and the NPS site.

You can draw in any information you would like, such as routes, way-points, and points of interest using the photo editor of your choice. I have done this in the past using Photoshop and Illustrator, but for this instructable I'm going to use Procreate. Available as an iOS app, procreate allows for easy drawing with your touch screen.

Step 5: Step 5: Draw in Your Content

In Procreate, I adjusted my brush to write with a dotted line. Referencing the route information I found in Step 4 I sketched in the individual routes using a unique color for each. While it is easier to do this using a stylus, drawing in routes with your mouse on a desktop is certainly functional.

After I finalized my routes, I added a key in the bottom corner. I opted for a key instead of adding the route names next to the particular route due to the density of routes and the amount of information listed on the topo map. For this project, I feel it provides a cleaner look.

To give the key a bit more contrast, I first added a dark semi-opaque layer then a second lighter layer over top. I then added in a bar of color corresponding with each route. To help with even spacing, I used an overlaid alignment grid. Procreate, Photoshop and Illustrator all have this feature built in, but a potential workaround would be to draw in a grid on a separate layer, then align each color bar with your grid before deleting the grid layer.

To finish off the key, I added the names of each route next to their corresponding color.

Step 6: Step 6: Add a Title and Crop to Size

This step is an easy one. Add a title to your map. I chose to use a contrasting font to help the title stand out and give it a bit more flair. A subtitle can help define the content that you're displaying and make it easier for a viewer to know what they are looking at.

I cropped away the extra map on the top and bottom and ended up with a file that is 4000 x 5200 pixels.

Step 7: Step 7: Print Your Newly Crafted Map!

Depending on how you intend to use or display your map can help guide what resolution you should print at. Having 200 to 300 pixels per inch is a general rule of thumb for print. For a 20″ x 30″ poster, that would put your starting size at 4000 x 6000 pixels, or about 24 megapixels. However, for this size and larger, you could still achieve sharp results by going with 150 pixels per inch (ppi) or even 100 ppi.

If you are intending to use your map for a wall mounted display piece, you can easily get away with 150 ppi. However, if you plan to use your map as an actual map, I prefer a higher resolution (300 ppi) since it allows you to more easily see the details (topo lines, named features, elevations, ect.). However, make sure to account for the printer that you will be using. Printers typically max out at a certain resolution, meaning even though you may submit a 300 ppi file, it wont look any different than a 150 ppi file.

For this map, I'm printing it at 200 ppi which gives me final dimensions of 20" x 26 ".

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