Map It!




Hello guys,

This is an Instructable (as a part of the course TFCD) on making a laser cutted map of any town you desire!

So for example your hometown, the city your study in or the city where your significant other is stuck for that half year internship.

Once you get the hang of it, it's fairly easy. The steps are listed up below:

- pick a city;

- download the city vector formats;

- open and edit the vector format in Adobe Illustrator;

- export it to a dxf file and send it to a laser cutter;

- define the right laser cutting settings and place the desired material;

- sand it;

- spray paint it;

- hang it;

Now follow the next steps to get going! Enjoy (:

Step 1: Pick a City to Laser Cut

For this assignment we used the city called Enschede, a place one of us used to study.

The great thing about the city is that it is built up from the centre to the outer rims, so it's gradually expanding, having a nice boulevard running around the city centre. This gives the city a nice structure, in contrast to fully planned out cities like NYC, which have mainly a grid-like structure (so sorry, NYC).

Of course it is about the sentimental value one has of a city, but aesthetics also play a big part!

Step 2: Download the City Vector Formats by Using Qsis

Next, go to and click on the download link corresponding to your operating system.

You'll be directed to another page, where the actual downloads can be found.

Next, install the software.

Google on the coordinates of your city, and enter them in the Qsis program at Vector > OpenStreetMap > Download data. You can then download the area of the coordinates. Safe this file in a directory you desire, and then open it in a vector-based program, like Adobe Illustrator.

Step 3: Redefine Your City Map

Because an entire city is too big to print, you have to select the desired area you want to laser cut.

Also, it is necessary to delete all the tiny, squiggly, obtrusive lines and streets. These won't be laser cut anyway, since they are too detailed.

In the end, we took an area of about 5x5 kilometers, so the resolution of the streets would be still 'readable' and not become too thin (this is important when cutting the thing later on).

Enschede is a small city, so if you have a larger city, you can simply pick the area you live in, or just the centre, your favourite parks/sceneries, etc.

Once you have chosen an area, you will need to add an outer rim (using the pen tool), in order to give structure to the printed piece. Streets shouldn't be too close to each other, otherwise they might burn in in the laser cutting process (which happened a few times in our case when trying it out). The right thickness of the streets is something you need to test and try out, for every laser cutter and material acts and responds in different ways.

In the images you can see the process from selecting the right area, to the adding of the rim/border and making the streets thinner.

Step 4: Get Ready to Cut!

Next, safe your file to a .dwg or .dxf-file, depending on the laser cutter that is available to you.

Load this file unto the laser cutter cpu. Important is the thickness of the material and the kind of material you are using.

Do not use MDF, for that will burn heavily in the laser cutting process.

We used 4mm multiplex wood, and made sure the laser would cut all the way through by running some small tests to the side. We got help from a laser cutter engineer when doing this set-up (one should always be present in a workshop with a laser cutter).

A good advice is to fasten the wooden plate securely, because wood is always bended a little. When the wood is bended, the laser will not burn though certain places (after all a bended surface is bigger than a flat surface).

Now you're all set to laser cut!

Step 5: Cut It!

Finally the cutting process can begin.

With all the configurations set, place the wooden plate in the laser cutter and secure it.

Run the program and cut the piece!

We cut the piece twice, so we would have a thickness of 8mm in total, giving the total piece a lot more structure and was also aesthetically more pleasing.

After cutting let it cool off and take it out of the laser cutter.

As you can see in the first image, the laser didn't cut all the way through, so we had to retry it with a slightly different laser setting (increase of power).

The second image shows a more successful process, the third shows the end result!

Use an air compressor to carefully blow out pieces that are still stuck.

We wanted to make it into a wall piece, so we sanded it lightly. Since we are going to spray paint it, there is no need in sanding off the black parts of the wood caused by the laser cutter.

Step 6: Paint It!

Next, hang it somewhere where you won't do any harm to your surroundings and to your health. In our case, we hang it in a tree. Then we spray painted it eight layers, to have a nice finish. We added a rope to be able to hang it on a wall and some rubber blocks to the back of the piece to lift it off the wall a bit. This gives depth to the wall piece.

You're done!

Happy instructing!

Angeles & Job.



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12 Discussions


Question 8 months ago on Step 2

Installing the program was no problem but when I tried to "Google on the coordinates of your city, and enter them in the Qsis program at Vector > OpenStreetMap > Download data" there was nothing under the Vector tab that led me to "OpenStreetMap." Help!!


9 months ago

This looks perfect, but:

"and enter them in the Qsis program at Vector > OpenStreetMap > Download data." isn't in the programm.


3 years ago

Hello and thanks for sharing! :)
But this part does not work for me neither :
"Vector > OpenStreetMap > Download data. You can then download the
area of the coordinates. Safe this file in a directory you desire, and
then open it in a vector-based program, like Adobe Illustrator"

do you have any other plugins to export the Data in another extension but .osm?

1 reply

3 years ago

I might be missing something but if i download the data i get a .osm file. When i open this file in illustrator i only get text. what is it that i'm doing wrong?

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 21.55.38.png
1 reply

3 years ago

Same problem here. The needed plug-in is no more included in the new versions and I can´t find it to download.

1 reply

3 years ago

very cool, thanks for sharing!!

i can only wish i had a laser cutter...:D


3 years ago

This looks really cool, but getting the data from Qsis stumped me. I went to Vector > OpenStreetMap > Download as instructed. The pictured dialog came up. It isn't clear to me how to input the coordinates here. Can you help me out of the weeds?



3 years ago

Tip for anyone who decides to cut the same piece twice:

Cut the first one, then mirror the picture, then cut the (mirrored image) second. Lasercutting will leave the bottom a bit burned, this looks less nice. With the second part mirrored, you can now put both 'burned' sides on the inside (when you glue them together) so the back of your piece will look better this way.