Some time ago I was asked how I made my maps and I told them in a short one paragraph social media post. Today I’d like to expand on that a bit more and add in some photographs of the process I use. It’s really simple when you think about it. Print the pictures, glue them down, and cut them out. The most important thing to keep in mind is the paper quality is what makes the maps look great. I used to be in the camp that paper is paper. There’s no need to waste money on expensive paper. But then I was never happy with the quality of the images. It took me well over a year to finally understand that the finish and quality of paper does matter. For this project I’m using Office Depot’s premium brochure & flyer paper.
The first step is to print out the tiles and I’m making a 24”x36” map out of 6” tiles which will give me a total of 24 tiles. Then loosely cut out the images with a pair of scissors leaving around 1/8” to 1/4” of white around the edge of the picture. Finding the tiles can be a challenge if you're as picky about as I am. DriveThruRPG is a great source. Conversely, if you can't find tiles then you could also take your own map and cut it up in Photoshop.
With all 24 images cut out we can move on to cutting up the 3/16” foam board. You did buy foam board right? No, well then go to Walmart and buy some. This project will require two sheets. I prefer the black foam board because the texture of the paper feels rougher to my hand which means the glue will have more tooth to hold onto. Don’t fret if you can’t find the black one. Just go ahead and get the white, it will work just as well.
While you’re there go ahead and buy some glue. I prefer the Scotch brand glue as it allows me enough time to readjust any misalignment and dries fairly quickly. I’ve used glue sticks in the past and would continue using them if I couldn’t find the Scotch glue anymore. One of these Scotch glue applicators let me adhere 37 of the 6” tiles.
Now that we have our craft supplies we can start cutting stuff. I like to start by cutting the foam board into smaller more manageable sizes. Lets cut them into 7” strips. Start by laying out the board so that the long side is going left to right. Then measure from the end 7” and make a mark at the top, middle, and bottom of the board.
Now line up a ruler and cut along the marks you just made. I didn’t have a ruler long enough to cut it in one pass so I started my cut in the middle and cut the side closest to me.
After a few passes, the bottom section can be lifted enough so that the ruler can butt up to it and be slid up to the top. The cut edge acts as a guide for the ruler. Now finish the cut.
Continue cutting the rest of both foam boards the same way and you’ll end up with 8 sections of 7” x 20” and a couple of scrap pieces.
The next step is to turn the foam board so that the 20” length is facing left to right and cut them into 6 ½” sections. You’ll end up with two 6 ½” x 7” pieces and one 7” x 7” piece.
Finish cutting the remaining 7 sections of 7” x 20” in the same manner and you’ll end up with 24 rough tiles.
Let’s start gluing. Because I’m right handed, I started at the lower right corner, went around the perimeter to the lower left corner then made a bunch of squiggly’s and end up back at the lower right corner. In order to keep glue off of my hands I made the squiggly’s far enough apart to allow me to place a finger to hold down the paper. The paper will curl up afterward so you can reach under it to pick it up.
Now place it on a piece of foam board. I use the bottom of my fist to hopefully spread the glue by starting in the middle and sliding out toward the edges.
Then I flip it over and place a heavy object on top until the glue dries. Here you can see me using a Variac and a fire extinguisher to weigh down the foam board.
After 30 minutes or so I remove the weights and finish cutting the tiles. Flip the tiles over and line up a ruler along the edge. Cut the tile while angling the knife so that an undercut is made. Make several passes and let the knife do the work. If it’s too hard to cut or you find yourself pressing hard then the knife is dull and you need a new blade. The first cut should be made slowly so that you get a clean cut of the picture. Then make more passes until the scrap piece falls away.
When everything is all done you’ll have 24 tiles and a box full of scrap foam board. Easy Peasy.
I should also mention that it will not turn out perfect no matter what you do. There will be blemishes and it doesn’t matter. It will still look great. You may see some slight bubbles in the tiles or some of your cuts might wander a little. The tiles will not be perfect 6” squares. Once you get past your OCD you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. Have fun with the project and don’t get bogged down by small details.