map
Make This Giant Map & Frame For Only $30

Make This Giant Map & Frame For Only $30

Create this beautiful vintage-looking map and frame for less than two tickets to the movies.

Either invest in the art, or invest in the frame – investing in both is usually too expensive. That’s my personal rule when buying or creating things for my place. Sometimes you can create an awesome decoration that’s cheap all around, like our free Hemingway print. But usually it’s one or the other – either the art in the frame is the expensive part, or the art is cheap but the frame requires some investment.

Unfortunately, larger pieces require both. That is, unless you get creative.

I’ve seen a lot of cool examples of hanging old maps (a bunch in our Restoration Hardware piece alone), but it seems silly to spend $60 on a map, and $100+ on an appropriate frame. Hell, at Restoration Hardware you’ll pay $1200+ (!) for a reproduction of an old map. That’s insanity.

Around the same time I started thinking about maps, I saw a DIY project on printing large things on the cheap.  Printing places like Staples have the ability to make Engineering Prints, a black and white print on giant paper, used for things like blueprints.  The best part is they’re only about $7 for a three foot by four foot sheet.

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What You’ll Need
→ Engineering print
→ 3 Wood pickets
→ 4 L-Straps
→ 1 Pad of Super Fine Steel Wool
→ Vinegar
→ 2 D-ring hangers
→ Screws

Now, again, these are used for engineering or architectural diagrams, and aren’t intended for much beyond black and white line drawings. The quality is like a really good photocopy – but – that’s perfect for creating a vintage-looking map.

There’s an awesome website called Big Map Blog, and they aren’t embellishing with the name. They post all kinds of maps from all different time periods in super high resolution that you can download. Many appear to be scanned from libraries. It’s a fun site to just browse around if you’re bored too.

I found a really neat hand-drawn map of Los Angeles from 1909. The details and three-dimensional perspective are beyond belief. Many of the buildings downtown are labeled, which is cool to see what things used to be and what’s changed. Hollywood was nothing but an orange grove at that point.

Find a map that catches your eye and download it. I used Staples for the printing just like the Hemingway print because there’s one down the street from me and you can upload it from home and then pick it up in the store. I think most printing stores can do engineering prints as well.

To make the print, go to the Staples Copy & Print Center and click Oversized Prints, then choose Engineering Prints. Upload your map image, and name your project. Make sure “Pages” is set to 1, mine always comes up as 3 for some reason. Under “Media” choose “Blueprints 36×48″ then “OK”. Your price should update to $7.29. Nice!

Finish up and check out.

The Frame

Now on to the “expensive part”. Building this frame will cost you about $23.

Frames are a fickle beast. Most frames use miter joints – two pieces of wood with angles cut on their ends that fit together to form a right angle. That should seem simple enough to do, bust out your old compass from math class and cut some boards. Unfortunately this requires a lot of time and patience when it comes to frames since you have four cuts that need to create a perfect rectangle. Even professionals who make custom frames have to work at it and make minute adjustments to get it just right.

So that’s out.

I wasn’t sure how to proceed until I was in a Starbucks of all places. They had a bulletin board with a wood frame. Instead of using miter joints for the corners, they used butt joints. It had a cool, raw look to it and it was perfect for the old-timey map feel.

I used wood pickets (the kind for fences). You’ll need three pickets, each one costing only $2 and change at Home Depot.  Here’s your cut list:

  • 2 x 56.5″ – this will take two pickets (cut off the dog ear corners as well)
  • 2 x 29.5″ – you’ll get two from the third picket

We’ll use metal L-Straps to hold the corners together. We’ll need four, and they’re $4.20 a piece. While you’re at the store, pick up some screws. Use whatever is handy, they should be shorter than the depth of the picket but long enough to be secure.

Attach the L-Straps. I’d recommend doing this on the floor. Do one side of the L-Strap, then have a partner push on the perpendicular board while you screw in the other half of the L-Strap so you get a tight joint.

Pickets aren’t great pieces of wood. Many of them bow and have unfinished sides, so when picking them out go through the stack until you get three relatively flat ones. If your joints aren’t completely flush because of bowing, it’s no big deal, it’s supposed to look rugged, old, and imperfect.

I wanted the wood to look old and worn. I found a cool method of quickly aging wood by dissolving super-fine steel wool in vinegar and then painting it on. As it dries, the wood gets a gray/yellow color. You can see the drastic before and after:

The steel wool needs to be in the vinegar for at least 24 hours.

When your frame is finished to your liking, we need to attach the map. Unfortunately, this is probably the hardest damn part because you have to keep adjusting it until you have it straight. You can use a staple gun or tape to attach the print to the back of the frame.

This frame doesn’t have glass in it for a few reasons. First, getting glass cut is very expensive. Second, it’s really heavy. And third, we would need special tools to create a trench in the back of the frame for the glass to sit in. Honestly, it doesn’t really need it, and it has a cool Park Ranger’s office feel to it.

Lastly, we’ll need to attach some framing wire to hang it from. I had never done it before, but it’s a simple and straight forward process.  Screw in the two D-ring hangers on either side of the frame, about a third of the way down. Now attach the wire – use this video for a good tutorial.

If you make one, I’d love to see photos. Good luck!

Your projects!

Benjamin shared his map and frame in the comments. Looks great!

Riteshraja had the help of a 9 year old to make this sweet world map.

Scott built a sharp new piece of art for his office.

Patrick made a nice one of his hometown.

@wscottkimberly made this excellent map and frame of seattle.

David made this rustic map and frame of New Orleans from 1885!

Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page.

  • Aggiekurtz

    How did you download map? Don’t see anywhere on page

    http://www.bigmapblog.com/2013/houston-a-modern-city-birdseye/

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      There’s a download link right above the orange and white exclamation point.

      • Aggiekurtz

        AWESOME thanks Andrew this is great, my man cave needs this

  • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

    There’s a download link right above the orange and white exclamation point.

    • gm

      or the green and white star if you don’t have an orange and white exclamation point.

  • Chris Yandle

    Great post! Do you know where one can get large file prints of college or pro stadiums?

  • http://twitter.com/piacentinomike Mike Piacentino

    The paper at staples appears to be bright white. Did you treat the paper at all?

    • Brandon R

      You can use black tea and/or a destressing ink from hobby lobby. I’m about to try it in my kids room.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Mike, the coloration is partly the afternoon lighting, but also there’s a lot of grays in my map that darken it. Brandon’s black tea idea is great.

  • Morrison Michael

    great, great, great idea!!!

  • Ricardo

    This (along with the Hemingway) is becoming quite a cool trend. Really keeps with the mission of the magazine IMO.

    Tips:
    If you *really* want the “glass” look, but don’t want to spend much or weigh your frame down too much, consider picking up a used 27×40 poster frame (you’d of course have to adjust the size of your frame to fit this). Those usually use styrene instead of glass. Super lightweight, doesn’t break, and extremely cheap. I’ve found old frames with intact styrene for a buck or two.

    If you live near a craft store (Micheals would do) consider balsa wood as an alternative to the picket wood. Extremely lightweight, reasonably cheap, and combined with the styrene idea would give you a really slick look frame/print that you could hang off the wall with 3M mounting strips. No nails or damaged drywall required.

  • http://twitter.com/srking10 S. King

    Fantastic Post!! I’m trying to decorate my apartment (its about time I stopped living like a college student) and this is a brilliant and inexpensive idea! Found a terrific map of Houston that is going in my living room! Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/srking10 S. King

    Fantastic Post!! I’m trying to decorate my apartment (its about time I stopped living like a college student) and this is a brilliant and inexpensive idea! Found a terrific map of Houston that is going in my living room! Thanks!

  • Chris

    For a wide variety of older images no longer under copyright laws check out http://www.loc.gov/pictures/

    They have an impressive collection of work which would go perfect with the above DIY project. I am personally looking into printing the pre 1915 Japanese fine prints to with this frame and hang besides the bed. Although it may prove more difficult with color images.

    • LJ

      Staples still does giant color prints (a little smaller than these, but huge) for about $21, and it’s on photo paper. That’s still crazy cheap. And great find on that link!

      • Scott

        $21?! Is this from Staples online copy and print, or from your local store? I’d love to find out what all they would print for this price. I just moved into a new office and have all kinds of walls to fill. Might go on a Staples shopping spree.

  • Scott

    Anyone have experience painting these pickets? I am thinking of getting the same type of pickets but painting them black.

    I am looking for a map that would look great/old-timey in a law office. We are located in Tennessee, but I have family from Seattle, New Orleans, and San Francisco as well, so any of those places would work. Anyone have recommendations on a map from that site that would look good in a law office?

  • TJ

    This is really cool Andrew. I will definitely do this. I am moving to a new town soon and need to decorate my place on the cheap.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.pence.98 John Pence

    Absolutely love this, but does anyone have any idea where I could find high-res engineering prints for download?  I’d love to have a print from a bridge.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.pence.98 John Pence

    Absolutely love everything about this!  Would anyone have info on where I could find a good high-res engineering print?  I would love to find a good print of a bridge design.  Any help would be appreciated!

  • Eric

    This is fantastic. As an Angelino myself I’m considering using the same print you did. Did you just convert it to greyscale and photoshop out the text at the bottom?

  • http://www.jessydiamond.com/ Jessy

    Could be an interesting project. We actually have a big printer at work.

  • Jim

    I’m also  trying to find a bridge related engineering print. I would especially love to find an old blue and white print. Had this idea for awhile actually but have not been able to find what I have in mind. Any help would be great.

  • Benjamin

    Greetings from the UK.

    It’s a great idea. As a recent and avid reader I thought I’d have a go on my day off and it’s the first real attempt at wood work without anyone else around. http://db.tt/VqZHPAxN is my attempt!

    Loving the magazine by the way. Keep it up!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Great work! I’ve add it to the post! Thanks for sharing. How did you get the wood color? Is it stained, or is it the vinegar/steel wool mixture?

      • Benjamin

        Hey Andrew, thanks! It’s pretty amateur but that doesn’t seem to matter, the fact that it’s a bit cracked, not the same colour, and not exactly right angles just seems to add to the faux ageing. The wood was actually planed pine, but I used heavy cheap malt vinegar (40c a litre) to help get that nice dark colour.

        Have to say, it’s a great magazine; both accessible and relevant.

        • Scott

          Benjamin,

          What are the dimensions of the wood you used? I am looking for a narrower frame, something like you have made, and I want to know what to purchase from the local department store. 

          Looks like great work!

          -Scott-

  • Jon

    Andrew – did you select the “fit content to paper” box under the media option? It looks like it would be needed for it to work, but you didn’t mention it. Just curious.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Jon, I believe I did. Sorry about missing that.

  • riteshraja
    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Looks great! Cool map choice.

  • Scott

    Andrew, you had perfect timing. I needed something from back home (Seattle) in my new office (in Tennessee). 

    http://i.imgur.com/qxufEDF.jpg 

    I went with 1x4x8 wood and cut them to size— I like the narrower 4″ frame for how short my piece is. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=48212707 Patrick Brown

    Made one of my sweet hometown, Lexington, KY. Thanks for the guide!
    http://i.imgur.com/fThXanC.jpg

  • Lukeblanks

    So how did you receive the map. Did they mail it to you or do you have to take it to a staples?

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      You can do either. You can choose if you’d like to pick it up or have it shipped to you when you order it online. I always just pick it up since I have a Staples right down the street, and it’s usually done the same day.

  • Phil Doerfler

    Great post! Found this birds-eye view of Detroit and I already admire it every time I walk through my door now.  Thanks for the guide!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Hey Phil, I’d love to add it to the post but I’m getting an error when I click on the link.

  • Scott

    After beginning this project with some pickets, only to have them bow beyond repair upon staining, then doing the project again with some thicker lumber, I would offer a critique to just start with thicker lumber. I used a 1X4X8 (1″ thick, 4″ wide, 8′ long). It costs $2 at home depot, and, by the size of my print, I needed three of them. It might add a few bucks, if that, to your cost, but the wood is so much easier to handle and stain. Additionally, I found that assembling the frame and then staining the wood avoids any concerns about wood bowing beyond salvage.

    Other than those few things that I learned in trial and error, I loved the project. As I posted above, I now have a great framed print of Seattle for my office. Thanks Andrew!

  • David Simmons

    Great post Andy! Easy, fulfilling and fun…I went with the City of New Orleans – 1885

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Looks awesome Dave! Great work, I’ll add it to the post!

    • bradyjohnson

      David, did the dimensions in the post work for you?

  • beedp

    Did you have home depot cut the pickets or did you do it yourself?

  • http://twitter.com/piacentinomike Mike Piacentino

    Portland map…whole project cost me $10

  • Lance

    Thanks for the great idea! Getting tons of compliments on it already! 

  • Brent Gostomski

    Can anyone let me know where they were able to do this? My local staples (Madison, WI) was unable to do the project because their printer can’t print grey scale. When it printed everything was really dark. I would like to find a Staples that worked and have it shipped. Thanks

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      You should be able to do it online and have it shipped, but I suspect something wasnt done correctly because engineering prints only come in black and white.

  • Josh

    Am I just dumb? I got the wood measured out to the listed measurements, built the frame, but my 36×48 print is too short to fill the frame. Now that I’m thinking if the long pieces are 56.5″, and combined with the short ends takes off 4″, that’s still 52.5 inches that need to be covered by a 36×48 print. How are people overcoming this?

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      My pickets are 5.5″ wide, that’s probably where the problem is. Just cut yours down until it fits your map.

  • David Lin

    I go to school in New York and I’ve been waiting to get home to do this project. Here’s my new artwork above my desk.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Nice!!! Came out great, thanks for sharing the photo.

  • Michael

    I actually did this a while back and never posted it. The map is of Cleveland 1887.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Looks awesome Michael, thanks for sharing it!

  • Jeff

    Well, I just tried this, and was called by Staples, who said they couldn’t print the maps on their blueprint paper… Interesting, as so many of you have had luck…

  • brjohnson2

    How do you keep the print tight on the frame without a backing?

  • k._.k

    If you’re ever looking for scrap wood, get some from someone giving away an old bed frame.

  • Brian

    Birmingham, AL

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  • Rusty Leskiv

    Here are two shots of my completed project for the man cave. Used the 1897 Alaska Gold Fields Map.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Nice! Looks awesome, thanks for sharing!

  • Brad McNally

    I didn’t use the map, and I didn’t use the frame design, but I planned on doing it after I read this post – I had a photo my wife took enlarged for ~$9 at Staples Copy & Print – they even gave me a larger size because of a file error and the original file was closer to the larger size. I started out with the idea of making the frame the way shown here, but I ended up doing the 45° cuts eventually. The wood is cheap 1×4 purchased at Menards for about $2 for a 6ft. section. I used oak stain on it and a tiny bit of wood putty. Instead of the brackets, I eventually opted for the nail gun, but the brackets would’ve worked fine.

    Even though you used no glass in these, I bought a piece of Acrylic/Plexiglass for $13 at the hardware and used a $3 tool for cutting it. It was much easier to cut than glass, weighs less than half of what glass does, and looked nice. Roughly $30 in the whole thing, but it made a really cool Christmas present for my wife. Thanks again for the inspiration in this post.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      That turned out great!!! What section was the acrylic/plexiglass in? All the options Ive seen at mine were smaller and more expensive.

      • Brad McNally

        Wow – I thought I had already replied – apparently my phone ate the post. In our local store, there were two end-cap sections in the window section. One contained glass and applicable tools (glass cutter, etc.) and the other had acrylic sheets. This was near the glass block section (like you would use to block in a shower or basement window). Here is a link to their online listing for something similar (http://www.menards.com/main/building-materials/acrylic-glass-sheeting/clear-acrylic/shape-products-0-080-x-28-x-30-clear-acrylic-sheet/p-1977186-c-7552.htm). The trick is that you don’t need a thick piece at all – I bought one much like the sheet linked – it is only .080″ thick – but it looks fine. We also built everything to match the picture, not the size we thought, so I put the picture on this sheet, marked it, then cut it. The cutter tool was cheap, but a good knife would probably do it. To make straight cuts, I marked both edges then clamped a scrap 2×4 with a level over top. I used it to guide the knife. After there is a score mark, you can just keep the knife in the line and do it a few times in each direction. Leaving the clamp on, I pushed down on the extra part and it snapped wonderfully.

  • Carly

    my map is 50 inches in width and 32 inches in height. what would the wood measurements be for that? Thanks so much!!

  • Catie T

    Hey folks! What is the best way to attach the poster to the wood frame? Staple? Wrinkle-free glue? Did you put a backing so that it would be less flimsy? Thanks!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      I used staples, with no backing. You could use cardboard though.

  • Bryan B

    Just curious, with the 48 inch width it’s not long enough. I’m about 2 inches short. I’ve double checked my picket lengths as well and everything is measured how you said. My print is 36 x 48. Did I miss something?

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Are you over lapping in the right direction, that is the sides are on the inside?

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  • Pam

    This is awesome. While we were snorkeling around the Bathes off Tortola my husband found a map at the bottom of the bay. It was about 30 ft down but he could see it clearly enough to know he wanted it. When he brought it up it was in amazing condition and it is marked up as if the person who was using it was sailing all through out the Caribbean. My husbands birthday is at the end of the month and this will be a perfect way to display his find. Thank you!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Incredible find!

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  • Kevin

    Hey guys, sorry if stupid question but if I chose to do the smaller map (24×36), and used the picket fence idea, what should the measurements be for that?

  • bob

    What to do if the wood split? It’s got a crack in the middle, down the length of the board….continue on or start over?

    • bob

      pic related

      • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

        Does it go through all the way to the other side? I’d honestly not chance it since they’re so cheap. You could fill it with some wood putty and sand it when it’s dry, but I can’t guarantee that it won’t crack more when you start screwing things into it.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      I’d start over, unfortunately