First real project from scratch - Lake depth map present

This is the first project I tackled other than a glowforge ruler and a death star tree ornament. I am not a Illustrator pro or efficient at all but taught myself for this project. I read a few instructables sites telling me to download programs and such in order to figure out the depth. Luckily I had requested a lake depth map probably a year ago in anticipation for the glowforge.

I decided to scrap all of the sites on showing the programs to use because of the steep learning curve. If I was going to do a bunch of different lakes I would have spent the time to learn but I just finished this mid yesterday so I didnt have much time. I ended up having the map on a background layer and tracing each depth layer from the map in Illustrator.

Here are the different layers before assembly minus the top layer

And then the final product. I ended up cutting a layer of plexi for the top layer of the lake and ended up engraving some small fish on the backside. It s bit hard to see in the pics but you can in the up close one. Let me know what you think. I still want to make some sort of frame and level out the edges but my wife loves the burnt edges and insisted I not cut or sand them. This can free stand on a mantle or table but its not super stable. I am super excited about the end results especially for having almost no experience with the glowforge or illustrator. I used the PG Maple for the top layer however I ended up using 1/4" maple veneer for the rest. I was nice that I have a pro because I only had to ripe the boards down and feed them in the slot rather than having to cut them all to fit the GF. I learned alot with this project and am eager to tackle a new project. BTW I also cut a tag out of cardboard that I cut and engraved with the families signatures which turned out fantastic too. I think my next project will be something with cardboard.



That looks fantastic! Great job!


That came out so very nice. I know there are several threads on this sort of thing but I’d love to hear your take on this as you did such a good job.


That turned out great! This is one of the projects I want to do with my Pro too. Thanks for posting about using the pass-through and not being proficient with Illustrator as I am a newbie to all of that as well.

Honestly after trying to figure out so many peoples own way to do it I figured there are a thousand ways to skin a cat and I might as well do it my own way. I will say I have some experience with photoshop which transfers some knowledge into illustrator. I’d be happy to answer any questions.


Well done! I’d definitely be interested in seeing a more detailed write up concerning your process.

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That is so very Very Cool…Wonderful Job…!

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nicely done. still on my list to do one of these, but probably a bit down the line timewise.

Awesome job!

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Wow. That’s amazing!:+1::grin:

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Ok. This is my new “FAVORITE!” Very well done! (I had wondered why someone didn’t add the clear top layer to fit . Perfectly logical touch that is perfectly AWESOME finishing touch. Did I mention well done? :sunglasses:

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Beautiful work!

OK, so I thought I would take a few minutes and describe how I went about designing and assembling the final piece. Just a note up front. I made a ton of mistakes and essentially cut everything twice so I would recommend to think about things before as you can waste alot of material.

Materials. I ended up using PG Plexi and the top layer was the maple plywood that came free with the GF. I ended up buying a whole sheet of 1/4" plexi before I decided to use the PG. I also bought a 1/4" Maple plywood and mdf from Menards. I think they call it hardboard instead of mdf but essentially its like the stuff the GF sends. I also bought vinyl decal transfer tape. I’m pretty familiar with this stuff as I used to have a decal cutter. I was going to use it as a protective cover like GF uses. I ultimately didnt use it on this project but I did use it on another one and it worked great.

I started with a map that I requested over a year ago. I wish I remember where I contacted to get it but it was a government office as there were no published surveys of this lake. There are a few ways to take satalite photos and convert them to this but I was at a loss. So I opened up Illustrator and traced out each line using layers so that I could turn them on and off for the different cut lines. This is where I should have spent more time. There were times where I forgot to draw in the right layer and should have just redone it right because I wasted alot of time. If your going to use this route I highly recommend you get a tablet to use instead of a mouse. Once you get a hang of it it is pretty easy. I ended up tracing the roads on the provided map only to realize after a test print that the roads are way off of reality.
20170706102607421.pdf (765.0 KB)
I tried to upload a layer example but it says it is too big. I originally was going to cut just the section needed for the relief and this is were I messed up. I didnt account for the fact that as the layers were more towards the top new areas opened up so I ended up cutting out too much. I tried to do this to fit them all on the product that I got from GF. I ended up cutting out full pieces for each layer as you can see in my original post.

Once I had each of these I took some acrylic paint and diluted it with water. Tested a few areas and decided that I wanted to let it sit for about 10 seconds or so and then wipe it away. I left the wood grain and kept the piece light. I was originally playing around in my mind about painting each layer a differing shade of blue or buying blue plexi and cutting each plexi payer out making the combined areas of blue plexi darker. This would have been awesome but a full sheet of blue plexi is special order in my normal store and super expensive. I said that I would print a test layer of plexi and if it looked good I would do the whole thing. It turned out way better than I thought and would keep the inside from getting dusty.

Then I thought about etching the fish on it. Etching the backside was the way to go but once it was all together I would have changed my placement. If it is not at least 2 layers deep in the lake its really hard to see the fish since the layers show wood grain.

Assembly I used wood glue spread out and tried to keep away from the lake holes as I figured it would be hard to clean out. Glue still got in there and it was hard to clean out. I used Gorilla glue wood glue. I clamped it for about 30 minutes and it was good to go. Now the plexi was another story. Wood glue doesnt dry necessarily clear and in a few spots it messed up the blue paint. Only I could probably pick them out however if I glued the plexi in with that it probably would have looked bad. I ended up using super glue but only on the small pieces. For some reason the plexi fit the wood really tight in areas so the main piece I just left friction fit. That way also maybe I can add some more fish or take it out in the future.

Also not in the pics is the backside. I ended up trying the trace feature. My dumbass used a sharpie which probably would not have been that bad except after I traced it I wanted to use some of the transfer sheet to protect the rest of the wood. I never moved the piece but once you open the door again your image moves. It ended up tracing about 1/2" off and I couldnt sand off the sharpie all the way. Oh Well.

One more somewhat of a problem had to do with my designing. The layers did not line up exactly and each outline cut did not either and this made all of the outside layers look a bit uneven. I wanted to run it through my table saw but my wife insisted the burnt edges looked fantastic and gave it charm. I was unsure if my parents would just place it on a mantle or hang it on the wall so I didnt frame it or make a stand. I may do that later.

That pretty much wraps it up. I hope this helped anyone thinking of doing it. Overall it took a good 3 days and this was alot of failure, trying to learn a map program, whatching videos, reading blogs, etc. If I did it again it would probably take me a day.



This project is amazing! I think you nailed the Newbie Project award for this month! (Okay, there isn’t such a thing but there ought to be)

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Marvelous! I especially enjoy the details you added to the top layer. Can’t wait to see what you come up with for a cardboard project.

I love the little fish!

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Wow! Fantastic! :grinning:

Great job!!

That looks great! I love the acrylic layer on top.

I love this, nice work. I’m hoping make a Lake Gaston, NC when I receive my GF this Spring.