Layered NYC Map + Tutorial

In this thread I explained my process for turning a street map from SnazzyMaps into a single-layer outline to be cut or etched.

Here, I will detail my process to get something like this:



  • Design: 30-120+ minutes per map, depending on detail (and skill).
  • Laser: 2-60+ minutes per layer, depending on detail


  • Locate your area of choice in OpenStreetMaps (OSM). I am choosing New York City, because I think it will offer the most robust example.

  • Click the “Share” icon, select “Set custom dimensions” and SVG format.

  • If you want finer detail, you will have to zoom in and select while scrolling. I wanted every building in Manhattan, so I zoomed accordingly. Select your area and download.

  • Save whatever you are working on! My computer cannot handle this step consistently and I do not want you to lose work! Save early, save often.

  • Open the map you just downloaded in Inkscape. This may take a while.

  • Your map is probably HUGE. For example, I selected Manhattan and was given the entire state of NJ due to overlapping layers in OSM.

  • Ungroup everything. CTRL+A, then CTRL+SHIFT+G many times. In total, I had 146696 objects. This may take a while. For my map of NYC, I literally let it run overnight.

  • Create “Feature Layers”(CTRL+SHIFT+L). I plan to keep Text Labels, Streets/Paths, Buildings, Water, Athletic Fields, Parks, and “Junk”. Make a layer for each. You can easily incorporate more. Even if you don’t plan to use them in this map, it is nice to have features separated if you decide to return to the file with a different focus.

  • Select items and move them to their respective layer. It is helpful to use the right click --> “Select Same” -->“Stroke and Fill” to instantly select all items of a particular type. Buildings with different zoning (stores, hospitals, municipal, religious) as well as streets of different volume (highway, unpaved, walkway) may have different fill/stroke, so it may take a while to move all of the objects to the appropriate layer. This is the most time consuming portion of the project.

  • After you sort enough objects, the junk you do not need will become more obvious. Move these to the “Junk” layer, and keep this layer hidden. After making several maps, I prefer keeping these random objects in case I’d like to use them later without starting over from scratch. When all was said and done, I had almost 16000 random objects, most of which were empty stroke/fill anyway and did not contribute to the map.

  • Everything should now be either erased or placed in a layer containing all objects of a similar type.

===================Take a rest. You deserve it.===================

  • Create another set of “Cutting Layers.” These will be what literally gets cut into each layer of material. I choose to name them as:
  1. Frame and Streets
  2. Subways and Tunnels
  3. Buildings
  4. Fields
    and so on…
  • Copy everything in your Streets Feature Layer to your Streets Cutting Layer. Do a little cleanup to make sure things look roughly the way you want them to cut. Select all (CTRL+A) and use Path–>“Object to Path.” Select all again, and set the stroke and fill (CTRL+F) so that the stroke is a thin line and the fill is empty. You should see this:
  • CTRL A, then CTRL+"+". This will combine all the streets into a single path. You should see this:
  • Perform similar boolean operations for your other layers. You should now have a wireframe outline of each set of objects you want in your map. Hide them all.

==============Take another rest. You’ll need brainpower for this.==============

  • Your cutting layers will start from the bottom and work their way up. For each layer, start with a full sheet of “material” and subtract whatever would be “above” that layer.

  • To do this, duplicate (CTRL+D) the features from the applicable feature layers, and use boolean operations as necessary to add/subtract material.

My example, with each color representing a layer:

Be wary of closed paths - when you cut them out, the area inside will not be attached. The connecting streams in Central Park were a good example - to fix this I connected the land encircled by streams by “adding” the bridges back in manually:

When all is said and done, you will (hopefully) have a phenomenally detailed map that is ready to be cut many times! The file was too large to upload here, but this should work:


Wow your results are beautiful. I’ve wanted to cut a map for a while. Thank You for the detailed instructions. I’ll have to take some time to learn this.

Thank You Again!!


Hero post right here!
@Jules, do your thing.


Yup! :wink:


Thank you so much for this tutorial. I have wandered through Snazzy Maps, but I have not be successful in creating a final project. This will help many of us and save so much time.


Thank you for taking the time to do the extensive work out.

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Thank you so much for the step by step instructions. Maps always look like fun but so daunting. You’ve made it at least accessible and I’m now beginning to contemplate it as a possibility at least. Breaking it down step by step sure helps the thinking/creative process.


Thank you for taking the time to create your tutorial! It’s great.

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Just wanted to say thanks for this inspiration. I did a little map piece this week as a result.

The Nation of Makers is having their convention next week in Chattanooga and they put a call out to makers (& spaces) for contributions to a map project. They sliced up the US map into shards and made them available for claiming. They asked people to make something and mount it to a backer in the shape of the shard you got. They’re putting all the shards together for a massive display piece for the main stage.

I got a ridiculously shaped shard that’s half of RI and Cape Cod. Overall the shape was 3 inch by 6 inch but that’s because it leans - there really wasn’t anything much more than an inch across.

I did a 7 layer map - used cardstock for 5 layers (river, parks, parking lots, buildings and sidewalks), 3mm BB for the roads and clear acrylic (engraved with our Makerspace logo) on top. It’s a half-inch thick.

Using your map source it’s all true to scale and content.

Here’s the result. It’ll be lost in the overall scale of the map but it may be a bit of an Easter egg for anyone looking at it up close. :slightly_smiling_face:

The backer piece in the photo is to protect it during shipping & handling before it gets glued or screwed into the big map.


Whoa, that is cool. If you can share a photo of the whole thing put together.


Yep! I want to see it too. (Bet that will be one of the nicest bits.)


It’ll be at nomcon ( and they only got about 60% of the country shards taken so their are going to be some large blank spaces (like Texas…no makers in Texas? :). They’re talking about keeping the project alive and trying to fill the map - and making it a permanent exhibit or traveling one to other cons.

But yeah, I’ll post a pic next week after they unveil.

I was volunteered last week and thought I’d do something cool & steampunky with watch parts, LEDs (gotta have LEDs :smile: ) and solar/light powered motion motors.

Then I got the shard and all of those ideas went by the wayside…especially when it was Sunday and I got the "oh, and we need it by Wednesday so we can get it shipped to the con site. Gotta love the GF for the ability to pull something together quickly.


Cough… @jules Cough, cough. :slight_smile:


I know, right? Slacker :wink:


Wait…what? I’m dyeing here. (And yes, the spelling was deliberate…I’ve got Antique British Tan and Oxblood up to my elbows.)

Didn’t know. :smile:

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