Printing a big map from Google Maps for cheap

UPDATE! These instructions no longer work, but I’ve found a new way to create the huge image, which is a bit easier! See here.

My wife Cassie wanted a big map of Los Angeles on the wall in the study, so she could plan where her next sessions of filming for the documentary should be. So we looked around for large maps, but it was very hard to find one that fit the bill, and that wasn’t over a hundred dollars. Cheapo husband to the rescue!

I looked around and found this useful tip. Basically it’s a way of getting Google Maps to provide you with a big image of the map area you want, at print resolution, which you then print over multiple pages of regular paper. It uses a combination of simple HTML trickery, browser extensions and free software, not to mention the office colour printer and paper cutter.

Here’s the step by step. It looks like a lot, but they’re mostly small simple steps.

  1. Go to Google Maps.
  2. Switch to the Classic version by clicking on the ‘Help & Feedback’ button at top right, then clicking ‘Return to classic Google Maps’. This is because in the new Google Maps you can’t grab the HTML link as described below.
  3. Find the location you want a map of. Use search, or drag the map around.
  4. Click the ‘Link’ button in the top left (looks like a chain link).
  5. Select and copy the code under ‘Paste HTML to embed in website’. This is the HTML code you need.
  6. Paste the HTML code you just copied into a text editor and save it as an HTML file.
  7. Figure out how high and wide in pixels you want the final image to be. Bear in mind the size of paper you’ll be using, and use a minimum of 150dpi. So in my case, I wanted a grid of 11″x17″ pages, in portrait mode, 4 wide and 2 high. 4 wide * 11″ * 150dpi = 6600. 2 high * 17″ * 150dpi = 5100. So the desired image size is 6600×5100 pixels. Quite large!
  8. Edit the code where it says “<iframe width=”425” height=”350”…” so that the width and height match the pixel dimensions you want. In my case, is was “width=”6600” height=”5100””.
  9. You need a way to grab a whole webpage, including the bits you would have to scroll down or scroll right to see. For this, I used a Chrome extension called Awesome Screenshot. It works great, except it only works on web pages on the web. This means I couldn’t just open the edited HTML file locally in the browser. I had to upload it to my website.
  10. Open the new map HTML file. Here’s mine – feel free to use it if you want a 6600×5100 map image.
  11. Find the area of the map you want to print using the zoom buttons, and by scrolling around. This is tricky because the map will run off the screen, so you need to scroll to see it all. In addition, there’s a lot of data being pulled down to fill in the map, so each time you move it has to refresh which can take a while. You could also use the browser zoom function.
  12. Click on the Awesome Screenshot button once you have the map you want. Click ‘Capture Entire Page’. Let it do its thing. (Make sure you grab the map at 100% zoom if you used the browser zoom function.)
  13. Click on the ‘Done’ button at the top when its finished. You have the option to add annotations here, but we don’t need any.
  14. Save the image as a file by clicking the relevant button on the right. You now have a big map image.
  15. Check your image by opening it up. You may want to go back and adjust the area you grab in the map. Once you’re happy, move on to the next step.
  16. Using the FOSS software PosteRazor, take the huge image and slice it up into a multi-page PDF document. I chose a grid of portrait tabloid (11″x”17″) pages 4 wide by 2 high. The options are pretty straightforward.
  17. Print the PDF on 11″x17″ paper.
  18. Use a paper cutter to trim the borders off some of the sheets. Leave some borders on to provide a convenient overlap when assembling.
  19. Buy a $14.99 folding presentation board from Office Depot, like this one. This was big enough to fit the assembled map with a couple of inches to spare all the way round.
  20. Stick your map to the board using invisible tape (or glue, or whatever). Make sure you get the edges to line up as best you can. It may not be perfect, but you can get pretty close if you go slowly and methodically. I laid it out on the dining room table, and with the help of some tins of tuna as weights, we carefully went sheet-by-sheet until the thing was assembled. Then the whole was taped to the board.
  21. Finished! Get your map pins and get pinning. I should probably post a photograph.

So there’s quite a bit of work here, but it’s a lot cheaper than a fancy laminated map, and you can stick pins into it!